The Miami Herald
September 25, 1999
Argentina's grill thrill: weekend asado

 Associated Press

 SAN ANTONIO DE ARECO, Argentina -- Sebastian Calaon was hard at work as
 the morning sun rose above the Argentine pampas. He grabbed freshly cut
 firewood and set the logs in a pyramid over an open dirt pit. Only one thing was
 on his mind: lunch.

 In no time, a fire began crackling. Calaon slid a hunk of beef on a long metal
 skewer, and he jammed the skewer into the ground next to the flames. Lunch
 would be served in about five hours.

 Armed with a sharpened knife, a steel poker and a shovel for the coals, the
 20-year-old barbecue pit master geared up for what is a week-in, week-out ritual
 here: the Argentine barbecue.


 Known here as the asado, it is the ultimate grill thrill -- a mouth-watering
 experience combining fire and beef.

 There are no fancy chef hats, no marinades, no tangy steak sauces -- those
 trappings that typically crowd thousands of picnic tables across the United States
 each summer.

 And no gas grills.

 ``No. None of that,'' Calaon said coolly, shaking his head. ``I've got everything I
 need. Cooking on a log fire is the only way to bring out the flavor of the meat. This
 is a slow cooking process.''

 If any nation on Earth appreciates a good steak, it is Argentina. The Argentines
 regularly wolf down beef in prodigious amounts. And the asado is at the heart of
 the Argentine beef-eating experience, usually a relaxed weekend gathering of
 family and friends that rarely requires a special occasion.


 Calaon has honed his culinary craft over nine years. He studied under his father,
 watched friends, and experimented a lot before being anointed chief pit master at
 the La Cinacina ranch, 75 miles northwest of Buenos Aires.

 ``I first started cooking for five people, then 15, and later 25. My biggest asado
 was a few months ago when I served around 250 people. If someone doesn't like
 the meat, I always try to remember why,'' he said.

 Calaon displayed his skills at a recent asado. He managed three grills filled with
 favored cuts of meats, many unique to Argentina, where most of the cow is

 Shriveled cow intestines resembling jumbo shrimp were neatly arranged on one
 black metal grill. Sizzling chorizo sausages shared a second grill, inches away
 from hefty steaks. The fire hissed as juices from the sausages dribbled down the
 grill and stoked the flames.

 Calaon leaned over to shovel more hot coals onto the fire. He sprinkled salt over
 the sizzling meat, the only spice he would add all day.


 Calaon's prized main course on this day would be a thick hunk of meat known as
 vacio. It is a brisket-like meat enveloped in fat, cooked in open view under a
 corrugated steel roof. He kept vigilant watch over the meat, whose sheath of fat
 made it perfect for slow, slow cooking.

 Squatting to inspect the slab, Calaon dabbed at his reddened eyes as ashes
 sailed by his face, some clinging to his black beret. Pulling out a bowie knife, he
 then poked at the slow-browning meat. His knife easily slid through the tender
 beef, and he popped a chunk into his mouth. ``It's ready,'' he said.

 First-time asado attendees crowded around as Calaon dished up the first course
 on a cutting board just steps from the grill.

 ``This certainly isn't Uncle Joe flipping dogs and burgers on the backyard grill,''
 said Lair Kennedy, an Indianapolis native. ``This is serious business.''

 Asked if the Argentines had one-upped Americans in the barbecuing department,
 Joe Hostler, a Dallas businessman, conceded easily: ``They're the experts.''