A Florida grill maker puts his Argentinian roots on display with his asados
Sometimes, childhood memories become your life’s work. For Nick Carrera of St. Augustine, Florida, memories of the backyard barbecues at his father’s home in Entre Ríos, Argentina, tug at his heartstrings and his hands. Carrera and his wife, Christie, own Urban Asado, where he handcrafts open-flame Argentinean grills, or asados.
The word “asado” is both a noun and a verb. It refers to the grilling technique but also to the social gathering itself. And while food is generally the main attraction, for Carrera it was the communal aspect of spending time with family and friends that was at the heart and soul of what he calls his “asado life.”
He wanted to capture those warm feelings of family and friends gathered to cook around an open fire and turn them into a business. But he didn’t want to just make grills. “Asado life is not about a grill. It ’s a lifestyle,” Carrera says. He spent his weekends crafting asados as a hobby, reconstructing them from his childhood memories and gifting them to family and friends. But he could not deny the happiness he felt working with his hands and sharing this Argentinean tradition with others.
In 2013, he and Christie founded Urban Asado. He bought a dilapidated fish house on a St. Augustine bay, where shrimp boats dock at night, that now doubles as his fabrication studio and a pop-up restaurant.
For Carrera, each asado has a soul. In the early days of Urban Asado, he would sketch each grill from memory and then translate the design into digital software. Today, it’s all muscle memory. Sourcing high-quality North American stainless steel is non-negotiable, and the only two prefinished components purchased are the casters and hand-wheel. He is meticulous when it comes to the welding and finish of each asado. The aesthetics are important, but food safety is critical. The tiniest imperfections and pits can attract contaminants, so ensuring a completely seamless and smooth finish is essential. “While I want them to look perfect, they also need to embody that handcrafted quality,” Carrera explains. “They should be fun to look at, like a showpiece you want to study over and over again.”
It’s the function of asados that drives the design and creates a unique culinary environment featuring multiple cooking surfaces. The heat comes from burning wood and an open flame; a crank-driven grill grate moves up and down to adjust the position of the cooking surface and the temperature. A V-shaped drip pan meant for catching all the natural juices from the roasted meat also serves a dual purpose: It eliminates any potential flare-ups, and the collected juices can be used for basting. The open-air flame provides real wood flavor without an overpowering smoky taste.
“The versatility allows asadors to really build flavor playing with different temperatures and different flavor profiles,” Carrera says. “The type of wood used—I prefer cherry, oak, and pecan—as well as different flame levels can change the aromatics and flavors every time you cook. It’s always a new experience.”
Carrera designs his asados with versatility in mind. You can literally cook anything from fruits and veggies to fish and shellfish to red meat, including an entire meal. Carrera prepares tomahawk steaks alongside whole fish and grilled vegetables—the fluidity of his movements from one cooking station to another resembles a choreographed ballet.
Urban Asado crafts about 100 asados each year, shipping them all over the world, including to event venues like vineyards and country clubs. But families and individuals who are creating backyard living spaces make up the bulk of his customers. Carrera’s asados are not only utilitarian but also treasured heirloom pieces, meant to be passed down from generation to generation.
Because St. Augustine is having a food moment, Carrera has smartly partnered with local chefs to create a pop-up restaurant concept using his asados. Each week, his rustic workshop on the quiet, picturesque bay is transformed into an al fresco fine dining venue where guests are treated to the dance of chefs spinning handwheels up and down, stoking flames, and moving foods to capture the asado’s distinct flavors and aromatics. Reservations can be the hottest ticket in town as the sold-out dinners attract future asadors with each new experience—a sentiment that warms Carrera’s heart as his “asado life” memories are forged into each and every grill.
- by Erin Byers Murray