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The Insider's Guide to Navigating a Traditional, Meat-Fueled Brazilian Churrascaria

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When you say churrasco, for us Brazilians, this means meat seasoned with coarse salt and grilled over charcoal. Simple like that.

But a churrascaria is a restaurant where you'll find local cuts of beef, pork, chicken and sometimes exotic meats, with a fixed price in an "all you can eat" style. All meats are cooked over an open flame and served from the skewer—some restaurants even have a special tool to help you to grab the sliced meat onto your plate, like a tweezer.

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The servers come to your table quite often, ceaselessly bringing different types of meat, which sometimes is a bit annoying, to be honest. So don't forget to use the green/red card next to your plate: The green side means "go," but if you flip to the red side, it means that you're full or simply don't want any more food at the moment.

The most traditional cut and, in my opinion, the very best one, is picanha. Picanha is a triangular cut from the top of the rump region of the cow, and just like our rumps, it has a beautiful layer of fat, which makes it super tender and juicy.

Other traditional meats are: fraldinha (a type of flank steak, super soft), pork sausage, chicken hearts, beef ribs, and garlic filet mignon.

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Churrascarias also have great side dishes. Don't miss farofa (a delicious and very traditional dish made out of yuca flour—it's crispy and sometimes cooked with bacon and scrambled eggs. But the plain one, cooked only with butter and garlic, is the best!), pao de queijo (cheese bread balls), fresh heart of palms, fried banana and—one of my favorites—melted cheese, that comes straight from the hot plate.

The salad bar is also great, with a lot of vegetables and mixed greens—a good starter. Some places also includes sushi, pasta, and seafood, for pescatarians, vegetarians, or for those people that just want to eat it all!

A few more tricks to know if you go:

  • The drinks and desserts are not included, and are usually overpriced. So be aware of how many juices and beers you order, so you won't have a surprise when you get the check.
  • There are so many different meats and options that you'll want to try it all, but try to stick with your favorites and the most traditional ones, so you'll be able to better enjoy your lunch.
  • Everyone is very nice and if there's anything you would like to repeat or special order—like specific cooking instructions for your favorite meat—just ask the server.
  • And please—go to a churrascaria for a late lunch. You DON'T want to go for dinner, trust me! Or you'll be miserable going to bed so full of meat!

Paula Barbosa is the founder of My Sweet Brigadeiro, a Brooklyn-based producer of brigadeiros, a.k.a. adorable, traditional Brazilian sweets.

Illustrations by our multi-talented Senior Staff Writer & Stylist Sarah Jampel

Tags: brazil, olympics, brazilian food