For the uninitiated, beef is synonymous with Argentine cuisine. Beef takes top billing on the menu of any old Argentinian restaurant, and while there are the stock chicken and pasta dishes, and at least a single order of pork chops on the menu, almost everyone, local and tourists alike, will go for the beef. And why not? Argentine beef is famed for its free-range grass-fed status, and while that might no longer be the case with industrialized livestock farming rearing its ugly head, the beef is still mighty tasty and much cheaper than in other countries.
Besides the quality of the meat, what makes Argentine beef so delicious is the prevalence of these coal and wood fired grills called asados, that guarantees that meat is cooked with smoke, heat and some char. Also important are the legions of asadors (people who undertake the grilling) Argentina breeds, either trained professionals or amateur home cooks who nevertheless take up their ritualistic Sunday barbeque duties seriously. This ensures the person who cooks and the one who eats the meat at restaurants know what they are doing and looking for respectively.
I would be remiss not to talk about the portion size, which tends generally towards the side of copious. Just look at the amount of food the two of us shared when we ordered a parillada (mixed grill) at El Quincho del Tio Querido in Puerto Iguazu. The grill is loaded with 2 portions of everything, including standard bife de chorizo (striploin), ribs, chicken, chorizo sausages, morcilla (blood sausages), riñones (kidneys) and chinculines (intestines). We loved the meat and the sausages (naturally), thought the kidneys were overcooked and were a little unsettled by the extremely gelatinous texture of the blood sausage. And the intestines? I could eat intestines (well cleaned ones) in any form and these while a tad rubbery, had creamy insides and a good smoky flavor. Everything was cooked in that gigantic asado shown above, seasoned simply with some salt to draw the natural flavors of the meat juice out. Additional seasoning is not necessary, though if you like, the green chimichurri sauce loaded with parsley, garlic and other dried herbs is ever-present on restaurant tables.
You may of course eschew the mixed grill and order your favorite cuts at the steakhouse, or parilla. For that though, it is extremely useful to have a glossary of meat cuts in Spanish handy. Also handy are the terms for doneness: bien cocido (well done), a punto (medium), jugoso (juicy, or medium rare) and muy jugoso (rare) though of course, one asador’s definition of juicy will differ from another!