You may throw the first stone if your mouth has never watered with the sight of a perfectly grilled New York strip or rump steak. Well, if you are in Uruguay I`m 100% sure that no stones will be thrown, as it is virtually impossible to resist a “parrillada”. Grilling is taken so seriously in Uruguay that even before building their own houses they build the “parrillas” (the grills).
A typical home "parrilla"
But what makes the Uruguayans “parrillas” so special? As Chuck Stull summarizes, describing the process, as developed by his friend Tito: “As the logs burn, (in the firebox on the left) coals drop onto the brick floor of the “parrilla”. Tito then uses a poker to spread the coals under the grate holding the food. Fewer coals (on the right side of the grill) keep the temperature lower for slow cooking. Closer to the fire, it’s hotter. The grate can also be angled upward for more temperature control. New logs in the firebox replenish the supply of hot coals, so extended cooking is straightforward. Potatoes go on top of the grill wrapped in foil and sweet potatoes go directly into the coals under the fire. Everything tastes great.”
Since the food is cooked only on fully burned charcoal, there is less smoke and hence the taste is much more preserved.
Commercial “parrillas” are, of course, much larger than the one depicted in the above picture, and can be found all over Uruguay. All I have to do is to drive a couple of hours (as I live a little bit more than 200 km from the Uruguayan border) and find myself in the city of Chuy where I can mix pleasure with pleasure, that is, I can simultaneously enjoy a “parrilla” and do some wonderful shopping.
Chuy is a small town with a population of around 10,000. Although rather small it’s a busy commercial area, as the government allowed the existence of several duty-free shops, making the trip a not to be missed opportunity for buying electronics, perfumes and, what brings me here most often, wine (specially from Chile and Argentina, but also from Italy, France and a few other countries).
Duty-free shops in Chuy/Uruguay
What I usually come here for
The “parrillas” found in Chuy are not among the best ones, specially considering what you can find in Montevideo, for example (I’ll write a bit about them at another occasion), but the meat in Uruguay is always of top quality. This time I went to “Entrecot”, a new “parrilla” right at the main street (Av. Brasil – GPS: 33.693023 Lat S, 53.452445 Long W) (Please, check the “update” at the end of this post).
To prepare a “parrillada” all you need is good meat (Uruguay is plenty of that), sea salt and the “parrilla”, of course. If you want to see a movie on the process take a look at http://comida-y-bebida.practicopedia.com/como-hacer-una-parrillada-326
For lunch I had some traditional cuts, like ribs and a New York strip, and also adventured myself into “rinones” (kidneys), “chinchulin” (intestines) “molleja” (tymus gland) (these are the first 3 meats put on the grill in the above video) and “morcilla” (blood sausage).
The "parrilla" and the chef at "Entrecot" steak house
Overview of available cuts
A few cuts to start with
We paid US$ 15,00/person for a service of the type “eat as much as you can”, including beer. A real bargain.
UPDATE: Last weekend (December 5th, 2009) I’ve returned to Chuy looking for some Christmas gifts, and once again had lunch at “Entrecot”. Don’t waste your time, the place is simply terrible now. Bad, really bad. Guess I’ll have to look for other options. It seems that “Spetu’s”, on the Brazilian side of the border, is the place to eat now. Haven’t been there though.