How Brazilian Steakhouses Differ From The Ones In The US

Brazilians are pretty familiar with American-style beef joints like Longhorn or (the Aussie-tinged but patently Yankee) Outback Steakhouse, but the same is not true in reverse. A Brazilian steakhouse serves all its fare for a fixed price, and (as the name implies) you are welcome to eat as much as you please — an uncommon thing when it comes to endless, expensive meat cuts. It's similar to buffet-style, but — at least in the case of the meat in most places — the food is served to you. 

This practice of serving customers this way originated with gauchos in the south of Brazil. Gauchos managed cattle in their communities and prepared meat for feasts and gatherings. They developed their own style of cooking and serving food "rodizio" style, which translates to "rotation." During a feast, the gauchos would come around to everyone in attendance with meat on a sword, offering guests a variety of fresh cuts as they went around. This practice of serving meals evolved into the Brazilian steakhouses we see today.

While the exact scenario differs from place to place, often after being seated diners are given a card or paddle with two sides: one green side and one red. If your card shows the green side up, this makes the staff aware you are ready for a cut off the sword-spiked slab. When the red side of your card is displayed, this tells the servers that you aren't ready for more food, and they will pass on by. 

It's called a steakhouse for a reason

At a Brazilian steakhouse, meat is always on the menu. Customers are offered various kinds of grilled goodies to revel in, such as chicken, lamb, linguiça calabresa (seasoned pork sausage), and skewered fresh cheese, known as queijo de coalho. And there is, of course, steak, which the country is famous for. Occasionally, some of these establishments will serve wagyu or filet, but the signature cut in Brazilian steakhouses is known as picanha. It's the top sirloin cap (the rump) seasoned with simple coarse salt before being grilled on a skewer. While, relative to others, it's not a costly cut of meat, it has its allure, particularly with this preparation, as the heat from the coals melts the fat over the curled-up cut. 

Brazilian steakhouses (in the U.S.) have a reputation for being on the pricey side compared to traditional American ones; this is how they stay in business with their all-you-care-to-eat style; it's not uncommon to see a $45 to $65 price tag attached to the experience here, but head to a rodizio in country and be astounded at the value. If you're planning on trying out a Brazilian steakhouse for yourself try to go hungry and avoid filling up on the other lighter options. If you want to enjoy it like a Brazilian, however, you can't skip the fresh salad, and obligatory rice and beans

They serve more than just meat

Feasting on different types of delicious meat can be a blissful experience for the taste buds, but it can also be a heavy meal. Most Brazilian steakhouses serve lighter sides and drinks with their cuisine so the rich, fatty flavors do not become overwhelming. Salad bars are commonly found in Brazilian steakhouses, though they won't usually offer anything extravagant as the meat is the star of these classic establishments.

Many Brazilian steakhouses will serve a beverage called a caipirinha. This tasty lime-flavored beverage is the national cocktail of Brazil, and it pairs well with grilled steak. The caipirinha is similar to a mojito, but instead of rum, it's made with cachaça, a spirit distilled from sugarcane. This liquor tastes less sweet than rum, with an organic, earthy flavor. After muddling lime wedges with super-fine sugar or simple syrup, the cachaça gets mixed in, ice is added, and the drink is loaded up with lime slices.

Traditional American steakhouses have their own thing going, but if you ever have a craving for meat that can't be satisfied with just one cut of steak, don't miss out on an opportunity to patronize a Brazilian steakhouse. Grab a caipirinha and a small salad, and turn your card to green. Then, unbuckle your belt and strap it; this will be a feast you'll be sure to remember.