Churrasco is a word that can describe a variety of cooked meat dishes throughout Latin America, Brazil, Spain, and Portugal. Some of those dishes are not practical to make at home—I eat at Brazilian churrascarias fairly regularly, and as much as I love it, it’d be hard to imagine setting up the multiple spits of meat required for the proper Brazilian experience. In other instances, though, it doesn’t have to be quite so elaborate.
Take this simple recipe for churrasco steak, which is quickly grilled or seared, then bathed with some chimichurri sauce, as one might see it done in Argentina or Uruguay. This style of churrasco recipe often calls for skirt steak, but not always. You can use other thin, quick-cooking steaks as well. For instance, while developing this recipe, I butterflied a boneless short rib to turn it into something roughly the same thickness as a skirt steak (you’ll see it in some of the photos in this recipe), just as an example of how to make this work for other varieties of steak. You can see the butterflying technique in the photo below.
There’s honestly relatively little to say about this recipe given its ease and simplicity. We start with the steak, which should be cut into sections for easier handling and serving. We then salt it all over and let it sit, uncovered, for at least 30 minutes. This minimum half-hour dry-brine is important, as it gives the salt enough time to draw out moisture from the meat, dissolve into it, and then be absorbed. Once inside the meat, the salt dissolves some muscle proteins, which—long story short—leads to juicier, more flavorful results.
You can let the meat dry-brine even longer, which gives even more time for moisture on the surface of the meat to dry out. The drier it gets, the more deep of a sear you’ll achieve once the steak goes on the heat.
As for the heat, you want it high. Skirt steak is a thin steak and it runs the risk of overcooking in the time it takes to get a good sear on it, so don’t be afraid to really crank it. Flipping the meat often will minimize the development of an inner gradient of overcooked grey meat, and on a steak this thin, that can really make a meaningful difference in the results. That way, you’ll get a good sear on the outside and not too severe of a grey band within.
I wouldn’t go as far as to say that chimichurri sauce is synonymous with churrasco—that really depends on where you are and who’s cooking—but it’s certainly a common condiment. You can read more about chimichurri at the linked recipe, but in short, it delivers punchy herbal and garlicky flavor to everything it touches, with a bright pop of vinegar to really light things up. I like to brush a little on the steak shortly before it’s done cooking (don’t do it too early or you’ll just burn the sauce onto the meat), then serve the rest alongside the thinly sliced steak to be spooned on top at the table.
This churrasco recipe channels the Argentine approach, cooked on a plancha or grill and bathed in herbal and garlicky chimichurri sauce.
- 2 pounds (900g) trimmed skirt steak (about 1 whole skirt steak) or other thin cut of steak such as hangar or a butterflied boneless beef short rib (see notes)
- Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
- Neutral oil, such as corn or canola, for greasing grill grate or for the plancha/skillet
- One recipe Chimichurri Sauce
Season steak all over with salt and pepper. Set steak on a wire rack set in a rimmed baking sheet and refrigerate, uncovered, for at least 30 minutes and up to 8 hours before cooking.
To Grill the Steak: Open bottom vent of a charcoal grill completely. Light chimney starter filled with charcoal briquettes (6 quarts). Once top coals are partially covered with ash, pour into a steeply banked pile against 1 side of the grill; set cooking grate in place, cover grill, and allow to preheat for 5 minutes. Alternatively, turn all burners of a gas grill to high, cover, and heat grill until hot (500°F; 260°C), about 15 minutes. Clean and oil grill grate.
Transfer steaks to hot side of grill. Cover and cook for 1 minute. Flip steaks, cover, and cook for another minute. Continue cooking in this manner, flipping and covering, until steaks are well charred and an instant-read thermometer inserted into their center registers 110 to 115°F for medium-rare or 115 to 120°F for medium, 6 to 8 minutes; brush steaks all over with a small amount of chichurri for the last minute of cooking. Transfer steaks to a large plate and allow to rest in a warm place for 10 minutes.
To Cook on a Plancha or in a Skillet: In a large cast iron skillet or on a large plancha or cast iron griddle, heat 2 tablespoons oil (30ml) over high heat until lightly smoking. Add steaks in a single layer and cook, turning frequently, until well browned on both sides and center of steak registers 110 to 115°F for medium-rare or 115 to 120°F for medium, 6 to 8 minutes; brush steaks all over with a small amount of chichurri for the last minute of cooking. (If you own a cooking or grilling weight, you can use it to press down on the meat and improve the sear.) Transfer steaks to a large plate and allow to rest in a warm place for 10 minutes.
Cut steaks crosswise into 5- or 6-inch sections, then slice thinly against the grain and serve with chimichurri sauce spoon on top.
A cut like boneless beef short rib is usually thicker than we want for this style of rapid grilling or searing. The solution is to butterfly it, which you can see being demonstrated in a photo above in the recipe headnote.