Unless you live out of town or are lucky enough to have a secluded terrace and tolerant neighbours, the chances are that you haven’t done too much barbecuing in your time in Barcelona. But, although throwing some fresh meat/fish/veggies on the barbie may not feature high in the Barcelona lifestyle, the Catalan culture has a long history of using open flame to create some of its most traditional fare. Just think of roasted chestnuts and sweet potatoes on street corners in the autumn, calçots in the countryside in the early part of the year and, of course, meat and vegetables ‘a la brasa’ all year round.
The laws around barbecuing on terraces and balconies are complex, so before investing in a grill and inviting your friends round, you should check with your neighbours and the ‘comunidad’ of the building you live in to check you won’t get into hot water.
Another alternative is to go to one of the many ‘merenderos’ near the city. This is where the Barceloneses head to get their barbecue fix. You can rent pretty much everything you need from chairs to a grill and wood or coal for the fire. There are a couple near the city in the Collserola Park, such as Font Les Planes and Sant Pere Martir. If you have a car and can go further afield you can find something more spacious and quieter. Just do a Google search for ‘merenderos’.
Brian Heinen of blog BarcelonaBBQ is convinced that Barcelona is on its way to becoming the barbecue capital of Europe. He credits the sunny weather, an abundance of fresh food available at the city’s markets, and the locals’ love of flame-cooked food. “When people think about barbecuing, Barcelona is not normally in the conversation, but it should be”, Brian said. “The difference is that here, barbecuing has not traditionally been something one does at home, but instead, it has been done at community festivals, outdoor barbecue centres or in restaurants where someone barbecues for you.” We caught up with Brian to talk about the city’s barbecue culture.
What inspired you to start Barcelona BBQ?
Barcelona is the barbecue capital of Europe and I want to help tell its story. Living here for more than 12 years, I have seen how barbecuing and grilling is an important part of the local culinary culture that few people are talking about. The Barcelona barbecue culture is a much more gastronomical tradition. Highlighting quality products and sophisticated recipes, it surpasses the standard fare of hot dogs and hamburgers. Long ago, I predicted that craft beers would thrive in Barcelona; now we see an explosion of small labels, brewery pubs dedicated to making beer, and many people making it out of their home. Similar to craft brewing, I predict that the local barbecue movement will continue to explode in the same way with homemade style sauces and further hands-on barbecuing. There is no other city in Europe like it, with an average annual temperature of 20ºC, plenty of sunshine, beautiful beaches, exceptional local food products and I hope to promote this culinary culture to the rest of Europe and the world. In the same way that pinchos are from San Sebastián and Bilbao, tapas are from Sevilla and Granada and paella is from Valencia, barbecue is from Barcelona.
What are your top three Catalan barbecue dishes?
Gambas de Palamós, pork chops de pata negra, calçots, I could go on; butifarra, chestnuts and sweet potatoes in October, chuletón de buey, escalivada.
What is your ideal selection of food for the barbecue?
Whatever is fresh really. Peaches are great on the barbecue with some paprika, especially fresh ones from Penedès.
Any inside tips for the perfect barbecue?
Patience. Avoid direct heat when cooking. Resist the desire to keep taking off the top of the barbecue while cooking as it is important to try to keep the heat consistent. When you take the meat off the fire, let it rest for five to seven minutes so the meat can absorb the juice of the meat back inside before cutting into it. Never use a fork to puncture the meat while cooking so you do not lose the blood. Always use prongs to move and turn meat until it is cut.
And, if you feel like sinking your teeth into some tasty grilled fare, here are Brian's suggestions for some good Barcelona eateries to try out.
LA MALANDRINA Almirall Cervera 5
This no-frills steak house is a local favourite for its quality meat, good prices and generous portions. Be prepared to wait for a table.
MILO GRILL Balmes 127
This attractive restaurant offers Mediterannean cuisine with imported Argentinian and Nebraskan meat cooked on a coal-fired grill..
ROOFTOP SMOKEHOUSE at the Pastrami Bar Rera Palau 4
Buster Turner and Jakob Zeller created their process for smoking produce on their Barcelona terrace. Now they supply restaurants with their delicacies and have recently opened the Pastrami Bar. This tiny locale serves up delicious sandwiches and is the entry to clandestine cocktail bar, Paradiso.
LA LLAR DE FOC Ramon y Cajal 13
This is a classic in Gràcia for traditional Spanish and Catalan cuisine and specialises in meat ‘a la brasa’.