Does Anything Taste Better than a Great Steak Cooked Over a Wood-Fired Grill?
Updated: Feb 24
Yes, that headline is a bit of a rhetorical question. For many, cooking over a wood fire restores us to the primeval time that resides in all of our human genetics. The South Americans elevate wood-fire cooking to high art, with perfect coals, incredible seasonings and a flair for grilling meat that excites the senses of any sentient omnivore.
This is the first of several short videos we'll post from our 2018 wingshooting expedition to Uruguay where we hunted at Uruguay Lodge, a beautiful destination not far from the Argentina border and part of the David Denies family of wingshooting and big game hunting destinations.
Watch Chef Edward Cardona in the video above as he brings on the feast...
We tried to replicate some of that great South American style of grilling when we got home, creating a "Venison & Boar Parrilla - Uruguayan-Style."
In South American “parrilla” (iron grill) cooking, oak or other hardwood and sometimes fruitwoods are burned in what is called a “feeder” fire. The burning hot embers are then collected and pushed or scooped beneath the cooking surface. The chef monitors closely, controlling how much heat is used. The results are delicious, especially when combined with basic South American sauces.
We don’t have a traditional parrilla so we improvised, using a brick barbecue pit. A piece of ¼-inch thick steel was positioned about 18 inches above the oak feeder fire in the hearth. A Camp Chef Lumberjack Over Fire Grill was then placed atop the steel. We shuttled embers from the feeder fire to the Camp Chef grill, occasionally adding pieces of one-inch diameter apple wood to develop more smoky flavors.
Ingredients (whatever you want to grill)
6 -pound front shoulder of wild boar (bone-in)
2-pound venison bottom rounds (3) and a couple backstraps.
We used Goya Mojo Criollo marinade, which has bitter orange, lemon, garlic and onion nuances, resting the meat in this tangy bath overnight in the refrigerator. Alternatively, use a favorite marinade. Ones with fruit juice work well with this style of grilling. Add largest cuts to the grill first. Ensure embers are hot enough to get a good sear on the meat, then reduce heat and slow cook until desired temperatures (170OF for the pork and 130OF for the venison). Once the meat has a good sear, baste twice with chimichurri – once shortly after achieving a complete sear and then again about 8 minutes before taking off the grill. Let the meat rest for a few minutes before cutting and serving. Top with (or serve on the side) a fresh criollo sauce.
We ate picnic style. Side dishes included a watermelon, blueberry and blackberry fruit salad, a coleslaw made with pickle juice instead of vinegar, and a caprese salad. A couple longtime venison eaters proclaimed it the finest they’d ever had.
Several large cloves of minced garlic
½-cup chopped fresh parsley
½ cup chopped fresh basil
1 tbsp chopped fresh rosemary
1 tbsp chopped fresh thyme
2 tbsp chopped fresh oregano
¼-cup finely chopped mixed spicy and sweet peppers (be judicious)
1 to 2 tsp dried red pepper flakes
1 ½ cups olive oil
¼-cup red wine vinegar
Salt and black pepper to taste
Mix all ingredients in a jar and shake. Let stand for an hour or two.
Note – if substituting dried herbs, use about half of the recipe amount and hydrate in a little warm water for a few minutes before adding.
2 cups diced mixed colors sweet bell peppers
1-cup diced onion
1-cup diced tomatoes
½-cup red wine vinegar
½-cup olive oil
Salt and black pepper to taste
Mix in a jar and let stand for at least ½ hour
Serve as a sauce/side with the grilled meat. It’s almost akin to a chutney or salsa.
Sauce Notes: Our sauces are adaptations of ones used by Edward Cardona, executive chef at Uruguay Lodge and a recipe in a book called “Feasting on Wild Birds,” by Mercedes de Castro, our hostess at the lodge. Both chimichurri and criollo can be made a few days in advance and stored in refrigerator. If refrigerated, let both get to room temperature to liquefy the oil before using.