People seemed to really enjoy my Rules for Hotel Brunch Buffets as well as yesterday’s post on Secrets of an All-You-Can-Eat Brazilian Steakhouse so I’m combining both into this handy guide for making the most out of the meat frenzy that occurs when you visit a Brazilian steakhouse aka a churrascaria.
For those less-than-familiar with Brazilian steakhouses, they’re like All-You-Can-Eat buffets, except the buffet comes to you and it’s mostly meat. Sure, there are elaborate salad bars, but those are just there to take your eyes off the prize. If you follow these rules, you’re bound to get the most of that $50/person you’re shelling out for the experience. ($50?!? Yes. That’s on the lower end of what industry leader Fogo de Chao charges. At the most expensive location of Fogo in Beverly Hills, the price for dinner is $61.50. The lowest price I found was $48.50.) Let’s start with that fabled salad bar…
The Salad Bar is a Mirage
Just look at that majestic beauty: prosciutto, smoked salmon, fruits and vegetables galore. Fogo de Chao prefers that people call it a “market table,” but it’s a salad bar and it’s a sham, people. While these items are tasty enough, they’re nowhere near the elation you’ll feel stuffing pound after pound of simply-seasoned meat into your mouth. Would you pay $50 for access to this salad bar alone? No? Then why are you wasting stomach space on it. For the record, if you wanted just the salad bar, you can buy access to it without any meat for half the regular price. But why would you? Are you a fancy salad bar freak? Do you wander the Earth in search of the perfect high-end salad bar? No. You don’t. Nobody does. This is what my plate looked like when I came back from the salad bar:
A little smoked salmon, some cheese, a smattering of pasta salad, candied bacon, and hearts of palm: exactly enough to whet my appetite but not fill my stomach. Tread lightly on the salad bar or you’re going to regret it.
Don’t Get Stuck on Names You Know
You’ll be tempted to order the American cuts of names you know: ribeye, filet mignon, etc. While these are definitely good, it makes even more sense to focus on the cuts that Brazilians love. Fraldinha and picanha, both cuts of sirloin, work perfectly on the churrasco (Brazilian grill) and end up being better choices than the more well-known cuts because you’re just eating slices instead of full steaks. Filet mignon isn’t a fatty cut, although it’s known for its tenderness. While that may be good in an 8oz. steak, going with tiny bacon-wrapped pieces isn’t nearly as satisfying. It’s also not all about the beef. Never been a fan of lamb chops? Try them here. It’s all-you-can-eat, so you have nothing to lose. Same goes for pork loin. Here it’s called lombo and comes with a parmesan crust. I really enjoyed it. Opt for the more exotic choices and you’ll be rewarded for your adventure.
Sides Are Great, But Distracting
Look, I’m not going to stop you from eating those amazing sticks of fried polenta. The bananas are wonderful, too, as is the pao de queijo/cheese puffs (recipe found here), but the sides are like the salad bar: the more you eat, the less room you have for the high-end stuff. It’s your meal and I always think it’s good to have a little contrast — the world can’t survive on meat alone — but I’d push you to eat no more than 20% of your total stomach space worth of side dishes.
Make Friends With the Gauchos
This is the most important tip I can give you. The gauchos are your key to Brazilian steakhouse happiness. They both giveth the beef and taketh the beef away. If you make a good impression on one, he/she will become your personal meat supplier and you can request both the type of meat and temperature you want. The gauchos are happy to bring you whatever you’d like, so don’t be shy in requesting specific things. If you want more cheese puffs, all you have to do is ask.
And that’s it! Now all you have to do is locate your nearest Brazilian steakhouse and put these rules to the test. Let me know how it goes in the comments!