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How do Argentine Grills (Parillas) really work?

I've been looking into argentine grills (parillas) and they are quite expensive for what seems like a simple cooking technique (https://www.177milkstreet.com/2019/08/grills-of-the-world). I was wondering if anyone had details on how they actually work -- there may be a cheaper solution.

First, Argentines cook their steaks for hours. How do they keep the meat from becoming a hockey puck? I can only think that it's kept far away from the fire, in which case is there anything special about doing it over embers vs it being in an oven? Maybe the wood embers impart a smokey flavor, but in that case why not just cold smoke the meat first? (I have a smoker). Maybe a smoker has too moist an internal environment for good crust formation, in which case does heating it in a low oven create the same problem?

Heat control in a parilla comes from raising and lowering the grates, but you can also just really offset the embers. Is there an advantage in using height vs fewer embers/embers to the side? And finally, parilla grills as v shaped to siphon off the fat. Does this really work?

I'm thinking I can get the same effect with a simple campfire grill and a wood fire on a grate to the side to generate embers. What am I missing?

Comments

  • Hi Zimran - I think what you're finding is that Argentinian grills are expensive outside of Argentina because they are not common outside of Argentina. For Argentinians this grill style is everywhere and often homemade. I'd say the functionality of a parilla is not all that different from indirect cooking on a charcoal or gas grill. Indirect cooking is when the hot, ashy coals are banked to one side leaving an area without coals. On a gas grill you would simply heat one or two burners on high and turn off the remaining burner. Meat is cooked, covered, slowly farther away from the fire using the ambient heat inside the grill and then moved above the fire to sear or char. In the case of a parilla, the grill is more open so the ambient heat isn't contained, which means the meat will take longer to cook. I think this, combined with the fact that they are usually cooking some pretty large pieces of meat, contributes to the amount of time you are seeing the meat on the grill. Many Argentinians also prefer their meat cooked medium to medium-well. My conclusion is that, if you are already using a two-level fire for indirect cooking on your grill, you're likely getting a similar effect to a parilla. Whether it makes sense to do it on the grill or in the oven is more of a personal, and likely seasonal, preference. Do you want to add some smoke? Do you simply prefer the flavor of charcoal-grilled meats? Do you just want to sit outside on a nice summer day with a couple of beers while your grill cooks your dinner? If yes, choose the grill instead of the oven. If it's particularly cold or windy out you're never going to get enough ambient heat from the grill to cook meat low and slow so, in that case, I'd choose the oven. In any event, we're huge proponents here at Milk Street of grilling using indirect heat for tender and flavorful meat. Hope that helps! Best, Lynn C.

  • Do Parillas work? Absolutely!

    That said, you're absolutely right, if you have the room to do it, moving food off the direct fire can work just as well. Years ago I built a number of grills that could be raised and lowered, but I didn't like the fact that I lost the ability to sear after raising the grill. I went with a solution of a bolted together angle iron tower that sets in a fire pit and has 3 levels to cook on (I drilled a bunch of holes in it so it's almost like an erector set). Cast iron grills cover the entire lowest level for searing, and the upper two levels are half depth with racks for roasting and warming. I usually set it up with about 8" difference in height between the levels and just move the food between the levels as needed. On a single level grill on a fire pit a cover (i.e. foil pan) covering food over embers can work really well too.

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