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Espetada-Style Grilled Garlic and Bay Beef Skewers

4 to 6 Servings

45 minutes plus grill prep

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On the Portuguese island of Madeira, espetadas are made by threading chunks of beef onto fresh-cut branches of bay then cooking the skewers over the embers of a fire. The bay infuses the meat with its unique menthol notes while also releasing a heady aroma. To re-create espetada at home, we pulverize dried bay leaves in a spice grinder to make a seasoned salt, mix in garlic and olive oil, then use the mixture to season the meat before threading it onto metal skewers and grilling over charcoal or gas. Flat iron steak or beef sirloin tips offer the best combination of tender texture and rich flavor, but if you’re up for a splurge, beef tenderloin also is excellent. Though a bit unconventional, we add tomatoes to these beef skewers and also make a simple Madeira reduction to finish the dish. Seasoned with garlic and some of the bay salt, the glaze-like sauce bolsters the flavors on the beef.

4 to 6



Don’t use fresh bay leaves in place of dried; they won’t grind down into a fine powder. Also, don’t trim the beef; bits of fat—what the Portuguese call “the flower of the espetada”—help with charring and add rich flavor. Finally, don’t use top-shelf Madeira here; an inexpensive nonvintage bottle will do just fine.

45 minutes

plus grill prep


  • 10

    dried bay leaves, crumbled

  • Kosher salt and ground black pepper


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John J.
May 8, 2024
Easy and delicious!
Delicious and very easy to make. I used some leftover beef tenderloin from trimming a tenderloin roast. I used Campari tomatoes and they held up well on the grill. It was a hit with the family and I will definitely make again.
Scott S.

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David S.

This isn't that hard to make and has a great flavor. I had served this with a bulghur salad but I wish I had served this with some kind of plain to just soak up the juice (rice, etc...) because the juice (the "jus"?) really made this. Now that grill season is almost over and I'm out of smoking pellets, I would still make this into the cold months. Maybe on a sheet pan in the oven or sauteed quickly on the stove? I'm not sure, yet.

Patrick B.

We made this last week, followed the directions as close as possible. The dish tasted good, but it was entirely too salty. What could have caused this? What adjustments should we make for next time?

Janelle C.

Hi Patrick,

It's crucial that you make sure you're using kosher salt with our recommendations as the size of the salt grain matters and varies brand to brand. Because of this fact, we encourage all subscribers to season to their tastes.

The Milk Street Team

Chris L.

Buy a whole beef tenderloin. Cut the thick center section into a roast or filet steaks and use the ends for this recipe. You'll save 25-50% over the cost per pound of fliets and you'll have this wonderful meal!

Jeanna S.

I didn’t want to go to the store so I improvised by using shaved beef and I barbecued the marinated meat in a bbq basket. I added The tomatoes to the sauce. It was so delicious! I will try it the traditional way next time.

Darrin S.

I have a bay laurel growing in my yard. If I want to use the branches of this for the skewers, do I need to peel off the bark and dry them, or can I just pull the leaves off and use it green?
Thank you!

Lynn C.

Hi Darrin -

Roberto Góis, the grilling expert we met in Madeira, simply stripped the branch of its leaves and used it bark and all. I would probably at least scrub the branch to clean it before use. Keep in mind, though, that the California bay laurel has a much stronger flavor than European bay trees. You may find that the bay salt combined with the branch is more bay than you'd like. Good luck!

The Milk Street Team