Braai meat – The South African way

Braai meat – The South African way

Braai meat and all its goodness

‘Lekker!’ That is definitely the first word that comes to mind when you think of a braai. ‘Vleisie op die kole’ and that tasty flame-grilled smell, sounds like a perfect Saturday afternoon. Or if you are a South African, any other day of the week too! Want to know what braai is or how-to braai meat the right way? Take a look below.

What is a braai in South Africa?

The word ‘braai’ is pronounced as “bry”, like in “cry”, but with a ‘b’. It is the Afrikaans word for barbeque or roast. Therefore, it is meat being grilled on an open flame or on a grill / braai.

Where did braai come from?

There is a theory that the first braais (plural of braai) happened when people accidentally dropped meat in the fire and then removed it later to be eaten. Research shows that early civilization in the Swartkrans area developed the skill of making a controlled fire. They could thus put the meat in the fire and as such ‘roast’ or braai it.

The word ‘braai’ comes from the Old Dutch colony that was present in South Africa many years ago. The word “braden” (which means roast in Dutch) is said to have evolved into the word ‘braai’ which we use today.

Braai has its origins in the Afrikaans people, but has since been adopted by many cultures and ethnic groups in South Africa. Ever wondered where the word ‘steak’ comes from? Check out this fun fact in our Did You Know article.

Is braaiing a word?

Surprisingly, yes, braaiing is a word. Braaiing is an official word and appears in the ‘Your Dictionary’ as a verb, being the present form of ‘braai’. Braai can be a verb or a noun. For example, when saying it is on the braai, it is referring to the grill and hence the noun. When saying that you are going to braai, it is an action and hence the verb.

How we braai locally

‘Bring and braai’ or ‘Chop and Dop’

Ever went to a social gathering, but had to bring your own food? What might seem to be a strange concept, is a very familiar habit of many South Africans. A ‘bring and braai’ is a favourite social occasion where each family or person attending brings the meat they want to braai. ‘Chop and dop’ refers to the meat you want to braai and the beverage you want to drink. You also have the opportunity to bring your famous side dish or desert. All in all, there is normally way too much meat and some great conversation around a sizzling fire.

Braai day in South Africa

South Africans even have a public holiday for braaiing! No, for real. It falls on 24 September every year and is formally known as Heritage Day. The first Heritage Day was celebrated in 1995. Thereafter, in 2005, a media campaign by ‘Jan Braai’ surfaced to introduce ‘National Braai Day’. The aim was to bring the people of our diverse country with its 11 official languages together, by uniting around a fire and sharing our special heritage. You can even where a shirt with a braai print on it, with your favourite braai cap or apron on the day. Yup, we are a bit braai ‘bevange’ (crazy).

Difference between barbeque and braai

The word barbeque comes from the Caribbean word ‘barbacoa’, which was a wooden structure used by Taino Indians to smoke their food. One of the big differences is that barbeque makes use of hot air (or steam), usually in a closed circumvented unit, while braai is cooking meat on direct heat from the bottom.

Another main difference is normally the fiery part of the exercise. Yes, you guessed it, the flames. Braais can be done anywhere and at any time, including breakfast. It’s all in the atmosphere. A braai is an occasion and it even leaves you with a little parting gift; you smell like a campfire when you go home. It might sound crazy to some, but for us locals, it’s all worthwhile.

How to braai meat

What’s needed to braai meat:

  1. The braai

    Firstly, you will need something to braai the meat on, a grill of sorts. There are many different braais available; from steel and gas to grid and even built in. The choice is yours

  2. Fuel to the flames

    Next, you will need something to make the fire. Wood, briquettes or charcoal is normally used as the fuel for the fire

  3. Light it up

    Make sure you also have firelighters and a lighter or match to light the flame with

  4. Keep it clean

    Since it is unhealthy and raw meat sticks to grid grease, always make sure the grate is clean. You can use a brush to clean the grate with, or go old school and rub a raw onion or lemon over the grate while it is on the fire

  5. Basics champs

    Remember to take out a bowl to put the meat in after and also your tongs and other utensils

  6. Taste…

    Lastly, you will need some spices or marinade and of course, the meat you want to braai.

What meat to braai?

Generally known as ‘braaivleis’ in the Afrikaans language, braai meat is basically roasted meat. Therefore, any type of meat that can be roasted, especially on an open fire, can then be considered as braai meat.

It is important to note that this is not meant to be a transformation of bad chops into good chops. Rather buy a smaller cut A-grade meat, than going for the biggest, cheapest piece. Make sure you buy good quality meat, so that you can turn that great quality into mouth-watering perfection.

Here are some of the best cuts to use for braai meat:

  • Lamb chops. A firm favourite known for its lovely aroma and unique taste. Here is a quick tip: Put a skewer in and let the side with the fat stand on the grill for a few minutes. This will cause the chop to seal and crisp nicely. Squeezing some fresh lemon juice over the lamb chops will also enhance the natural flavour of the meat.
  • Steak. A good thick cut of T-bone, Sirloin, Fillet or Rump make for a delicious steak.
  • Boerewors. This is most likely your safest bet if you are not familiar with braaiing. With many choices available, make sure you choose a thick boerewors with all your favourite spices.
  • Chicken. With the right spices and techniques, chicken can make a great braai delight.

How do you like your steak done?

Here is a quick guide and some meat lingo for how your meat can be done:

  • Blue Rare. This is very rare. The meat will be very red and still cold
  • Rare. The meat will be a bit warm on the outside, but still red and cold in the middle
  • Medium Rare. A definite favourite among many. Your steak will be warm and soft, with a red centre
  • Medium. Halfway down the list, this steak will be pink and a bit firmer
  • Medium well. Heading towards much less of the pink look here
  • Well done. Not the words you will say to the braai master if this is not what you wanted. This steak will be grey-brown throughout and might be a bit dry
  • Overcook. At this point, you will have difficulty seeing the difference between the steak and charcoal. Blacken and crispy throughout.

Get some great tips for a juicy and soft meat with this “How to marinate beef” article.

Braai meat on the flame, T-bone steak
Braai meat on the flame, T-bone steak

How do you know when the braai is at the right heat to add the meat?

This might be the one place you actually have to use your feelings. The feeling in your hand that is. Hold out your open hand above the grill, palm down, about 5cm above the grill to feel the heat. It will become uncomfortably hot within 5 to 8 seconds. At this point you know your fire is ready for some meat.

The rule of thumb is that 5 seconds is good for steak, 7 seconds works for boerewors and 10 seconds does the trick for chicken. Another thing to check is that there should be no more flames from the wood or the charcoal briquettes should be completely grey.

How do you know when the meat is done on the braai?

There is no exact science to this one, as it is quite subjective and will depend on how you want your meat done. To check steak, cut a small slice into it to see the colouring. Also bear in mind that you might want your steak to rest for a few minutes after removing it from the grill, so make sure you take it off a little pinker than how you want it.

For chicken, it is normally done when the flesh tears apart in a clean concise manner without any red liquid. To test boerewors, make sure you can snap it in half easily with tongs, then you will know it is ready.

What to do with leftover braai meat?

There is normally enough meat at a braai to feed an army, or at least the entire neighbourhood watch. Don’t let that go to waste though, keep it in the fridge overnight in an air-tight container. Make sure to remove the meat from the steel ‘braai bak’, as it might taste a bit metallic if you store it in that bowl.

Steak is great for the next day lunch as ‘steak broodjies’. Get some fresh buns and have boerewors rolls for dinner. Chicken is another next day winner. You can eat it with some side dishes, shred it up in a salad or make some tangy chicken mayonnaise sandwiches. Get creative!

Wood vs charcoal vs gas braai

Wood

This option normally takes first place, since it can impart flavour into the meat and puts the fun in braaiing with fire. Wood can be a very timeous process, allowing those around the fire some quality bonding time. By the time, the fire is eventually ready to put the meat on, you have a new best friend.

What wood should I use for a braai?

The type of wood is important, as it affects the time and quality of the fire. Firstly, make sure the wood is dry, otherwise you will smoke your neighbours out. Dense hardwoods are the best option for fires, as they form good embers after burning. Some good types of wood you would want to use for a braai include: Rooikrans, Kameeldoring, wingerd and Mopane. Most of these burn quickly with good coals, but if you want a slower approach, Kameeldoring should be your choice.

How to stack a wood braai?

Remember basic science class when you smothered a candle flame in a jar? A fire is the same concept, as it needs oxygen to burn. There are different ways to stack wood, one of the most common ways is like Jenga blocks with holes in the middle.

It is important to have sufficient ventilation so that you don’t smother the flames. Carefully take firelighter blocks and break them into smaller pieces. Scatter these pieces carefully so that they burn against the wood. Make sure it consistently touches the wood. Use a long-ended fire lighter to ensure you don’t burn when lighting the firelighters.

Charcoal or briquettes

If you need an easy and quick braai, charcoal is the material of choice. Make sure you have enough charcoal, as it burns through quite quickly.

Gas

Gas is one of the easiest ways to braai and definitely lends much more control over temperature. It is also instantly there, as soon as you switch it on. Gas is ideal for braaiing indoors, through any season and type of weather. It however does not give you that smoky braai flavour that wood, charcoal or briquettes would.

Gas braai with meat being prepared
Gas braai with meat being prepared

Braai ideas and tips

Respect the braai master

There is normally one designated person who braais the meat. Never touch another person’s braai and don’t tell them how they should be braaiing the meat. If the braai master wants suggestions, they will ask. But until then, if you aren’t the one holding the tongs, keep quiet and enjoy. Let him do his thing.

Know which meat takes longer and plan accordingly

Place the chicken on the side of the grill where there is less heat to ensure all the meat is done at the same time. Then add the boerewors and chops and lastly add the steak slab bang in the middle where the hot stuff is. Steak is the quickest to braai, so make sure you leave this till last. Make sure you keep all other meat warm in the ‘braai bak’ or in the oven on very low heat, until everything is cooked.

Did someone say Braai broodjies?

One of our famous South African cuisines is braai broodjies. It is basically a sandwich that gets put on the grill. Most common fillings include tomato, onion and cheese. If you want to go really local, try the jam and cheese approach. The sweet salty sensation will make you feel right at home. It’s truly something else.

Many types of meat can be thrown on the flames, from red meat and chicken to fish and even vegetables. There is even something for the sweet tooth: a golden melty soft-centered marshmallow over the flames. Keep the chocolate or Marie biscuit handy and you’ve got yourself a South African favourite. And if you don’t feel like braaiing, just tell your best friend what a great braaier he is, then sit back and enjoy!

Now that you know what braaiing is, how to braai and what to braai, you are one step closer to being a South African citizen! In the famous words of Barry Hilton aka, The Cousin, ‘Ons gaan nou braai!’.

FAQs summary

What is a braai in South Africa?

The word ‘braai’ is pronounced as “bry”, like in “cry”, but with a ‘b’. It is the Afrikaans word for barbeque or roast. Therefore, it is meat being grilled on an open flame or on a grill / braai.

What is the difference between a BBQ and a braai?

One of the big differences is that barbeque makes use of hot air (or steam), usually in a closed circumvented unit, while braai is cooking meat on direct heat from the bottom.

What is braai meat?

Boerewors braai on the flames

Generally known as ‘braaivleis’ in the Afrikaans language, braai meat is basically roasted meat. Therefore, any type of meat that can be roasted, especially on an open fire, can then be considered as braai meat.

Why is it called a braai?

The word ‘braai’ comes from the Old Dutch colony that was present in South Africa many years ago. The word “braden” (which means roast in Dutch) is said to have evolved into the word ‘braai’ which we use today.

What you need for a braai?

Firstly, you will need something to braai the meat on, a grill of sorts. There are many different braais available; from steel and gas to grid and even built in. The choice is yours.
Next, you will need something to make the fire. Wood, briquettes or charcoal is normally used as the fuel for the fire.
Make sure you also have firelighters and a lighter or match to light the flame with.
Since it is unhealthy and raw meat sticks to grid grease, always make sure the grate is clean. You can use a brush to clean the grate with, or go old school and rub a raw onion or lemon over the grate while it is on the fire.
Remember to take out a bowl to put the meat in after and also your tongs and other utensils.
Lastly, you will need some spices or marinade and of course, the meat you want to braai.

What is a bring and braai?

A ‘bring and braai’ is a favourite social occasion where each family or person attending brings the meat they want to braai. ‘Chop and dop’ refers to the meat you want to braai and the beverage you want to drink.

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