4 BBQ Secrets from Latin Grill Masters
In the spirit of summer barbecues, we share some helpful grilling tips from Latin grill masters.
By Janel Martinez | @janelm
There’s nothing that says summer more than a barbecue con la familia, verdad? The aroma from the holy trinity of sazónes — adobo, sazón y sofrito — is ripe in the air. Not to mention, the signature smell of grilled chicken, beef, or pork paired with lively conversations over loud speakers blaring salsa is a summer rite of passage.
“It's a beautiful thing because food brings people together, and [a] barbecue is just one of those things that you'll get everybody to raise their hand that they want to go [to],” says Ruben Santana, pitmaster and owner of Bark Barbecue. “Even if they're not going to eat, they're going to go to the barbecue because they just want to be in that ambiance.”
The Queens, New York native, who fuses Central Texas-style barbecue techniques with traditional Dominican flavors has always been interested in open-fire cooking. Santana can recall trips to his family’s campo in Elías Piña where he’d watch in amazement the roasting of a pig; however, city living didn’t allow for the exact technique to be replicated and, more so, consisted of throwing steaks and burgers on the grill.
But, the pandemic would present a new opportunity for Santana, who perfected his off-set smoker approach to the point of viral success. Founded in the summer of 2020, Bark Barbecue has graduated from Smorgasburg and city-wide pop-ups to the Time Out Market in Brooklyn — serving up juicy brisket, pulled pork, beef ribs and crispy chicharrón, among other BBQ favorites, alongside signature Dominican staples like maduros and moro de guandules.
Across the country, Bricia Lopez is continuing her family’s legacy of celebrating Oaxacan culture through cuisine. At the age of 10, la oaxaqueña arrived with her family to Los Angeles where her father, Fernando, would open the James Beard Award-winning restaurant Guelaguetza in 1994. Many of Lopez’s memories involve family and food, like her first asada, or simply put: barbecue, at 12 years old at a park in LA. While many people tend to associate carne asada with flavorful grilled beef, an asada is a buenas vibras gathering of loved ones over delicious grilled meat. The co-owner of Guelaguetza has a newly-released cookbook with L.A. Taco’s Javier Cabral titled Asada: The Art of Mexican Grilling, celebrating the heart of Mexican barbecue.
“There's a lot of citrus, there's a lot of spice, there's a lot of chiles,” Lopez says of the core elements of an asada. “In the citrus, you have lots of limes, lemons, [and] oranges. In the spices, there's lots of cumin, a lot of cloves, there's a lot of oregano; chiles: there's a lot of guajillo chiles and chiles de árbol. And then, of course, all the onions that you can think of — and all the garlic!”
With Lopez and Santana bringing different styles of grilling a la mesa, we tapped them to share their tips to upgrade your summer barbecue:
1. Prep begins before you cut on the grill or smoker.
From the cooking technique to the meat (or veggie) selection, barbecuing presents a number of choices. However, you’ll want to be as prepared as possible — down to the marinade selection and seasonings used. For those looking for a natural, ready-to-use marinade, Loisa’s sofrito fits the bill.
2. Use smoke as an ingredient.
“There's something so special about lighting your own grill and cooking with fire…If you're going to do a chicken, it's just going to taste better over fire,” shares Lopez.
3. A sacrificial onion works wonders.
“You cut it in half and then you wipe the grill grates with that,” says Lopez. “Not only does it clean it, it seasons it and creates an oil film — almost creating like a non-stick element to it. In addition, it just lays out this beautiful smell as well. It lets people know the asada is almost ready.”
4. Have patience.
As the start time of the BBQ approaches, you might be tempted to rush. But, Santana cautions against it as it can lead to dry meat or another culinary misstep. “Be a little patient with your food, especially when you're grilling, because the last thing you want is to have a burnt chicken that's dried up,” he remarks.
We couldn’t agree more. While great cooking takes lots of patience, you can buy yourself some extra time by grabbing fresh, high-quality seasoning blends like our products, which are great on a variety of dishes. ¡Buen provecho!