Cooking a La Parrilla

Fire. According to some mythologies, it was stolen from the Gods and given to mortals where it played a pivotal role in our evolution. It might not be a big stretch to imagine the thief was an Argentine because of their mastery of fire, especially in cooking – and especially with a magical, yet simple device known as the parrilla.

Commonly traced to the gauchos – the Argentine cowboys who traverse the vast, windswept plains of Patagonia – the parrilla consists of a metal grate placed over a bed of hot wood coals. Simple, eh?

Well, it’s the fine art of manipulating those coals to cook anything from beef to pork to veggies to cheese that separates the amateurs from the real-deal, bad-ass ‘parrilladors’.

And how is the parrilla different from the good ol’ American barbecue? Well, it’s like taming a lion versus a mouse.

On a parrilla, you don’t cook over fire, you cook over the coals produced by a fire. This creates an even bed of heat which slow cooks your fare without charbroiling it, all while adding a distinct hint of the wood, ideally a hard wood, that you’re burning. And unlike the barbecue, where you set the fire and move around the stuff you’re cooking with the parrilla you move the coals around to get any level of heat you desire.

You can build a simple yet amazingly effective parrilla of your own with some heat-resistant cement blocks or bricks, a metal grill and a flat, fireproof surface.

Create a three-sided structure with your blocks and fit the grill about 6-10 inches above the ground or surface. Make a fire station that allows the coals from the wood (and possibly a bit of charcoal) to fall out the bottom so that you can extract them with a metal scoop, tongs, or shovel. Spread the coals under the grill in an even manner, allow the grill to heat up, and lay your fare on top.

And of course, your foray into Argentinian cooking will be much more enjoyable when paired with a bottle of Malbec.

Other stories and recipes from our journeys can be found in the One True Vine Journal 001. You can purchase a copy here: