As soon as the weather is nice enough to light a fire and chill outdoors for hours on end, Americans look to the barbecue. But it’s far from just a US pastime. Barbecue is made around the world in many different styles. Some cultures barbecue inside restaurants while others barbecue in free-to-the-public grills in parks. Others still see barbecue primarily as inexpensive, on-the-go street food.
These are the best barbecue cultures around the world.
Editor’s note: We’re defining barbecue as cooked over charcoal or an open flame, which leaves out styles like underground pit roasting and tandoors because they can be more oven-like.
1. Korean barbecue
After kimchi, Korean barbecue is South Korea’s most famous culinary export. It’s done in restaurants rather than outdoors, most often in high-topped booths with a center table that has a grill in the middle. Each guest grills their own meat and dips it in the sauces of their choosing. These sauces and banchan (side dishes of fermented and pickled vegetables) are where most of the flavor comes from.
Customs to know: When cooking, don’t flip the meat more than once and use the provided scissors to make more manageable pieces. Large perilla leaves are used for making a bite-sized rice, meat, and sauce combo. Banchan is usually served before the meat but isn’t an appetizer. Nonetheless, feel free to give each a taste so you know what you’ve got, and don’t be afraid to ask for more. A button is typically on the side of the table to call your waiter over, and someone on staff will replace your grill grate occasionally.
Terms to know: For sauces, be sure to know gochujang (the famous sweet and spicy condiment), doenjang (fermented bean paste), and ssamjang (a mix of the two with sesame oil and onion). Typical meats include dwaeji galbi (pork ribs), dak galbi (marinated chicken), samgyeopsal (pork belly), galbi (beef ribs), and bulgogi (thinly sliced marinated beef).
2. Chilean asado
To partake in a Chilean asado is to partake in the tastiest part of Chilean culture. In southern Chile, where 64 percent of the country’s sheep are raised, whole-lamb asados are the key to special events. The lamb is quartered, halved, or splayed whole and cooked with plenty of salt over an open fire. Other parts of the country serve up sausages, ribs, steaks, and chicken.
Customs to know: An asado is just as much about the experience as it is about the food. Plenty of local beer, wine, and Pisco Sours are served throughout.
Terms to know: Leave the grilling up to the parrillero (grill master). You’ll want to be sure to eat choripanes, a spicy chorizo or sausage on bread, as an appetizer, and don’t forget the anticuchos (meat skewers). Finally, no asado is complete without pebre, a condiment made with onion, tomatoes, peppers, garlic, olive oil, and cilantro that’s essentially Chile’s national topping and is put on everything meaty.
3. Argentine asado
Asados in Argentina are similar to the ones in neighboring Chile but have different cuts of meat. And when it comes to meat, no one does it like Argentina. The country consumes the third-most amount of meat in the world (around 190 pounds per person, per year) and the second-most amount of beef in the world (around 85 pounds per person, per year). The asado tradition comes from the gauchos (cowboys) of the early 1800s and is now loved equally by people in the city and in the country. Common grilled meats include pork and beef sausages, blood sausage, and steaks, which are all accompanied by chimichurri. Everything is washed down with local Malbec wine and Fernet and Coke.
Customs to know: Asados are generally held at homes and ranches, both of which you need an invitation from a local to join. Parrillas, or steakhouses, are the next best bet.
Terms to know: Tira de asado is a large cut of fatty meat that’s similar to beef short ribs. Vacio is a boneless cut that’s commonly put on sandwiches. Morcilla (blood sausage) is sure to be on the menu. Keep an eye out for the achuras (offals). Mollejas (beef thymus gland) and chinchulín (beef small intestine) are common. The full list of options at an asado is long, but try as much as you can.
4. Japanese yakitori
Yakitori is a popular barbecue street food in Japan. It consists of chicken skewered on bamboo or metal and grilled over charcoal. The grill itself is thin enough to hold the skewers above the coals and long enough to cook plenty at a time. Yakitori isn’t just street food, though; it’s also commonly served in specialty restaurants called yakitori-ya and izakaya. It’s almost always, however, inexpensive and consumed with some beer.
Customs to know: Yakitori is typically served as pairs that are meant to be eaten hot off the grill. Order more as soon as you make it through the first round.
Terms to know: The chicken is seasoned with either shio (salt) or tare (a sweet and savory sauce). The biggest thing to know is the terms for what cut you’re getting. Momo is chicken thigh and one of the most common you’ll see. Tebasaki are wings, bonjiri is the tail, seseri is the neck, kawa is the skin, reba is liver, tsukune is a meatball mixed with spices, and sasami is the meat from under the breast.
5. South African braai
Like so many cultures, barbecuing is about so much more than just the meal in South Africa. Here, it’s called braai and comes from Afrikaans. The lamb, beef, and pork is cooked over a wood grill called braaistand, and everyone involved chips in on the ingredients. Beer and South African wines are almost always present.
Customs to know: Wood is always used for fuel, and the host is always in charge of the fire and meat. Never mess with another person’s fire. You’ll need an invite to a family or group’s braai, and the host will tell you the cuts of meat to bring. Braai can happen at any time, but September 24 is officially designated Braai Day in the country.
Terms to know: Chicken and lamb skewers are called sosaties while sausages are called boerewors. Dried and cured meats are ever present, as well, and are called biltong. A corn porridge similar to polenta called pap rounds out the meat-filled meal. Braaibroodjie is a sandwich with tomato, onion, cheese, and chutney, while roosterkoek (grill cakes) are dough balls cooked on the grill.
Finally, a “chop ‘n dop” is a braai where you’re expected to bring both the meat that you’re eating and the drinks you’ll be drinking.
6. Brazilian churrasco
Perhaps you’re familiar with Brazilian churrasco, or at least familiar with the seemingly endless piles of meat put onto each eater’s plate until they explode. Like the Argentine asados, churrascos started with cowboys in Brazil, who created the serving method that’s still used today where the meat (usually beef) is cooked on skewers and cut off tableside. A fine yuca flour is typically served on the side to sprinkle on top of the meat before eating. Don’t forget the Caipirinha cocktails made with local cachaça (a sugarcane-based liquor).
Customs to know: At restaurants, guests usually pay a fixed price, and meat is cut off of skewers until the person can’t eat anymore (some restaurants have a card where green means go ahead and serve more and red means stop).
Terms to know: A churrascaria is a restaurant that focuses on grilled meat. Typical meat cuts include picanha (top sirloin with garlic and salt), fraldinha (tender bottom sirloin with plenty of fat marbling), chuleta (ribeye), and filet mignon. Molho campanha is a typical condiment made with red and green peppers, onion, and tomato, and farofa is the yuca flour.
7. Filipino lechón
Lechón comes from the Spanish occupation of the Philippines from 1521 to 1898 and is now an important traditional Filipino dish. The meal is a slow-roasted (five hours isn’t unheard of) suckling pig cooked over coals. Lemongrass, fruit, leeks, garlic, and other spices are stuffed inside to season the meat, and coconut water or soy sauce is rubbed on the skin. The skin is crispy, and the inside is juicy and tender. While it’s eaten on special occasions on many Filipino islands, it’s most renowned on Cebu. Lechón also holds the distinction of being dubbed as the “best pig ever” by Anthony Bourdain.
Customs to know: Lechón is for special occasions (it’s particularly popular around Christmas) and is a pricey meal. It’s served family-style with cuts being dished out as soon as it’s taken off the spit.
Terms to know: The best lechón doesn’t need sauces or condiments, but Mang Tomas is a common gravy found wherever lechón is served.
8. Australian barbecue
Shrimp on the barbie is not a thing in Australia, no matter how fun it is to say, because in Australia, they call them prawns. That doesn’t mean barbecuing isn’t a thing, though, and it is indeed called a barbie. Barbecuing is a classic summer outing in Australia, and it’s much like a barbecue in the US. Lamb chops, steaks, and sausages are common, as are seafood like prawns and rock lobster.
Customs to know: Anyone from the US will find an Australian barbecue pretty familiar. One nice touch is the cheap-to-free public barbecues in city parks.
Terms to know: A snag is a sausage, and it’ll come with a crispy skin, mustard, and onions on bread.
9. German barbecue
Germany is another country with a barbecue culture close to the one in the US. Only, it’s more like the US’s barbecue culture is close to Germany’s, not the other way around. The term for having a barbecue in German is grillen. All types of sausages are on the menu, as are pork chops, coleslaw, and beer. Burgers, however, are not part of a grillen. As for how the Germans changed US barbecue for the better, the first brisket in the US was cooked by Jewish German chefs and families.
Customs to know: The customs and vibe are much like the US, but gas grills are very rarely used.
Terms to know: Bratwurst is the generic term for sausage, and there are dozens of different kinds. Nürnberger are small sausages, and blutwurst is blood sausage. Weisswurst are white sausages, and you don’t eat the casing.
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