American Way

Running the grill at an Argentinian truck-stop steakhouse wasn’t part of the plan.

I’m not quite sure how it happened, but here I am, draped with a heavy apron, standing before coals that have been stoked and burning for hours, squinting through the sweet-smelling smoke at hundreds of pounds of meat sizzling on a mammoth cooking surface. There’s grilling, and then there’s this.

Parrilla El Panorámico is located near Buenos Aires, one of the world’s great steak cities. Its name refers to the parrilla (pronounced par-eeah), the huge steel grills that seem to be in every suburban backyard and restaurant kitchen in the country. In the capital of a nation that may eat more steak per capita than any other, and where the economy hinges on ranching and the cattle industry, the ability to grill is taken extremely seriously. An unabashed carnivore, I’m here on a sort of meaty pilgrimage: in search of the perfect steak.

It’s this desire that has led me to Parrilla El Panorámico, and the unplanned stint in the eatery’s hissing kitchen. As I toil, the good-natured guys lining the bar laugh raucously, their gold teeth flashing as they yell mock encouragement and ostentatiously complicated orders in Spanish. With all the heat and the mounting pressure to deliver, this should probably be a stressful experience. But, tongs in hand and an empty plate waiting back at the bar (beside a good glass of Malbec, already poured), it’s one of the highlights of my trip. And that’s saying something… [read more at]