I imagine the expat community in any county tends to be pretty close knit; that’s certainly the case here in Portugal. We share all manner of information and experiences, but without fail the question always comes up, “What do you miss most from the States. And while a longing for the likes of Walmart, the Steelers and reliable handymen always make the list, the bulk of the longings are in the food category. For me that’s BBQ and in the States, BBQ is a religion. Now, the good people of Portugal and Brazil certainly know how to grill meat, but they do not know the first thing about BBQ. For those of you who do not know the distinction, allow me to enlighten you.
Grilling is a cooking method that cooks food directly over a heat source. That is, there is no pot or pan. The source can be electric, gas, charcoal, wood, or something else. In addition, the heat source (the fuel) can be directly beneath the food (direct cooking) or away from the food (indirect).
BBQ uses smoke to cook. It is a much, much slower process. The heat source can be the same as that of grilling, but at a much lower temperature (200°F/93°C). And of course, you need wood to produce the smoke. Typically, hickory, mesquite or fruit woods (apple, cherry, etc.).
Enough about the technical stuff. The point is, grilling is NOT BBQ. Period! Yet ask the Portuguese locals for a good BBQ place and they will likely send you to their favorite churrascaria (grill). Those of us fortunate enough to have experienced true BBQ are left with only our memories. Until now!
Two New Mexican brothers, Daniel and Stephan Skelman have blessed the Lisbon area. After years in 5-star hotels, Chef Daniel and his brother decided to “retire” to Portugal. Their first idea was a restaurant that was focused on the New Mexican chili pepper, a spice the is truly unique to the area. But eventually they settled on BBQ. And aren’t we fortunate that they did!
The Garage Smokehouse and BBQ in Lisbon. Chef Daniel’s menu includes the three major categories of meat: Beef brisket, baby-back ribs (pork), and chicken, with other meats and cuts added on a periodic basis. He uses a dry rub of spices on all his meats, and lightly applies his homemade sauce to the final product with a generous portion of sauce served on the side. But to be honest, the meat is so good, adding more sauce is only a detraction.
As a certified BBQ judge (Yes. That is a real thing. I also lived in Kansas City, MO for 9 years. Arguably the heart of BBQ in the US) I have had a lot of BBQ. Some fantastic. Some dreadful! Chef Daniels product is some of the best that I have ever had. His ribs are locally sourced, but he uses the baby-back cut. They are fall-off-the-bone tender (which is technically considered “overdone” but that’s how everyone likes them, so…). But it’s his brisket that warrants attention. Brisket is by far the most difficult piece to master; often resulting in a dry, tough piece of meat fit only for the dog. If I was judging Chef Daniels’, I would give it the highest marks available. Unable to find Portuguese brisket to his standards, Chef imports his brisket all the way from Kansas City. It was tender, juicy, and had just the perfect amount of resistance (that’s judge-speak for the meat wasn’t mushy).
But of course, while the meat is the star, it’s the sides that make the meal, and Chef Daniel has a nice selection that manage to stay true to American-style BBQ and yet give a nod to Portugal. And to quench your thirst there alcohol-free drinks, craft beers on tap and a full bar with a mixologist at the reins.
The Garage is an American restaurant in Portugal. It offers a uniquely American menu with local accoutrements. I live in Braga, but The Garage will be on my “must visit” places every time that I am in Lisbon. I suggest the same to you!