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Carving Off a Slice of Brazilian Barbecue at Espetus

[Photos: Patricia Chang]

To kick off Meat on a Stick Power Hour, here's a look at a busy weekend night at Espetus Churrascaria, the Hayes Valley Brazilian BBQ restaurant that serves 14 different kinds of meat on metal skewers, carved by the waiters. Murilo Rodriguez, a native Brazilian who's spent four years as a meat carver at Espetus, also offers his tips on the best plan of attack for a BBQ meal, how to keep 14 different meats perfectly cooked at the same time, and the most meat he's ever seen a table consume.

How many different cuts of meat do you guys serve on an average day?

Seven at lunch, and 14 at dinner.

How do you keep them all cooked at the same time, without overcooking them?

All of our meats are intended to be cooked at the same temperature—around 400 degrees. And with the beef and red meat, we try to keep it at medium-rare, so we can slice some off, cook it again, slice a little more off, cook it, and so on. So we cook them on the bottom of the grill, where the charcoal is, and then we take the sticks and move them up a level to keep them warm. That way, the meat will still be cooked, but not overcooked and not cold.

What's the most popular meat?

Definitely the top sirloin. We go through a lot of that.

And the least?

Chicken sausage, and chicken in general. I guess people don't opt for chicken when they've got so many other choices. We make our own chicken and pork sausages, and the pork always goes way faster.

What's the strangest meat you serve?

Chicken hearts. They're really popular in Brazil. Even here in San Francisco, they're not even close to our least popular dish. Some people come here especially for them. Of course, other people try them and hate them.

What percentage of your clientele is Brazilian?

I'd guess about 25%. We also get a big Asian clientele. I hear a lot from Asian families that they like it because it reminds them of dim sum.

What's the most meat you've ever seen someone eat?

There was once a table that showed up at 5, right when we open, and kept eating meat straight through until 9:30. They ordered dessert about three hours in, so we thought they were slowing down, but after they ate dessert, they started asking for and eating more meat again. I've never seen anything like it.

Yikes.

Yeah, it was crazy. I also once had a table come in—a huge table, 15 people—and order dessert first. Then, after dessert, they started in with the meat.

Since most people can't eat like that, for someone eating here for the first time, what would you advise as a plan of attack?

Well, I'd tell them not to have lunch. [Laughs.] Seriously, though, when you get here, try everything. Chicken hearts might sound different and weird, but they're unique! They're a delicacy in Brazil. We'll just keep coming around, so after you try everything, pick what you like and stick to that. Whether it's sirloin steak, beef ribs, or the grilled pineapple.

And to drink?

Caipirinhas, of course. If people come here already knowing what a caipirinha is, they always order it. And if they don't, and we encourage them to order it, they always end up really liking it. It goes great with BBQ.

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