Americans love their BBQ. There’s nothing better than a backyard cookout, cold drink in hand. Across the U.S., we have our differences when it comes to melt-in-your mouth brisket versus tender pulled pork; charcoal, gas or wood grills; and even intra-state debates about the best way to cook a whole hog. But any way you slice it, we love our BBQ.
And we’re not alone. Virtually every country has its own style of barbecue (if not many styles). Across the rest of the world, from South America to the South Pacific, people have been gathering to passionately cook over an open flame for centuries. Here are a few of the best styles of BBQ across the globe:
China | Shaokao
Among the most underrated barbecue on earth is the street-side shaokao of China. For some reason, despite being ridiculously addictive, this style of grilled skewers hasn’t really found its way stateside. Busy streets and night markets throughout China are filled with all manner of meat, seafood, vegetables and fungus on bamboo skewers. My favorite were in Chengdu, the capital of Sichuan province, where diners fill a basket with skewers of their choice that have been seasoned with a generous dose of cumin and Chinese five-spice powder, and hand it to the cook, who will (often) fry it before finishing it off on an open flame.
Mexico | Barbacoa
If you frequent chipotle or your local taco truck, there’s a good chance you’ve had something called barbacoa. There’s an equally good chance that it’s a only a distant relative of the barbacoa they make south of the border. Rather than the braised beef (or occasionally goat) you’ll find stateside, in Mexico barbacoa meat – sheep, lamb cow, goat, and sometimes even pork, depending on region – is buried in a pit in the earth, covered in agave leaves and cooked verrrrrry slowly until it’s soft enough to pull apart into tender strings of meat. It’s usually served in a broth and eaten as a soup or with tortillas to make some of the best tacos you’ll ever eat.
Argentina | Asado
In Argentina, they let the meat speak for itself. In this beef-loving country, asados are an all-day affair where slow-cooked meat comes off the grill – or often just a wire rack placed upright in the ground near an open flame –throughout the afternoon/evening. You’ll usually find everything from the more popular cuts of steak to shanks, intestines and brain, and occasionally even a whole animal. Usually your meat will be seasoned with little more than salt, though light and herbaceous chimichurri sauce is often on hand.
Philippines | Lechon
Whole roasted pig is common throughout the Caribbean, Pacific and Southeast Asia, but nobody does it better than the Philippines – at least according to Anthony Bourdain (and we can’t disagree, though Bali’s babi guling is right up there). Generally reserved for holidays and celebratory occasions, lechon is prepared with slightly different ingredients from region to region, but generally a piglet aged between three and six months old is marinated in a mixture of salt, pepper and fish sauce for up to a few days, stuffed with herbs and slow roasted on a spit for several hours. The result is tender meat, and trademark crispy, almost shard-like skin.
Brazil | Churrasco
Brazil might be most famous for its wild Carnival celebration, its postcard-perfect beaches and its soccer prowess, but churrasco is arguably its greatest export. You can find Brazilian BBQ restaurants (or churrascarias) all over the world, where skewers of all kinds of meat – from prime cuts of beef to sausages to chicken hearts – are slow-roasted over a bed of coals and delivered tableside until you’ve eaten so much you can’t move. And make sure you try those chicken hearts; they just might be the best thing you eat all night.
India | Tandoor
A tandoor is s a cylindrical clay oven with a heat source that’s either wood or charcoal. It’s something of a cross between a traditional BBQ and a convection oven that gets ridiculously hot – like 900°F hot, which, for comparison, is probably between 200 and 300 degrees hotter than your grill and 400 degrees hotter than the oven you’ve got at home. The result is juicy skewered meats that are more or less baked in their own smoke, creating a unique, smoky flavor. Everything from breads like naan and chapati to kebab and tandoori chicken to tikka (meat, cheese or fish marinated in yogurt and a dry spice mixture) are cooked in tandoors.
In the States, yakitori is usually one of those things you get as an appetizer at a pan-Asian restaurant or something you order at a sushi restaurant for your friend who, despite it being 2018, still refuses to eat raw fish. In Japan, yakitori restaurants generally serve little more than yakitori, perhaps a few sides, rice and noodles, and, of course, beer to wash down the yakitori. These skewers of virtually any part of the chicken are either seasoned with salt or glazed in teriyaki sauce. One thing most yakitori restaurants have in common is that they use a very unique type of white charcoal called binchotan, which is about the only charcoal on earth that’s safe to burn indoors.
Korea | Gogigui
In Korea, they call it “gogigui,” but you probably know it as Korean BBQ. And if you live in New York – or any other major metropolitan city – you’ve probably taken a date to a gogigui joint or gone for a friend’s birthday party to cook your own banchan (sides like fresh veggies and kimchi), bulgogi (marinated beef) and kalbi (short rib) on the grill that’s built into your table. And if you haven’t, well you’re missing out – it’s kind of like fondue, except it actually tastes good in addition to being fun.
Ikan Bakar | Indonesia
Ikan bakar is a method of cooking fish over a bed of charcoals. The exact techniques and sauces vary throughout the islands of this vast archipelago, but the fish is often butterflied, marinated in a spice mixture and placed between two grates or wrapped in a banana leaf that go directly on the grill. The sauces, sambals, vary depending on region, but they often include shallots, coriander, garlic, tamarind, turmeric and chilies, and can range from spicy-sweet to I-NEED-MILK-NOW fiery. (Ayam bakar is chicken cooked similarly). This is, unfortunately, another one of those impossibly tasty barbecue styles that inexplicably hasn’t made its way across the globe.
Umu, imu, hima’a, lovo, koua, tou, mumu, etc. | Pacific Islands
Earth ovens are among the most ancient ways to cook, and while much f the world has moved on from using them, they’re still used commonly throughout the Pacific islands. While the cooking methods – and names – differ from island to island, cultures throughout the Melanesian and Polynesian Islands, and the rest of the Pacific, still bury their meat in a pit in the earth, It’s generally marinated, finished with a savory glaze and topped with tropical fruit.