Preparing And Lighting The Fire

Improperly preparing and lighting the fire needed to get the coals hot can cause a few problems. If you don’t have a good fuel source to get the starter fire going the flames will extinguish before the wood or charcoal has a chance to get a good burn going. If the wood or coals are stacked incorrectly you’ll either prevent air from fueling the fire or end up with half of the coals ready while the others haven’t even begun to acquire a good ash coating.

It is best to build your pile of coals in an area separate from where the meats will be grilled. Unless of course you are barbecuing small cuts of meat that only need a short period of cooking time. Argentineans like to cook their meat slowly, therefore coals often need to be replenished underneath the grilling surface. Throwing cold coals or wood on top of the hot coals below the meats can either offset the temperature or cause flames that will char the meat. Therefore, you need an area to get the wood or charcoal well prepared before replenishing.

Before stacking the wood or charcoal, you’ll need a good fuel source to get the fire going. Small broken pieces of wood such as those from fruit and vegetable crates are the most widely used along with twisted sheets of newspaper. These items light quickly and maintain a good flame long enough to get the wood or charcoal burning. They are stacked well enough so that they will burn well while at the same time allow air to circulate freely. A small quantity of coals or wood will be placed on top of this to begin the base of the fire for more coals that will be added later.

Purists will use nothing else to fuel the fire such as any highly flammable liquids or pellets. You’ll never find a good Argentinean asado cook using commercial lighter fluid to start a fire. Although many on the market burn off their flavor ruining properties before the meat is placed on the grill, there is that odd chance that some residue might reside on a few coals. Remember, everything has to be a natural as possible for preparing an asado. However, many people including myself will use pure ethyl alcohol to get the fire going. Ethyl is the type of alcohol in found in alcoholic beverages, not to be confused with rubbing alcohol, and is an extremely clean burning fuel. It is burned off rapidly and will not ruin the flavor of the grilled foods. In Argentina you can find liter bottles of this alcohol in supermarkets or pharmacies.

Light it up.

When a good fire is going it is best to fan the flames with something to increase the heat so that the wood or coals will get a good burn going. Be cautious however so that you don’t put the flames out before they are strong enough to withstand the fanning.

After the first few coals are burning well, you can then add more wood or charcoal on top of the stack.

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