Technique on Fire - Direct Heat: Asado Style
As much as meat is the center of the table today in South Texas, the rough vaquero lifestyle was a humble existence where meat was not an everyday part of the meal. For the most part, their time was spent tending the cattle, not grilling it, and they had to keep moving on to greener pastures to feed the herd. The constant movement also prevented them from having domesticated pigs and chickens. So, when they had the occasion to grill, they made it special. To this day, an asado, in Latin culture, is a social event.
Preferably, for asado-style cooking, you use a charcoal grill with hardwood charcoal and a cast-iron grate, as outlined in the following technique. An open propane or gas grill can deliver direct heat just as well, but you won't have the same flavor profile.
- Chimney starter
- 3 to 4 pieces newspaper
- Wood or hardwood charcoal of your choice (see notes)
- Refillable butane lighter
- Depending on your recipe and the level of heat and the amount of coals needed, you have to burn wood for varying amounts of time before it's ready to cook your asado. For my Beef Fajitas or Fire Roasted Tomato, Onion and Serrano Salsa, you will need to burn the wood/charcoal for 30 to 45 minutes for it to become white hot.
- Put the starter on a safe, heat-proof surface. The best location is on the grate of the grill prior to heating it up. That way, if anything falls in, it's going to the right place -- where you will dump it out later.
- Stuff a few pieces of bunched-up newspaper in the bottom side of the chimney and fill the top almost all the way with the wood of your choice or natural charcoal.
- Light the newspaper in the bottom of the chimney and let it burn; the flames from the newspaper will light the wood/charcoal in the top.
- When the wood/charcoal is lit and flames are barely licking out of the top, dump the wood/charcoal right in the middle of your grill or barbecue pit and follow the recipe as to what level of heat your coals need to be before cooking.
Note: If using wood, use completely dry (cured) wood -- it can be cherry wood, mesquite, hickory or pecan. The vaqueros used whatever wood they found around them, and at my restaurant in Seguin, we use mesquite wood because it is readily available in the area.
"Cowboy Barbecue: Fire and Smoke from the Original Texas Vaqueros" by Adrian Davila © Countryman Press 2018. Provided courtesy of Adrian Davila. All rights reserved.