Eat + Drink: Asado Southern Style
Inspired by his South American “barbecue” research trip, Jim ‘N Nick’s executive chef Drew Robinson shares his take on an asado feast at a Sullivan’s Island cookout
The sangria is cold. The grill is hot. Ditto the weather, but that isn’t bothering the group gathered oceanfront at this Sullivan’s Island home. There’s a blessed Atlantic breeze cooling the terrace where Doug and Pam Van Scoy have invited their Jim ‘N Nick’s associates to join a few friends for a little alfresco dining—and a big surprise.
A local partner with Jim ‘N Nick’s Bar-B-Q, Doug cooked up this special event. He’d heard all about the December asado trip to Uruguay that company owner Nick Pihakis orchestrated for the Fatback Collective, a self-described crew of like-minded “chefs, pitmasters, culturalists, and eaters committed to porkfection.” Jim ‘N Nick’s executive chef Drew Robinson came up from Birmingham to show the Van Scoys what he and his Fatback compadres had learned about the South American style of barbecue. With some backup from John Haire, Jim ‘N Nick’s local store owner for Charleston and Bluffton, this culinary team is throwing an asado, Southern-style.
“The South American asado, much like the American Southern barbecue, can either refer to the event or the techniques of cooking over fire,” explains Drew. “As events, both have traditions of casual camaraderie, where folks linger around roasting meat, sipping some spirits, sharing good food, and making good memories.”
It’s the technique and timing that make the difference. “While both cultures use outdoor fire pits with the wood burned down to coals, the asado uses a hotter fire and a faster cooking time, putting the meat either on a grill or directly over the coals,” he says. Additionally, as with the potatoes, onions, and carrots in this menu, the asado technique for cooking vegetables often calls for burying them in the coals, exposing them, as with the meats, to a much more intense heat.
The accompaniments differ as well. “The South Americans’ use of fresh herbs, oils, and acidity is a great complement to fire-roasted meats and a nice alternative to a typical Southern barbecue sauce,” says Drew. “Their herb sauces, such as chimichurri, also pair particularly well with leaner, grass-fed meats.”
For this evening’s asado, Drew selected chicken and rib eye from Georgia’s White Oak Pasture’s pastured poultry and grass-fed beef, as well as pork rack and sausages from the heritage breed cross of Berkshire and Mangalitsa that Nick is developing for small-farm sustainability. “In Uruguay, it is pretty typical for an asado to be what we would think of as a mixed grill, with a wide variety of meat,” says Drew. “For this party, we want to make sure that the guests get the feel of an asado with diverse offerings but with a balance of leaner and richer cuts.”
Drew makes a piquant chimichurri and a grilled tomato and onion salsa as accompaniments, taking the place of barbecue’s traditionally thicker, sweeter meat sauces. Vegetables cooked rescoldo-style (i.e. in the cinders of the fire) include potatoes, carrots, sweet onions, eggplants, and red peppers, finished just before serving with a drizzle of the chimichurri and creamy tart crumbles of goat cheese. Then, to make sure that this asado has a real Southern twist, Drew adds a locally sourced first course: summer tomato salad. Starting with multicolor heirlooms at their peak, he layers on light greens, baby butter beans, and just enough thick-cut, diced smoked bacon to tease the taste buds for the meats to come.
With the main course sizzling over the coals, Drew and John trade time on the grill to work on the appetizers. Their picks? Barbecue pork tacos, queso spiked with pico de gallo for an extra kick, and grilled vegetable quesadillas. Add icy-cold beers, white wine, and the restaurant’s refreshing sangria, and there’s plenty to keep guests happy poolside.
Still, everyone’s quick to gather round when the Van Scoys call them to the table. As heaping platters of the smoky meats and vegetables—and even a grilled dessert—arrive, they savor the delicious cross-cultural surprise. Drew and John have not disappointed, delivering a Southern asado that won’t soon be forgotten.
Cooking With Fire
Tips from the chef
While the team brought in a Jim ‘N Nick’s heavy-duty grill for this feast, Drew says a couple of the largest Weber kettle grills would work just as well. Be sure to use a chimney starter to keep coals going to feed the fire.
About one hour before cooking the meats, build a hot wood fire (the chef prefers hickory) in the grill. Allow fire to catch completely and burn to a medium-hot level. When ready to grill, add a few more coals if the fire has died down. The temperature of the closed grill for all of the meat recipes should read about 350°F.
All of the items can be cooked in a two-hour window. Drew recommends the following order:
1. Vegetables for the relish and tomato salsa: cook first or even a day ahead.
2. Meats: grill rib eye. Midway through, add pork rack. (Both will need to rest a minimum of 30 minutes but can be held warm for up to an hour.) Cook chickens and sausages last.
3. Rescoldo-style vegetables: use the second grill. Start with the salt-crusted vegetables that need to be buried. Follow with eggplant, onion, and peppers.
1 lime, cut into wedges
1 orange, cut into wedges
8 oz. chardonnay
3 oz. fresh peach purée (recipe follows)
3 oz. Southern Comfort
For the peach purée
(Makes 3 oz.)
3 fresh peaches
1 1/2 oz. simple syrup
Squeeze lime and orange juice into pitcher and drop fruit into pitcher. Fill pitcher with ice. Pour in chardonnay, peach purée, and Southern Comfort. Mix with a spoon and serve.
For the peach purée: Peel peaches. Dice and blend in a food processor with simple syrup. Use immediately to avoid purée turning brown.
8 small flour tortillas
1 lb. pulled barbecued pork, warm
1/2 cup coleslaw (find recipe at charlestonmag.com)
1/2 cup barbecue sauce, warm
8 wedges of lime
Warm tortillas either by toasting them briefly on a griddle or wrapping them in foil and placing them in a 350°F oven for four or five minutes. Place tortillas on individual plates or lay them out on a platter and divide pork evenly among them. Divide the coleslaw evenly over the pork. Drizzle barbecue sauce over slaw. Garnish each taco with a wedge of lime and a fresh sprig of cilantro. Serve warm.
Note: This will make enough slaw for the Barbecue Pork Tacos as well as serve as a side dish.
1 (2-lb.) head of green cabbage, quartered, cored, cut crosswise into 1/8-inch-thick slices (about 14 cups)
1 1/4 cups apple cider vinegar
1 cup sugar
1 cup grated peeled carrots
4 green onions, thinly sliced
1/4 cup mayonnaise
Freshly ground black pepper
Place cabbage in a large bowl. Add vinegar and sugar and toss to coat. Cover and let stand 30 minutes. Toss cabbage mixture well. Cover and let stand 30 minutes longer. Drain.
Transfer drained cabbage to another large bowl. Add carrots, green onions, and mayonnaise and toss to coat. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
8 oz. cheese, such as Oaxaca, Jack, or white American, shredded
1/2 cup milk
1 small tomato cut in 1/4-inch dice (about 1/2-cup)
1 Tbs. finely diced red onion
2 tsp. minced Serrano pepper (include seeds if you like it spicy)
2 Tbs. chopped cilantro
2 tsp. fresh lime juice
1 tsp. kosher salt
Place cheese and milk in a small saucepan over low heat to melt the cheese. Stir frequently to prevent burning.
For the Pico de Gallo, combine the next six ingredients in a small bowl and mix thoroughly. When the cheese has melted completely, add the Pico de Gallo and stir until thoroughly incorporated.
Pour into a bowl and serve with tortilla chips while warm.
2 Tbs. unsalted butter, melted
4 (six-inch) flour tortillas
6 oz. grated Monterey Jack Cheese
Grilled Vegetable Relish (recipe follows)
Brush one side of each tortilla with butter and place buttered side on a hot griddle to toast. Divide shredded cheese equally over each tortilla so that it will melt while they are toasting. Spoon about 3/4-cup relish on two of the tortillas and place the other two tortillas on top to close the quesadillas. The tortillas should be golden brown and crispy.
Cut each quesadilla into four wedges and place on a serving platter. Drizzle with sour cream and serve with your favorite salsa or garnish with extra vegetable relish.
1 ear corn
1 red onion
2 Tbs. canola oil
1 green bell pepper
1 red bell pepper
1 Serrano pepper
2 Tbs. finely sliced basil
1 Tbs. red wine vinegar
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
2 Tbs. extra-virgin olive oil
Prepare a grill with a medium-hot wood fire.
Shuck corn and remove silk. Peel onion and slice it in 1/2-inch rings. Do not separate rings. Brush canola oil onto the corn, onion, bell peppers, and Serrano pepper and place them on a clean grill rack over the medium-hot fire and close lid.
Grill corn until it gets char marks and becomes tender, about 10 minutes. Grill onions until they caramelize on both sides and become tender, about 10 minutes. Grill bell peppers and Serrano pepper until skin chars and turns mostly black, about 10 minutes. Turn all of the vegetables over halfway through cooking. Remove vegetables from grill. Place corn and onion slices on a plate to cool. Place peppers in a bowl and cover it with plastic wrap to steam.
Once the grilled vegetables are cool enough to handle, cut corn kernels off of the cob and place them in a mixing bowl. Cut onion rings into 1/2-inch dice and add them to corn. Wipe charred pepper skins away with a towel and discard. Pull peppers apart and discard seeds. Cut peppers into 1/4-inch dice and add to bowl. Cut tomato into 1/4-inch dice and mix with grilled vegetables. Add basil, vinegar, lemon juice and olive oil. Season with salt and pepper and mix thoroughly. Tightly covered, the relish can be refrigerated for up to 24 hours but should be brought back to room temperature before serving. Heat the relish if putting it into quesadillas.
6 oz. slab bacon, sliced thick into one- inch dice
5 tomatoes, preferably heirloom varieties
1 Kirby cucumber
1/2 small Vidalia onion
3 Tbs. red wine vinegar, such as grenache
1 Tbs. Dijon mustard
8 Tbs. extra-virgin olive oil
Freshly ground black pepper
1 cup cooked butter beans or field peas, such as zipper, crowder, or pink eye
2 or 3 small bunches of greens, such as arugula, mizuna, watercress, and frisée, washed and patted dry Herb dressing (recipe follows)
For the herb dressing:
1 clove garlic
1/4 cup mayonnaise
1/4 cup buttermilk
2 tsp. lemon zest
1 Tbs. lemon juice
1 Tbs. sliced chives
1 Tbs. chopped parsley
1 Tbs. chopped fresh dill
Freshly ground black pepper
Place bacon in a cast-iron skillet large enough to hold it in one layer. Cook over medium-low heat, stirring frequently, until the fat is released and the pieces of bacon are almost, but not quite, crispy. Remove to a paper towel and discard fat.
Core tomatoes and cut into 1/2-inch slices. Cut cucumber in half lengthwise and scoop the seeds out with a small spoon. Cut into 1/8-inch slices. Cut onion in half. Cut one half into matchstick-long 1/8-inch slices.
Whisk vinegar and Dijon mustard together in a small bowl. Slowly whisk in olive oil. Season with salt and pepper.
Toss tomato slices with about three or four tablespoons of the vinaigrette and season with salt and pepper. Combine butter beans, cucumber, and cut onion in another bowl. Toss with about four tablespoons of vinaigrette and season with salt and pepper.
Place tomatoes on a serving platter. Spoon butter beans, cucumber, and onion over the tomatoes. Toss greens with as much of the remaining vinaigrette as you desire and scatter around the platter. Garnish with pieces of bacon. Drizzle herb dressing over everything, to taste.
For the herb dressing:
Crush garlic into a paste using a mortar and pestle or the back of a knife on a cutting board. Place garlic in a small bowl and stir in mayonnaise. Whisk in buttermilk until smooth. Stir in lemon zest, lemon juice, and herbs. Season with salt and pepper. Cover and refrigerate for up to two days.
2 whole chickens split, backbones removed
1/4 cup kosher salt, plus more for pre-seasoning
2 Tbs. light brown sugar
2 Tbs. paprika
1 Tbs. cracked black pepper
Note: When serving chicken to a group, especially when other meats are involved, plan on one whole bird for four people. Have your butcher split the bird and take the backbone out.
Place chickens skin-side up on a rimmed baking sheet lined with paper towels. Season skin lightly with salt and refrigerate overnight. This will pull moisture out of the skin and dry it out, resulting in a crispier skin when grilled.
About one hour before cooking, prepare a charcoal fire in grill to a medium-hot level. The temperature of the closed grill should read about 350°F.
Combine salt, sugar, paprika, and pepper in a small mixing bowl and blend thoroughly. Season both the bone and skin sides evenly with the seasoning blend.
Place chickens, skin-side down, directly over the coals. Close the lid and cook for 15 minutes. Flip chickens, close lid, and grill for 15 more minutes. Insert a meat thermometer in a thigh of each. If chickens have not reached an internal temperature of 160°F, continue to cook them in the covered grill, turning occasionally until they do. Remove chicken from grill and allow to rest for at least 15 to 20 minutes before cutting.
When ready to serve, remove the thighs and legs from the breasts. Cut through the joint between the legs and thighs. Slice the wings away from the breasts. Place the chicken on a large platter by itself or with other grilled meats and serve immediately.
1 gal. cold water, divided
1/2 cup kosher salt, plus more for seasoning
3/4 cup light brown sugar
4 bay leaves
10 sprigs fresh thyme
12 whole black peppercorns
3 whole cloves
3 cloves garlic, crushed
Black pepper, to taste
Whole, center-cut, bone-in pork rack
Place half of the water in a large pot with 1/2 cup salt, sugar, bay leaves, thyme, peppercorns, cloves, and garlic over high heat and bring to a boil. Remove from heat and stir well to dissolve salt and sugar. Add remaining water to begin cooling the brine. Refrigerate to cool completely before adding it to the meat.
Place pork rack in a container deep enough for brine to cover meat and pour the cold brine over it. Make sure the rack is submerged. Cover and refrigerate for 24 hours.
Remove pork rack from the brine and pat dry with a kitchen towel. Season with salt and black pepper.
About one hour before cooking, prepare a hot charcoal fire in the grill. Once the fire has burned down, shovel the coals to one side of the grill. Close lid until the temperature reads about 350°F.
Place the pork, flesh-side down, on the side of the grill with no coals. Close lid and cook for 20 minutes. Turn rack and cover the grill. After 15 more minutes, insert a meat thermometer, keeping it off of the bone. If the pork has not reached an internal temperature of 135°F, continue to cook in a covered grill, turning occasionally, until it does. Remove pork from the grill and allow it to rest for at least 30 minutes before slicing. While resting, the pork will continue to rise in temperature and reach a nice medium doneness.
When ready, the pork rack can be sliced into single bone chops and served individually or on platters family style with other grilled meats.
3-lb. section of trimmed rib loin
Cracked black pepper
Note: Purchase rib eye from your butcher in whole sections rather than individual steaks. When serving in a mixed grill fashion on platters, plan on approximately six ounces of raw weight per person. When possible, purchase pasture-raised, grass-fed beef.
Season rib eye section liberally with salt and pepper about one hour before you are ready to cook it and allow to stand at room temperature. (This will help the meat come up to temperature and cook more evenly over your fire.)
About one hour before cooking, prepare a hot charcoal fire in the grill to a medium-hot level. When ready to grill, the temperature of the closed grill should read about 350°F.
Place rib eye fat-side down directly over coals. Cover and cook for 15 minutes. If the fire starts to flare up, move the beef to a cooler part of the fire. After 15 minutes, turn meat and cover the grill again. After 15 more minutes, insert a meat thermometer. If the beef has not reached an internal temperature of 130°F, continue to cook, covered, turning occasionally, until it does. Remove from the grill and allow to rest for at least 30 minutes before slicing. While resting, the beef will continue to rise in temperature and reach a nice medium-rare doneness.
The rib eye can be sliced into steaks as a prime rib or, if serving with other meats, sliced into thin 1/2-inch pieces and served on a large platter family style.
10 cloves garlic, finely minced
2 cups finely chopped fresh Italian parsley leaves
1 cup finely chopped fresh oregano leaves
1 cup finely chopped fresh mint leaves
4 tsp. crushed red pepper flakes
4 tsp. lemon zest
1/2 cup red wine vinegar
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
Place first four ingredients in a bowl. Add red pepper flakes, lemon zest, and vinegar. Whisk in olive oil and season to taste with salt. Serve as a sauce with grilled meats.
Note: Tightly covered, the chimichurri can be refrigerated for up to 24 hours. After that the fresh herbs will have lost their vibrancy.
1 small yellow onion
Extra-virgin olive oil
1 red bell pepper
1 Serrano pepper
2 Tbs. finely sliced basil
2 Tbs. red wine vinegar (such as grenache)
Prepare a moderately hot hickory fire in your grill.
Wash and core tomatoes. Peel onion and slice it in one-inch rings. (Do not separate rings.)
Coat both lightly with olive oil. Place on a clean grill rack over the moderately hot fire and close lid. Cook until tomatoes are charred on the outside and have begun to burst a little when done, about 15 minutes, and onions are caramelized on both sides and tender, about 20 minutes.
Toss peppers with olive oil to coat skins. Grill them long enough to blister the skin, about 10 minutes. Turn all vegetables over halfway through cooking. When done, place tomatoes and onion on a plate to cool. Place peppers in a bowl and cover with plastic wrap to steam.
Cut tomatoes into 1/4-inch dice. Remove outer skin of the onion and cut it in 1/4-inch dice. Wipe charred pepper skins away with a towel and discard. Pull peppers apart and discard seeds. Cut peppers into 1/4-inch dice.
Place all vegetables in a bowl. Add basil and vinegar, season to taste with salt, and mix thoroughly. Serve at room temperature as a dip or alongside roasted and grilled meats. Note: Tightly covered, the salsa can be refrigerated for up to 24 hours but should be brought back to room temperature before serving.
1 box kosher salt
2 lbs. small potatoes, such as creamers or fingerlings, scrubbed but not peeled
3 bunches baby carrots, scrubbed but not peeled
3 sweet yellow onions
3 red bell peppers
Chimichurri (recipe above)
6 oz. fresh goat cheese
Fill the bottom of a large cast-iron skillet with kosher salt and arrange potatoes in a single layer on top. Cover potatoes completely with another layer of salt. Repeat process with carrots in another large cast-iron skillet. Place each skillet directly on the fire embers and then shovel more embers directly on top of the salt crust. Allow carrots to cook for about 20 minutes and potatoes for about 45. To check for doneness, push through the salt crust with a sharp knife. If the knife pierces the potatoes or carrots easily, they are ready.
Brush coals off of the salt crust and remove skillets from the fire. Place the skillets onto a heat-resistant surface where you can break the salt crust and remove the vegetables. When cool enough to handle, wipe off excess salt with a dry kitchen towel.
Leave eggplant, onions, and peppers whole. Place them directly in the embers and cover completely with more embers. After 10 minutes, brush the embers away and check the tenderness of the vegetables but do not pierce them. If still a little firm, turn them, cover with embers, and cook for another five to 10 minutes. When the vegetables are done, brush the embers away and carefully remove vegetables from the coals so that you don’t tear them. Set aside and allow to cool enough that you can handle them. Once cool, remove charred skins and seeds from the peppers. Tear vegetables into two-inch strips.
Arrange potatoes, carrots, and vegetable strips on a serving platter. Drizzle with several spoonfuls of chimichurri. Crumble goat cheese over the top right before serving.
2 cups, plus 2 Tbs. sugar
1/4 cup cornstarch
3 cups water
1 cup fresh lemon juice
12 cups quartered strawberries
1 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
2 tsp. lemon zest
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 Tbs. baking powder
1 tsp. iodized salt
6 Tbs. unsalted butter, cut in small cubes
1 cup heavy cream
8 (5 x 5-inch) cast-iron pans, buttered
Prepare a hot fire (or preheat oven to 400°F).
Whisk two cups sugar, cornstarch, water, and lemon juice together in a stainless steel heavy-bottomed pot. Stirring occasionally, bring the mixture to a boil over medium-high heat and add strawberries. Simmer, stirring occasionally, for about 15 minutes to break down the fruit and thicken the mixture. The filling should be thick and reduced. Add pepper and lemon zest and mix thoroughly.
While filling is simmering, sift together flour, two tablespoons sugar, baking powder, and salt. Using a pastry cutter or two knives, cut the butter into the flour mixture until it resembles coarse meal. With a fork, stir in the cream until all of the dry ingredients come together.
Divide filling evenly among the pans. Divide the topping evenly into eight portions and crumble over the filling in each pan. Place pans on a grate over the hot fire, but to the side of the hottest part of the fire (or in oven), close grill, and bake for about 25 minutes, or until the filling is thick and the topping is golden brown.
Allow cobblers to rest and cool for a few minutes. Serve with whipped cream.