If you’ve ever stepped foot into a Brazilian steakhouse, you know the decadent culinary experience that always follows: succulent meat on skewers sliced right onto your plate, countless unlimited options, vinegary toppings, and sweet caramelized plantains. But have you ever thought about the history behind the Brazilian steakhouse, and why it is quite different from a traditional American steakhouse?
While some may know it as a Brazilian steakhouse, the real name for it is a churrascaria. The name is a translation of the Portuguese word for “barbecue” and is named after the way the meat is cooked. Churrasco style simply means that the meat is grilled over an open fire. A common way to cook churrasco-style meat is on a skewer.
We’ve taken a deep dive into why this cooking style became so popular in Brazil, how it traveled to the Americas, and why there’s always an endless supply of meat. Here are some of the secrets you never knew about Brazilian steakhouses, and for more dining tips check out 8 Secrets Steakhouses You Don’t Want to Know.
Fogo de Chão is the leading Brazilian steakhouse chain in America.
One of the most popular Brazilian steakhouse options in America is Fogo de Chão, a full-service Brazilian churrascaria that serves rodízio style right at your table. Founded by two brothers who grew up on a traditional southern Brazilian farm in Serra Gaucha, they soon received formal churrasquerio training and opened their first location in Porto Alegre in 1979. Fogo soon came to America and opened its first restaurant in Dallas, Texas, and now operates more than 60 dining options across America, as well as Brazil, Mexico and the Middle East.
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Brazilian barbecue dates back to the 1800s.
Churrasco-style cooking dates back to the 1800s from the gauchos, nomadic rural horsemen who squabbled cattle for their meat. They started roasting beef on skewers over an open fire, making the flavor of their beef even more decadent. They would then take their beef skewers home to family and friends and serve the meet “rodízio” cut straight off the skewer. This style of serving is still widely used in Brazilian steakhouses around the world.
There are over 20 different meats to choose from.
According to CNN, large churrascarias offer up to 20 different meats for your meal to choose from. The most popular option includes picanha (a prime sirloin), followed by alcatra (top sirloin), baby beef, filet com alho (garlic filet mignon), maminha (rump steak), and costela de Ripa (beef short ribs). Churrascarias also offers beef-free options, including pork loin, sausage, lamb, chicken, and fish.
Picanha is the most popular Brazilian meat to order.
Brazilians prefer the picanha, a piece of meat that comes out of the top of the rump. It is typically thinly sliced and served with rice and beans. Some Brazilian steakhouses cut picanha off a large skewer, which was then charcoal grilled and then slow roasted rotisserie style. The top layer is then browned, then the meat is sliced and served fresh.
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Lombo is a popular non-beef alternative.
If you’re not big on steak, lombo – pork loin – is the next most popular option. The loin is dressed in a layer of parmesan cheese and only the best cuts of loin are kept for grilling and serving.
Most Brazilian steakhouses offer unlimited meat options.
Originally a family-style dining experience, Brazilian steakhouses are commonly known as buffets, with a variety of dishes to choose from, including their long list of meats. The meat is sliced and served rodízio style, which means that the sliced meat is served directly on the customer’s plates.
But Brazilian steakhouses don’t have to be strictly bargain experiences
You can opt for the traditional experience, at a lower price, where many meats, including filet mignon, chicken, pork sausage, and even lamb, will keep coming until you stop. Or, for a price boost, at Fogo de Chao you can sample some of the more high-end cuts, such as the Wagyu NY Strip or Ribeye, both of which are aged a minimum of 21 days. The chain also offers a Dry-Aged Tomahawk Ancho steak that has been aged for a minimum of 42 days.
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Fatty meats are served with sour sides to balance the flavour.
One of the most popular sides is molho campanha, a Brazilian salsa usually made with tomatoes, red and green peppers, and onion, tossed in a vinaigrette. According to Insiderchurrasco-style meat is typically fatty and pairs well with acidic additions, including a caipirinha, a national cocktail served with cachaça (a native Brazilian alcohol), sugar, and lime.
An earlier version of this article was originally published on July 19, 2022.