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Diego Biondi and another chef managing a huge asado

Forget the Frying Pan – Asado Is the Only Way to Cook a Steak

Chef Diego Biondi shares everything about the art of asado. Well, almost everything.

For Biondi, the talented sous chef at Momo Soho in New York, asado is an orchestra; the asador is the conductor, bringing the symphony to life. 

The concert is a casual affair with predictable beats: we socialize, drink wine, nibble cheese and salads, all the while anticipating the grand crescendo. La carne.

What Is Asado?

More than a cooking method, asado is a centuries-old tradition. It’s a social event, a time to catch up with family and friends, a time to relax, and a time to admire the skills of the asador.

People most strongly associate asado with Argentina but it’s prolific throughout the whole of South America.

It’s just grilled meat, you might think. What’s the big deal? But asado is deeply rooted in a long-standing tradition of raising cattle. In Argentina, at any given time you will find over 52 million cows grazing the lush green fields of the Pampas.

Cooking it, however, is a different question entirely. Biondi swears by a low-burning wood fire, and adds that no asado is complete without family and friends all around.

A piece of cooked asado on a chopping board with colorful salad

How to Cook Carne Asada

As you can imagine, each asador has their own method but Biondi, who hails from Argentina, tells us that there are two crucial components that all good asados have in common: fire and meat.

Sparking the fire requires a special touch and everyone has their own particular trick. In fact, "the discussions about which method is better can be endless", Biondi warns. "Many use newspaper, make a small chimney in the middle with the paper balls and then put the charcoal on top. It's quite the ritual."

But the objective is always the same: the fire must be controlled to cook the meat at a slow pace.

For Biondi, the key is “[to cook] with the heat of the embers, that is, once the charcoal is lit, the flame is extinguished and the embers remain lit, with that heat we cook, so to speak. We cook on a very, very slow fire," he explains.

Oh, and one other thing. The asador must know his cuts of meat.

Most people are used to cooking thin cuts with little fat but these dry out and become tough when cooked over embers.

"In Argentina, we prefer asado de tira, which has bones and a lot of fat or vacío, which is lower, boneless part of the ribs. When the meat is cooked for a longer time, the fat melts and the muscle absorbs the fat.”

The result? “Very juicy and extremely delicious," Biondi grins.

What to Serve with Carne Asada

When it comes to serving up a stellar asado, your non-negotiables are: salsa criolla – a popular South American salsa made with peppers, onions, vinegar and olive oil – and a great chimichurri, a strong sauce with a liquid consistency, made with oregano, parsley, garlic, ají, oil, salt and vinegar.

Other favorites to throw on the aforementioned embers are juicy chorizo and flavor-packed morcilla (blood sausage).

And to mop up those juices? Some good bread, of course. Alongside cheese, empanadas and wine. A lot of wine. Every element plays its part in creating an unforgettable feast, which is exactly what differentiates asado from your average barbecue.

Where do we sign up?

Chef Diego Biondi cooks asado on a huge barbecue

Secrets of an Asador

Biondi's eyes light up when he talks about asado and meat. But he’s a pro. We can’t help but wonder: can a true asado ever be recreated by one of us? A mere civilian?

Asadors are tough eggs to crack, like magicians unwilling to reveal their tricks. But Biondi gives us a couple of pointers.

"A very dry wood instead of coal should be used for the fire," he says. "In Argentina, quebracho is the go-to as it adds a unique smoky flavor to the meat.

"Always take the meat out of the refrigerator so that it reaches room temperature before [you] grill it. It allows the meat to relax so that when it touches the hot grill it doesn't contract, because if it contracts, it's finished."

We can certainly give it a shot. But perhaps the real secret of asado is the passion of the asador.

"We cook with a lot of passion. I cook with a lot of passion," Biondi agrees. Ultimately, when it comes to getting asado right, it seems like that's the secret ingredient.

José Guillermo Perez

José is a food, coffee, and travel writer currently residing in Brazil. He has lived in three different Latin American countries, where he worked as a barista and sociologist, among other things. He has written for Orgullo Latino since 2022.

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