Barbecue on the leather

The barbecue on the leather is the rarest and most traditional of all. Only a handful of people still keep this dying tradition alive.

José Silveira does alone the whole process
of killing, cleaning and cooking the cow.

The barbecue on the leather, or "asado en el cuero", in Spanish, is arguably the most traditional and oldest type of barbecue of the South American gaucho. After the conflicts between European colonizers and the indigenous population in the Pampa region, a great number of cattle was left roaming free in the vast grassy lands. The "vacarias", or cow regions, in a free translation, became very big and were an important source of food for the gaucho.

Silveira perfected the techique by adding
two grills, above and under the cow.

The gaucho is a mix of Europeans colonizers with black slaves and indigenous tribes, according to Dr. José Fachel. With the extermination of many tribes, these gauchos became nomads in a lawless area. The cows were everywhere, an easy target and an excelent source of protein. An urban tale told in the Brazilian state of Rio Grande do Sul, says that the Brazilian Empire had certain difficulty in regaining control of the state during the separation war because the local soldiers could bare a diet of almost 100% meat, while the northern men had to carry heavy loads of food.

The asado en el cuero consists in cooking a whole cow using it's own leather as a medium. All the juices, fat and blood are retained on the skin, making the meat tender and with a unique taste. It is said that the indians would cook the meat like this because if they felt they were in danger, they could just roll the cow up and put it on the horse and leave their camp behind.

Today this is a dying art, because of many reasons. Silveira is likely one of not more than a handful of people that still keep this alive. The most obvious is the difficulty of the service. Silveira does it all by himself. He chooses the cow according to the amount of people that will need to be fed and the quality if its life, that will determine the taste. Another problem are the modern sanitary laws. In Brazil it is very difficult to cook a cow like this, says Silveira. First because guns are illegal, shooting the cow would not be possible, and second because unless you cook the cow where you kill it, you could never travel with a whole dead cow in the back of your pickup, he tells. In Uruguay things are a lot simpler, and that is where he cooks most of his cows, usually on the border with Brazil, making it easier for the Brazilians to come and eat.