Memorial Day weekend is one of the biggest grilling holidays in the United States, and burgers and hot dogs are never in short supply. But we aren’t the only ones that treat the almighty cookout like a widely anticipated event. In many cultures around the world, the cookout is more than just a reason to gather with loved ones and eat outside—it’s a celebrated tradition in its own right.
Asado in Argentina
Across many Spanish-speaking countries, a cookout is referred to as an asado. In Argentina specifically, the asado is an especially sacred part of the culture. There is a ritual and beautiful tradition that goes along with the whole event.
As Familia Kitchen explains, the entire asado truly centers on the asador (grill master) of the evening. It is this person’s job to prep the coals of the fire as guests arrive. Then a four-course feast follows in a specific order. The provoleta, a wheel of cheese topped with oregano and smoked paprika, is cooked and served first as an appetizer. Then, organ meats are cooked, including kidney, intestine, tripe, and sweetbreads. (Meats are only flipped once to ensure the juiciest of servings.) This is followed by side dishes such as whole potatoes, onions, and other vegetables. The best is saved for last with the choice cuts of beef and pork: ojo de bife, or rib eye, and chorizo y morcilla (matrimonio), a pairing of both meat sausage and blood sausage.
Finally, everyone usually toasts to the asador for managing the grill all night. An asado in Argentina is not just about throwing some meat on a grill; the steps are precise and every dish is equally important.
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Middle East/Central Asian Mangal
Mangal is an Arabic slang term which literally translates to grill. Originating as a Turkish tradition, mangal brings families and friends together as any respected cookout does.
Daily Sabah describes mangal as both an event and an art. Male members of the group are tasked with cooking of the meat, whether it be chicken, fish, or beef. However, everyone else must also contribute to the mangal by either helping to prep the meat with a marinade made of various spices or whipping up a delicious salad to accompany the meal. Çoban is a combination of chopped tomatoes, red peppers, onions, and lots of extra virgin olive oil commonly served at a mangal.
A mangal lasts most of the day because after the meat is done and as the fire is just about to go out, potatoes, tomatoes, and onions are thrown on the grill. The night finally ends when tea is served and everyone takes time to digest.
South African Braai
In South Africa, braai traditionally involves cooking on wood, but in modern times charcoal is fine—just don’t use a gas grill if you want to be authentic. What’s interesting about the braai, aside from the fact that it comes from the Dutch word for “roast,” is that it does not belong to one specific culture in South Africa. Many different groups celebrate big events like birthdays, graduations, holidays, and engagements with braai.
For braai, no meat is off-limits. Everything from lamb to pork to ostrich is good to include so long as its well-seasoned and marinated. However, braai does have its own signature dish called braaibroodjie, or “braai bread.” This is a sandwich made of buttered white bread, tomato, cheese, onion, and chutney that is placed on the grill. And much like an asado, there is a Braai Master upon whom all the responsibility of the meal falls.
A good cookout is a surefire way to bring people together, but what’s even more beautiful is the fact that no two cookouts are ever exactly the same. Some families serve up a buffet of cold sides to pair with burgers and hot dogs while others grill up everything from fruit to vegetables on a stick. Whatever way you roast it, these barbecues are about three things: food, fresh air, and people. So as you get the grill going, remember to soak in the experience for what it is: a fiery good time.