Whole-Animal Barbecue Around the World

continued (page 2 of 3)

Raichlen also loves the lechon asado of the Philippines, especially at Lydia's Lechon, which Lydia and Benigno de Roca started as a stall in Pasay City in 1965 and now has outlets all over the country. The pork is marinated with lemongrass and leeks and roasted until the skin is "supernaturally crisp," then served with a sauce made from pork liver, vinegar, brown sugar, and caramelized onions.

But perhaps the coolest whole-hog preparation Raichlen has seen comes from Jamaica, where pigs are deboned, laid flat, spread with jerk seasonings, and cooked over fire. "No part of the pig is more than 4 inches from either the smoky fire or the spice paste," he says.


Baby sheep are a popular barbecue centerpiece in many parts of the world, especially throughout North Africa, Greece, the Middle East, and Central Asia. In Greece, lamb is seasoned inside the cavity with a mixture of salt, pepper, oregano, and lemons, and spit-roasted on a hand-turned rotisserie while being basted with a sauce that includes the same aromatic seasonings. Traditionally, everyone in the village takes turns rotating the rotisserie, Raichlen explains, so the meal "becomes not only something communally that you eat but something communally that you prepare."

In Morocco, whole barbecued lamb is called méchoui, and it is gutted, spitted vertically, and roasted over embers in an underground pit that Raichlen says resembles a giant tandoor. "Tandoors have been around for at least 5,000 years, and as they spread from India throughout the Middle and Near East and as far west as Turkey, they got bigger, they got smaller, they went underground, they went from being used primarily for bread to being used now for bread and meat," Raichlen explains. "They spit the whole lambs on what are essentially sapling trees that are maybe 8 feet tall, then lower them underground and roast them in this barbecue pit." A similar wood- or charcoal-burning clay oven called a tandir is used to cook whole lambs and other meat in Turkey.

Raichlen also recalls knockout whole roast lamb cooked in a tandir at a huge restaurant called Neolit in Baku, Azerbaijan. "I flew there for a 48-hour trip because I had such good Azeri barbecue in Moscow that I decided that I had to see it firsthand. And I always wanted to dip my toe in the Caspian Sea, too." Very small young lambs are marinated in a paste of ginger, turmeric, onion, cumin, and olive oil and then hung from hooks and cooked in the pit barbecue. The meat is served with a plate of colorful radishes, scallions, and herbs, along with flatbread.

And while Argentina is famous for its beef, one of the most notable whole-animal barbecue traditions there is done with whole lambs (and sometimes baby pigs or goats), which are gutted, split open, and impaled on "cruciform stakes" and placed in front of a campfire or bonfire to roast. Seasonings are "salt, fresh air, and whatever wood smoke that drifts down." (A very basic chimichurri made with dried oregano and other spices might be added after cooking.) This tradition, called asado gaucho, originated with the asadors—Argentinean cowboys, or gauchos—and a whole "fetishized culture" remains around the asadors, their estancias (ranches), and their barbecues. "They wear a certain outfit and use a certain knife, and they have certain sports and horseplay that they do while the meat is cooking," Raichlen relates."Tourists and some Argentinians will make a day of going out to one of these ranches and spending the afternoon and watching the asado." Asado can also be had in the big cities, in restaurants such as La Estancia in Buenos Aires, where whole animals and animal parts are roasted near a major pedestrian walkway for all to see and savor.


While goat is just beginning to catch on in the United States, the hardy creature has long been a source of sustenance throughout much of the rest of the world, particularly, says Raichlen, in mountainous regions. "Goats are a boon to livestock herders because the goats are so nimble and don't need flat ground for grazing," he explains. In Croatia he ate roasted goat that was simply seasoned with salt and pepper. A more flavorful preparation is Mexico's barbacoa, in which whole sheep or goats are cut into quarters, marinated in a paste of chile and pulque or mescal, wrapped in maguey cactus leaves, and roasted in a fire-heated pit. "Often they'll put a big pot of vegetables and beans under the roasting goat, and those drippings will fall into the pot and then they'll turn that into a soup," he adds.

Subscribe to Gourmet