Secrets of a Grill Master: Zack Paul’s Argentine Grill

published Jul 15, 2014
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(Image credit: Leela Cyd)

Who cooks and eats here: Zack Paul
Where: Santa Barbara, CA
Rent or Own? Rent

Today we’re focusing less on a specific home kitchen and more on the outdoors; after all, what better way to celebrate summer than to take to the grill? Zack Paul, an Argentinian artist and designer who’s lived and worked in Santa Barbara for the past 10 years, regularly grills for a gaggle of lucky friends in the style mostly learned from his cattle rancher grandfather, Asencio Evaristo — and I think it is safe to say he’s a grill master!

(Image credit: Leela Cyd)

Zack’s Special Grill Setup and Technique

Zack’s grill was welded by a friend with his Argentine techniques in mind. The biggest difference between it and an American-style grill is that the rack is v-shaped and at a slight incline. This shape helps the fat drip down to the bottom instead of directly on the charcoal. It’s a simple change, but it yields dramatic results; everything is very lean and flavorful when cooked this way.

(Image credit: Leela Cyd)

As Zack says, “Fire is the enemy of Argentine grilling.” To achieve the right coal temperature, he builds a cone of newspaper (using a wine bottle as a cylinder — see photos), mounds the charcoal brickets around that, lights with a match then tends to the coals for about an hour, scraping the grill clean as he moves the charcoal bits around.

This process of prepping the grill takes about an hour. The coals need to be totally white before he adds meat and veggies. For someone who grew up with a gas BBQ (sacrilege, I know!), it’s quite a different operation than simply turning on the grill and throwing on some chicken breasts loaded with tangy sauce, as my family tended to do.

(Image credit: Leela Cyd)
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Zack’s grill was custom built for him by a welder friend. (Image credit: Leela Cyd)

Zack enjoys the ritual of the grill, the fire and the length of time involved. It’s not a quick fix — there’s a rhythm to it that’s so alluring and you can see the joy it brings to Zack’s heart and face. It’s a lot of effort, but such rewards!

The food that comes off this grill is also tremendous, full of concentrated flavors. Friends bring salads, wine, and maybe a big watermelon to cut up for dessert. As the sun sets the meat is presented on old cutting boards with little mounds of extra salt to sprinkle and a few salsas. There are no plates — just happy fingers and excited smiles.

(Image credit: Leela Cyd)

Resources of Note:

  • Grill: custom built by friend
  • Tools for grill: any basic kit will do
  • Charcoal: 5 Star Mexican Mesquite

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