When I booked a trip to São Paulo, Brazil for my family and me it wasn’t for barbecue. We were traveling for spring break, but I had heard about a Texas style barbecue restaurant in the city called BOS BBQ. I was figuring out a way to break it to my wife that one of our dinners in Brazil would be Texas barbecue when the restaurant’s chef, André de Luca, announced on their social media accounts that they were closing for good. I reached out to the chef to see if I’d read the Portuguese translation correctly, and he confirmed it. Then, he invited us over to his apartment for dinner.
I couldn’t say no, and while my family napped on our first day in Brazil I was shopping with André at the meat market, not for brisket and ribs, but for a proper Brazilian barbecue meal. That meant multitudes of beef including the signature cut of Brazil, the picanha. It’s the cut you see pictured in magazine advertisements for American churrascarias like Fogo de Chão (which was founded in Brazil). The U-shaped beef squeezed tightly onto a skewer with a gaucho at the ready with his knife is emblematic of Brazilian barbecue.
Back at André’s apartment he fired up the grill, which was basically in his kitchen. When he added a dry log to the hot lump charcoal there wasn’t much of a draft out the open window, so the kitchen filled with smoke. He didn’t seem to mind. The full menu was written on the kitchen chalkboard, and we settled in for the many courses that would come, all of which were cooked on the grill.
Linguiça is a garlicky pork sausage of Portuguese origin. It was mild in the spice quotient and a squeeze of fresh lemon brightened it up.
Beef chuck short ribs were next. In Texas we make sure to smoke them until they’re pull apart tender, but pretty much every piece of beef in Brazil is cooked to medium rare. They let the knife do the work of making it tender by slicing the meat thinly against the grain.
A shoulder steak (I couldn’t determine the equivalent cut here in the U.S.) was also a tough cut made tender by thinly slicing it. There was a pleasant chew remaining, but it certainly didn’t feel like work.
Flank steak and New York strips weren’t unfamiliar, but they came from Brazilian cattle. They were smaller than what you’d find in a Texas grocery store, but no less marbled. The beefiness was intense and the fat was delectable.
The final course was the picanha. This is known as the sirloin cap or the coulotte steak here in the U.S. The IMPS # is 184D, and it comes from the very top of the sirloin. In Brazil they are careful to leave the full fat cap on the cut which covers one entire surface.
Grilling the meat is done in a few stages. First, the entire cut is salted heavily and grilled starting with the fat cap down. After searing on both sides, and making sure it’s still very rare in the center, the picanha is separated into thick strips. These strips are then returned to the grill to be seared on the newly exposed edges. The finished strips are then sliced thinly against the grain. Lucky for us André had also prepared a lardo dip to add a little more fat to the beef.
Also mixed into the meal was roasted heart of palm whose meaty texture would make any vegetarian happy, and farofa which is a dish of bread crumbs, onions, olives, and eggs. Its purpose is to soak up the meat juices left on your plate, and that’s not something you want to waste.
Many thanks to André for inviting a family of strangers into his home for such a feast. It was an incredible introduction into Brazilian beef and the country’s barbecue. More importantly, the meal may have saved us a trip to that Fogo de Chão a block from our hotel.