A 101 guide to understand cuts of beef in Argentina
You have probably heard of how supreme and out of this world Argentine beef is many times, even if you have never set a foot on the country. From TV shows, Argentine restaurants abroad, fellow travelers that have been to the meat-lovers paradise or even perhaps from reading Francis Mallman’s book “Siete Fuegos”. As a meat-lover, one day you decided it was time to try it yourself and booked a trip to meat Mecca, aka Argentina. You are so close to that heavenly bite you have been dreaming of for so long… But now you face one big challenge: you know absolutely nothing about local cuts of beef and how to order them at local “parrillas” (steak houses).
Worry not dear traveler, as we are about to tell you everything you need to know about cuts of beef in Argentina.
Here cuts of beef are slightly different to those found in other countries. So, here is a list of the best ones to order during your stay:
- Bife de chorizo (sirloin steak/strip steak): This muscle does little to no work, so it is really tender, which makes it one of the most praised local cuts. Head to La Brigada SteakHouse (Estados Unidos St. 465, San Telmo, Buenos Aires) to see how they cut it with A SPOON in front of your own eyes. Definitely, THE beef cut that you cannot miss. It does not disappoint.
- Lomo (tenderloin): Located beneath the ribs, it has very low fat and it is an extremely tender part of the animal, being the most expensive cut. Pair it with some mustard or mushrooms sauce and it is guaranteed to take you to heaven in one bite.
- Tira de asado (costillas) (short ribs): A short part of the rib bone, that can be cut thin (known as “banderita”) or thick (known as “asado”). The usual serving consists of three or four ribs, and it is the main cut chosen to make BBQs. Get ready to get your hands greasy (that’s the local way to eat them!)
- Vacío (hindquarter, flank): A very tender and boneless cut of meat, with a layer of fat that adds flavor when cooked. Place it in between two bread slices and bath it in chimichurri sauce and you will have the best sandwich of your entire life.
- Entraña (skirt steak): Long and flat, this is an extremely tasty cut that can be roasted, grilled, or seared on a pan.
- Matambre (flank steak): A very thin cut with little fat; extremely crispy and a bit chewy when not cooked correctly. Ask for a “matambre a la pizza” (pizza-style flank steak) to take this cut to the next level.
“Asado”, an internationally renowned national dish:
Just like in the US and Australia, barbecue has been baked into Argentina’s culture and cuisine. Beef has been a staple in local dishes dating back to the mid-1800s, when gauchos (local cowboys) roasted beef on an asador (hand-made grill).
Ever since, “Asados” (barbecues) have become much more than a meal to us: they are a tradition in our country, almost like a ritual, as they represent an opportunity to spend time with our beloved ones, whether they be family or friends.
Traditionally, Sunday is the usual day to host “asados”, as many people do not work and have more time to enjoy the event, which begins before midday with appetizers as the fire is set, and it goes up to the afternoon with long table talks. An “asado” is definitely the most important social event in the life of an Argentine.
These local barbecues are known for being real meat feasts, inculding several of the cuts mentioned above (especially asado and vacío), as well as salads, grilled vegetables, and other treats such as:
Chorizo (beef and pork sausage): This is Argentina’s national sausage. It can be filled with a mix of beef and pork, or sometimes just with pork. If you want to feel like a local, do not miss a “choripán”, a sandwich made of bread and a “chorizo” cut open in the middle, with “chimichurri” on top to create the perfect balance of flavors.
Chinchulines (small intestines, chittlins): This is perhaps one of the less appealing cuts of meat for foreigners, but never judge a book by its cover: Yes, they are the intestines… But believe it or not, they are delicious! (especially after you squeeze some lemon juice on top).
Mollejas (sweetbreads, gizzards): Crispy on the outside and tender/creamy on the inside they are loved by many locals.
Riñones (kidneys): They are usually grilled and sometimes a sauce is added to add some extra flavor.
Salchicha parrillera (grilled sausage): This one is thinner than “chorizo”, and full of flavor. Don’t miss the chance to try it!
Morcilla (black pudding): It is a sausage filled with blood which is cooked or dried. In some cases, the sweet version may include raisins, peanuts or dried fruits. Some people also like the “morcipán” (similar to the choripán, but with bread and morcilla instead).
Provoleta: although not actually meaty, this grilled provolone cheese dish deserves to be on this list as it is a fundamental element of any decent “asado”!
When you are not sure about what to order or if you want to try different cuts in one meal, a “parrillada” will be an excellent option as it offers a little bit of everything. It usually includes beef and pork sausage (“chorizo”), black pudding (“morcilla”), kidney, chittlings, and different cuts of meat, such as short ribs, flank, flank steak and skirt steak. The cuts included might be different according to the restaurant.
How done would you like your steak? Learn how to order beef in Argentina the right way.
This is a significant question when thinking about beef, especially considering Argentine standards differ from those around the world. So, when visiting a local restaurant, keep these phrases in mind:
Vuelta y vuelta (blue rare): Approximate cooking time, one minute on each side. The meat has barely kissed the pan and it will be bloody.
Muy jugosa (rare): Approximate cooking time, 7 minutes.
Jugosa (medium rare): Approx. cooking time, 8 minutes. Officially this means medium-rare in Argentina, but it tends to be more on the medium side for most parrilleros (the grill chefs).
A punto (medium): Approx. cooking time, 8-9 minutes. Still a bit pink in the middle but not so juicy.
Cocido (medium well): Approx. cooking time, 10 minutes. Well done. Well dead.
Bien cocido (well done): Approx. cooking time: 12 minutes. It literally cannot get drier and chewier than this.
What about sauces? Yes or no?
Argentine meat is so tasty on its own it is almost considered a sin to mask its rich flavor by adding sauces to it, except for two exceptions:
Chimichurri: You have probably had the chance to try this one, but just in case, this is an uncooked sauce used as a condiment for grilled beef or “chorizo”. The main ingredients are chopped parsley, wine vinegar, olive oil, garlic and oregano. Some chefs also use black pepper, red pepper flakes and lemon juice (sometimes they also have a secret ingredient which will not be revealed).
Salsa criolla (Creole sauce): Another uncooked sauce that will be present in every “asado” table. The most common ingredients are diced garlic, tomatoes, onion, bell peppers, vinegar, salt, olive oil and fresh herbs.
Asado two ways? The vertical spit barbecue
As if the word “asado” was not tricky enough (refering to the cooking techniche, the social event, and one of the cuts), there is something extra to it: there are actually two ways to prepare an “asado” (barbecue). The regular horizontal grill, and the vertical pit: a big place is needed to perform this technique in which a massive piece of beef, a lamb or pork is placed on the spit (usually cross-shaped) and cooked over the flame for hours.
The fat renders evenly and slowly giving the meat an extremly tender texture and a unique taste.
Now that you are almost an expert in “asado” and cuts of beef in Argentina, it is time to take your taste buds into a culinary adventure around Buenos Aires old town and understand first-hand why Argentina has become beef Mecca.
Live the full Argentine beef experience leaving the organization up to someone else in an immersive grill tour in San Telmo.
Warning: we strongly suggest you “come to this tour hungry” as you will be treated to a real Argentinean meat feast!