miércoles, 25 de febrero de 2015

A complete guide to uruguayan barbecue (parrillada)

Let´s start with the basics

Uruguay is the world leader in per capita beef consumption. It recently won this title from archrival Argentina (article here). "Parrillada" is part of a national "rite" that takes place at home, with family and friends and at specialized restaurants: sould food sharing as well as the process of cooking. 

For all of you coming to visit Uruguay, and Montevideo in particular, you cannot miss this unique experience.

There are so many options that the unseasoned traveler may find itself at a total loss, therefore here is this guide, step by step, to enjoy a "parrillada completa"(complete barbecue) the way an authentic local would do. Avoid being treated like a turist! At the end of this article you will find my tips as to the best places in town.

¿What is a "parrillada"?

Actually, is a way to cook, using a set of iron bars. Uruguayan and Argentinian barbecues are similar but have some important differences, you will find a more detailed description here.

Embers are not obtained of charcoal but from native woods, which happen to be hard and aromatic, giving the food a unique flavour of smoky aromatic resins, very earthy and satisfying. Embers fall from a wood fire that is burning just near the set of bars, the fallen embers are deployed under the beef as in the picture below.

Beef on embers

By extension, parrillada is a restaurant that is specialized in barbecue, but generally caters other dishes like pasta as well as traditional side dishes. Also you will most surely find alcoholic drinks like wine, beer and Scotch whisky.

A parrillada for every budget

The most expensive parrillada in Montevideo is a sequence of different cuts of meats from the barbecue brought to the table. The cuts are presented in a spade which is a traditional Brasilian treat (called "espeto"). This is not your typical uruguayan parrilla but it comes in handy to try a little bit of everything. Or not quite so, once the sequence is complete, you can start over, all for the same price.

On the other end of the spectre, the most economical parrillada is called "half tank", as the picture shows consists of a lubricant or asphalt tank cut in half with a set of iron bars on it. Usually found in street corners, it is the national fast food, though lately these have become quite ubiquitous as average income has risen and people can afford eating in restaurants.

Beef on a "half tank"
And last but not least, the most popular option is a restaurant with a big set of iron bars, on a brick stove, ready to serve a hungry party. Of all places, Mercado del Puerto is the site of choice, you will find not less than 10 restaurants (all very similar) that compete deploying their goods like in the picture below.

An actual photo of the options on parrilladas at Mercado del Puerto

The list of options

This is a brief summary of the main types of food usually found in parrilladas: sausages, offal, meats and vegetables. Actually there are many more options, but, let`s start with the basics.


Uruguay has excellent pork products, sausages being renowed (not so much as beef but...). Best ones are "Extra Cativelli", you can't miss those. Also recommended is the blood pudding called "morcilla" which can be sweet or salty, with nuts, olives, orange zest... don't skip them either.


Barbecued offal is very typical of uruguayan cuisine. They have a very strong flavor, lots of grease and should be tried in small portions because they can be too heavy to digest. But there is a primitive satisfaction after eating them. Almost anywhere you can ask for kidney or gizzard, but also try "choto" and "chinchulin" which are parts of the intestines, it might not seem very elegant but it is really worth it. Usually lemmon slices are enclosed.




Pork, lamb and chicken meat can all be found at the parrilladas, but the most traditional and recommended of meats is beef, for sure. There are cuts with bones, which are more tasty and boneless cuts which are more tender and refined.
The most traditional cut is "asado de tira" which is rib bones cut in slender pieces with the meat left between them. This cut is not available in the northern hemisphere because all this meat is processed as hamburgers. As industrialization does not have economy of scale in Uruguay, actually asado de tira and hamburgers have similar price, therefore, are the preferred way to consume it.
Asado de tira
You have to be quite skilled with your knife to be able to get around the bones and separate the meat, so I recomend asking for this dish in the company of a local person.

Boneless cuts like "entrecot" or "picanha" are top of the line, definetively worth the trip to this corner of the world.

Bife de chorizo or Entrecot, forget your cholesterol for a while!!
A dish of "asado de tira" can cost between 12 and 20 US dollars and a dish of entrecot can cost between 15 and 25 US dollars, depending on the type of parrillada you choose.


Barbecued vegetables are very tasty because they are smoked with the local wood flavors.
Now, who will order vegetables when this beef is available?? Well, potatoes, sweet potatoes, and sweet peppers are very popular as side dishes (as well as french fries). Barbecued potato is called "papa al plomo" because it is lined in aluminum paper; it can be served with melted butter or blue cheese. Sweet potato is usually served with a crust of candied sugar.

Order like a local would

A brazier "brasero" is very often available on many parrilladas (maybe not in the more expensive ones). The advantage is that you ask for it and it will bring the most typical food from the parrilla, you won't have to take this blog post with you. On the other hand, sausages, offal will get somewhat cold if you take some time to enjoy everything, therefore it will become a little bit more difficult to eat and digest (remember the high cholesterol). And probably it will not include the best beef cuts, but anyhow it is a good start to this local tradition.
Brasero de parrilla

I really hope this post is useful for you, I will follow up with more tips for enjoying the best places and treats, see you soon!!

Enjoyed the post and want to keep on reading?

Links to similar posts below

Argentinian or Urugayan parrillada?

A table with a view... to the Montevideo coastline

A visit to Montevideo's Agricultural Market

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