Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Rodízio - A Guide to the Meats

One of the joys of dining at a Brazilian churrascaria that operates with the rodízio system is ogling the quantity and variety of cuts of meat that pass by your table. Passadores, as the meat servers are called, offer a seemingly unlimited number of cuts of meat, each presented on a large skewer and served to you for the asking. The only problem for non-Brazilian or the non-Portuguese speakera is that it's sometimes difficult to know exactly what's being offered. The passadores work rapidly so that the meat won't cool, and even if they had the language skills to name and describe what they have in French, or English, or Japanese, they don't have the time.

One option is to be brave and try everything that passes. The main problem with this approach is that one's limit of meat consumption is quickly reached, and some of the best choices might therefore go untasted. Another option is to stick to those cuts that are visually recognizable - a sausage is a sausage, and a skewer loaded with chicken hearts is unmistakeably what it is. Again, this limits your choices, particularly in cuts of beef since Brazilian cuts of beef don't correspond to North American or European ones. You'll never see a skewered T-bone or a Porterhouse sail by in a churrascaria.

To help a bit with this dilemma, Flavors of Brazil, with assistance and photos from Brazil's Gosto magazine, offers this visual and linguistic aid to some of the most common, and best, cuts of meats you're likely to find in a churrascaria that offers the rodízio system. This is only a sampling however, so be brave and try other things that look intriguing or smell appetizing. You may never find out what you ate, but you'll have gained a gustatory memory to take back home as a souvenir of your Brazilian churrascaria experience.

Churrascaria Cuts of Meat

1. Picanha - The most-desired cut of Brazilian beef, in or out of churrascarias. It's normally cut fairly thickly and skewered with three pieces pieces per skewer. It's sliced thinly and generally cooked from medium to well-done. Try to chose a piece that is still quite thick - if it's thin it's probably been returned to the fire a few times and will be less juicy.

2. Costela premium (prime rib) - The most fashionable cut currently in many churrascarias. It comes from the first five ribs of the animal and has a fine flavor because of the presence of bone. It has a very tender texture and is nicely marbled with fat.

3. Fraldinha (flank or skirt steak) - Formerly considered a second-grade cut of meat, this cut is now almost as valued as picanha. It is extremely juicy and is skewered on it's long axis which helps retain the juices. If you want your piece more well done, chose from either end of the cut where the meat is thinner. Chose a center slice for a piece that is more rare.

4. Bife ancho (rib eye) - Cut in the Argentinian style, this consists of two parts separated by a layer of fat. Always chose an exterior piece. The central portions are less juicy, but still have good flavor.

5. Costeleta de cordeiro (lamb chop) - All in a churrascaria is not beef. Brazilian lamb is juicy and flavorful and a small lamb chop is a nice change of pace in a churrascaria. Try to get a piece that is medium-rare to medium - well-done lamb chops can be overly dry.

6. Filet mignon - An extremely tender meat, as it comes from a muscle just below the lumbar vertebrae of the animal which contracts very little, even when the animal is moving. The only problem can be lack of fat, which makes the cut potentially dry. This cut should not be eaten well-done as it will then lose its charm.


  1. James, would you know what the corresponding term in english for Picanha would be? What about Alcatra?

    1. The name in English for picanha is rump cover - see this post on Flavors of Brazil: http://flavorsofbrazil.blogspot.com.br/2009/11/saturday-churrasco-part-1-picanha.html

      Alcatra is known as rump or top sirloin.