While Memorial Day traditionally kicks off barbecue season in the U.S, charcoal grilling and barbecue socials are popular year-round in Cabo San Lucas. This is partially the result of a very kind climate, but it should also be noted that the grill plays an integral part in the preparation of many traditional Mexican dishes. And while visitors to Los Cabos will recognize the majority of fish, meats, and vegetables being cooked on area grills, even the most grill-hardened veterans may benefit from a bit of seasoning regarding the terms and techniques common to the Cabo San Lucas barbecue scene.
For a quick brush-up on regional barbecue terminology, let's cover the basics. For starters, the grill itself is called a parrilla, and items from the grill are considered a la parrilla. Although barbacoa seems as if it would be the natural translation for barbecue, in this part of Mexico the word is mainly used to describe the slow-cooking of lamb in underground pits. Carne asada, or grilled beef steak, is probably the most popular item at local barbecues, and cookouts are sometimes referred to as carne asadas. The grill master, or indeed anyone with a large two-tined fork in his hand, is known as a parrillero.
Grilling up skewers for alambres. — Photo courtesy of eperales
Cabo San Lucas has long been known as a big-game fishing destination, and many area restaurants specialize in grilling fresh local seafood. El Torito de los Mariscos is a favorite among Choyeros (natives of Baja California Sur), and is the best place to try zarandeado, a traditional style of grilling fish on Mexico's Pacific Coast. At El Torito, the dish consists of an entire fish, often robalo (snook), laid out on tin foil, brushed with a paste made of garlic and chile powder, then layered with onions, tomatoes, and bell peppers, and locked into a flat rectangular basket and grilled so close to the charcoal that it acquires a smoky flavor. Zarandeado typically takes 20-25 minutes to prepare, and because it weighs out at close to two pounds, can feed several people.
An entire robalo prepared zarandeado-style. — Photo courtesy of Vic Vertigo
Beef and chicken are probably the most popular items at area cookouts. Both are generally marinated in advance, then grilled with onions and peppers, and eaten in tacos topped with salsa and guacamole. Those wishing to grill carne asada have the option of buying the steaks pre-marinated, or doing it themselves with lime juice, garlic, onion, and black pepper. After grilling, the meat should be thinly sliced. Pollo al carbon is a favored chicken recipe, with a marinade mixture that includes garlic, chile powder, and fresh orange and lime juices. For the best results, let the charcoal burn down to white ash before grilling the yard bird.
To buy charcoal, lighter fluid, coolers, ice, and other barbecue supplies, the best place to visit in downtown Cabo San Lucas is Mini Super El Gallo. This store is located a block from the town square, Plaza Amelia Wilkes, and stocks everything necessary for a carne asada at the condo.