What better way to spend a lovely holiday afternoon than with family and friends – and a braai? None. And you would know that to be true if you were a braai fan. Braai is not just about meat or cooking. It’s all about the process of buying the meat and vegetables, marinating the meat, getting the fire going, mingling with family and friends as they partake in the entire process. Here’s your complete 2021 braai guide.
What is braai?
Braai or braaivleis (braai: Afrikaans for ‘to grill’. Vleis: Afrikaans for ‘meat’) is uniquely South
African barbecue (although it is also popular in other African countries). Braai is a word that can be used as a noun or as a verb. As a noun, braai refers to the South African cooking technique. As a verb, ‘to braai’ relates to people gathering together around a fire to enjoy barbecued food and drink.
Braai is South African, but it is equally popular in neighbouring countries like Zimbabwe, Namibia, and Zambia.
The Zimbabwe variation of Braai
In Zimbabwe where grilling, smoking and curing meats are common, the Zimbabwinians have welcomed the Braai influence. In the North, Braai is known as kugocha by the Shona people. In the South, it is commonly called chesa nyama. The most common meats prepared are chicken, pork, and beef. Like the South African Braai, the Zimbabwean version is accompanied by a wide variety of salads like potato salad, chakalaka, beetroot, and coleslaw. Rice and sadza (a cassava flour or maize porridge) are also served with braai.
What’s the difference between braai and barbecue?
Barbecue and braai make use of the same cooking technique. They both involve smoking and charring to add a complex and deep flavour to the food, grilling to get a beautiful brown colour, roasting that cooks the food thoroughly. The result of both braai and barbecue is tender, delicious, evenly-cooked meat.
Where does the difference lie, then? Many say the difference between braai and barbecue lies in the fuel used. Traditional braai is done over a wood fire. Some refuse to acknowledge a dish as a braai if the food is not cooked over local wood (for example, kameeldoring wood). Today, however, many people use charcoal and gas instead of wood because those fuel sources are more readily available and convenient to use.
As well as the fuel, it’s the cultural factor that separates braai from barbeques.
Braais – a tradition of celebration and togetherness
Braais are associated with the South African culture. They are a common practice in any household.
In South Africa and other African countries like Zimbabwe, they are often an occasion for family and friends to get together to celebrate birthdays, achievements, and any other happy event. A Braai get-together can go on for hours on end. While the food slowly cooks, people play games, tell stories, and catch up with each other. It’s not associated with any single ethnic group – that’s one of the fantastic things about it. It is a tradition that unites – not just family and friends – but a nation.
There is no particular time of day for braaing. You can braai before or after work, on a weekday or weekend, in rain or shine. In Cape Town, people have found a way to braai indoors because the winds are powerful.
What is a braai made of?
The meat is the hero of any braai. Traditionally, a braai offers a wide variety of meat, including chicken, ostrich burgers, and seafood. Boerewors – fat sausages of lamb, beef or pork, sosaties, a type of kebab, pork ribs, steaks, lamb chops, and game meat are all on offer during a traditional braai. Braais are also made up of various sides, carbohydrates like baked potatoes, bread rolls and loaves of bread, and condiments. Vegetables of your choice are an essential part of a braai as well.
Braaibroodjie is a South African grilled sandwich made from braai meat, salad, cheese, and sweet chutney.
Then there are the local wines and beers, as well as traditional desserts that make up the rest of a traditional braai to help you wash down your food.
How to set up a braai
The first step is to collect all the material in front of the braai pit:
- Tinder to start the fire
- Kindling – several dry or medium-dry sticks.
- Logs of wood – the drier and harder, the better.
- Grilling grid
Starting a wood braai fire
- Use a raw onion to clean the braai grill.
- Place at least half the kindling in the centre of the braai pit, so it is shaped like a pyramid.
- Light the tinder and place it on the kindling.
- Place the rest of the kindling on top of the flame.
- Next, place the logs of wood around the kindling to form a small square tower. Do this by placing two wood logs on either side of the fire, parallel to each other. Then, place two more wood logs on top of and perpendicular to the previous two logs of wood.
- Build at least two to three layers like this to make the perfect braai fire.
Tips to start a charcoal braai fire
If using charcoal instead of traditional wood, here are some things to keep in mind.
- Set up the coal in a pyramid shape.
- Allow 20 to 30 minutes after lighting the fire. The fire will die down, and the coals would have turned white. Then place the grill on the charcoal.
- Spread the charcoal evenly around the barbecue with a barbecue tool.
- Don’t cover the entire rack with charcoal – coal needs air to breathe.
- Always wait for the fire to die down before moving the coal around as they are doused in gasoline and could cause an accident.
Best marinades for a braai
Marinating the meat and vegetables beforehand ensures your meat is juicy, tender, and bursting with flavours. A tasty marinade is made up of acid, fat, and seasoning. Here are some marinade ingredients that you can mix and match to suit your taste buds.
Acids tenderize the meat by breaking down the protein's connective tissue and allowing the flavours to penetrate the meat. The following acids can be used:
- Lemon juice
- Orange juice
- Soy sauce
- White vinegar
- Cider vinegar
- Balsamic vinegar
- Pineapple juice
Fats provide moisture and ensure the food does not dry out. They also balance out the acid flavour from the marinade. Fats that can be used in a braai marinade include:
- Vegetable oil
Seasonings include spices and herbs that add flavour to your meat and vegetables. You can use:
- White pepper
You can use herbs as rubs, in the butter, or for the marinade for the meat. They can also be used in salad or vegetable side dishes, salad dressings, and even thrown on the hot coals to add a delicious aroma.
Marinade flavours for different types of meats and vegetables
Some flavours go well with some types of meats and vegetables than others. Here are some flavours to try with various meats and vegetables. Try different combinations and different quantities of each ingredient until you get the perfect marinade.
Try chilli, butter, lemon, garlic, dill, sage, fennel, French tarragon, lemongrass, lemon balm, parsley, orange, and coriander in different combinations with different types of seafood.
Poultry goes well with garlic, ginger, mango, lemon, basil, French tarragon, rosemary oregano, thyme, and even chilli.
Beer, rosemary, soy, white pepper, chilli, and orange are all fantastic flavours for pork.
Soy, chilli, rosemary, thyme, lemon, and Worcestershire sauce add to the beef flavour.
Lamb pairs well with plain yoghurt, garlic, oregano, rosemary, chilli, lemon, and mint.
To spice up your vegetables, try marinades made up of plain yoghurt, coriander, garlic, cumin, soy, chilli, or lemon.
Steak pairs up well with ginger, horseradish, mint, parsley, garlic, and thyme.
Side dishes to serve with a braai
No braai is complete without a wide variety of side dishes. Here are some side dishes that go well with braai.
- Creamy potato au gratin
- Grilled sweetcorn
- Garlic bread
- Mushroom and potato bake
- Creamy potato bake with caramelized onions
- Mielie bake
- Biltong, feta, and mushroom pap
- Roasted cauliflower with chorizo and ricotta
- Baked bacon, spinach, and stuffed onions
- Mushrooms wrapped in bacon
- Potato salad
- Caramelized onions, potato, and feta bake
- Corn and tomato salad
- A superfood salad made up of vegetables and fruit
- Roasted cauliflower with a basil and lemon pesto drizzle
How to make Chimichurri – the perfect braai sauce
Chimichurri is a brightly coloured sauce of garlic, vinegar, and herbs that goes well with grilled meat.
- 2 packed cups of fresh (Italian) parsley leaves – finely chopped
- 4 medium cloves garlic, smashed and finely chopped
- ¼ cup packed fresh oregano leaves – finely chopped. (You can use 4 teaspoons of dried oregano)
- ¼ cup red wine vinegar
- ½ teaspoon red pepper flakes
- ½ teaspoon sea salt (coarse)
- Freshly ground black pepper
- 1 cup extra virgin olive oil
- Mix the parsley, garlic, and oregano in a food processor.
- Add red pepper flakes, pepper, and salt.
- Add oil in a steady stream while blending.
- Pulse a few times to ensure all the ingredients are combined.
- Store in an air-tight container and refrigerate for at least two hours before serving. Chimichurri tastes the best if made the previous day.
- Ensure you season the sauce before serving.
- The sauce keeps well for up to a week when refrigerated.
Finally, there’s just one thing more – Happy Braai-ing!