Barbecue is a national treasure, a tradition that’s passionately guarded by those who grew up with it — especially Southerners. To slap a Texas- or Kansas-style label on anything smoked outside the corresponding zip code? Blasphemy.
In Brazil, the debate about the appropriation of American barbecue is fired up not only in its largest City, Sao Paulo, but all over the country. For a community of American expats, barbecue has become a cure for heimweh, or homesickness. But it’s safe to say that Brazilians have become just as obsessed; the business of importing smokers is booming, and now even supermarkets carry brisket, dry rubs, and pre-marinated pulled pork.
While churrasco, Brazil’s traditional fresh-cut slices of meat that fall onto your plate, has long been the epitome of Brazilian pride, American barbecue is actually a homecoming of sorts. But when pitmaster Daniel Lee was the first to start offering slow-smoked meats in Sao Paulo, around ten years ago, Brazilians had never heard of brisket — neither had meat suppliers.
Lee’s new smokehouse, Bark & Crust, does mild smoking with minimal flourishes; its meat tastes just as it should — meaty — without too much sauce that hides the flavor. Lee crafted his recipes from his long-time experimentation with hot smoking and brining.
Meanwhile, Don Rafoni is a Texas-style barbecue joint located in Santa Rita do Sapucai, a small town just outside Sao Paulo. Even the ambience there is full-force Texan, from the wood interiors to twangy country music. More importantly, pitmaster-owner Rafael Romancini smokes the meat exactly how it should taste. He also cures and smokes his own bacon just for his signature burgers.
In Brazil’s capital, Brasilia, pitmaster Lucas Parente of Lucas BBQ delves into his influences by Aaron Franklin of Austin’s Franklin BBQ and his love for local ingredients. His guava Barbecue sauce accompanies smoked meats slow-cooked over aged wine-barrel staves.
There were many challenges to doing barbecue in Brazil. First, there was the meat. Not only did local beef taste different — Brazilian cows are grass-fed, rather than corn-fed — it is also butchered differently. But the USA-style barbecue fever all over South America’s largest country is an honor to the American culture. There’s real effort going into every element of the barbecue made in Brazil, and you can taste it.