“Let’s have a braai!” – Epic words spoken by many a South African.
(The word “braai” means “to grill food” and is pronounced “bry.”)
The South African braai is much more than a way to cook food. It is an event that fills voids in lives!
When things go right, like the Springboks winning, South Africans celebrate with a braai. When things go wrong, like Eskom cutting electricity again, a braai is the answer. The braai fixes anything!
South Africans will braai in any type of weather. There have even been sightings of South Africans clearing an opening in snow to make a fire and have a braai.
The Typical Fun South African Braai
With a typical South African braai, the guests will arrive close to the set time.
The first order of business is for everyone to open or pour their favorite drink… usually alcoholic. Most of the guys will open a beer. Some will go straight for brandy and Coke. The ladies often drink wine. Many love a beer shandy, which is a mixture of beer and Sprite.
The first 20-30 minutes is about catching up on news and chatting about important things, like the Springboks. The braai isn’t lit yet… Remember, this is a process and like any decent process, it takes time.
After a while, the hostess might get antsy and give her husband the look. “Go light the braai!”
The host will then head to the braai to light the fire. All the other guys follow closely. This is an important job and needs to be done right. Advisors need to be on hand.
Once the coals are ready, the meat goes on the grill. The host braais the meat and anything else his wife tells him to braai. The other guys won’t interfere with this. They only offer occasional advice and refill drinks when necessary.
The ladies will usually hang out in the kitchen, putting the finishing touches on the side dishes. Their discussions are a bit of a mystery. There is a rumor that they might discuss their husbands from time to time. 😉
After all the food is ready, everyone dishes up and eat together. Some might sit at a table, but many will have their plates on their laps.
After the meal, everyone will visit together for at least another two hours before the first guests start heading home. Another perfect braai under the belt!
How To Plan Your Own Braai
Let’s get down to planning your own South African braai…
Something has to Cook the Food
We have to get one thing clear… a real South African braai is done on coals, not on a gas grill! You can use charcoal, but if you want to stay traditional, use wood. That’s the law of the land!
What is a Braai without Meat?
The typical meat for a South African braai is boerewors (sausage) and lamb chops. People also braai chicken, steak, and sosaties (kebabs).
Boerewors isn’t always easy to buy in the US, but there are some people out there who sell it. Many people make their own boerewors.
Lamb chops can be really expensive in the US, especially loin chops. A cheaper option is to buy a deboned leg of lamb and then cut it into 3/4-inch slices. Lamb chops are seasoned before the braai, or while on the braai. If you don’t have a favorite seasoning, salt and pepper work well.
Chicken drumsticks are very popular. A great variation is to wrap them with bacon before the braai.
Hamburger patties? No! This is a braai, not a barbecue.
Side Dishes and Desserts to make your Mouth Water
If a braai were up to men, as in a “guy-braai,” there would only be meat and drinks. But most braais include the ladies and kids too, so we have side dishes and desserts as well.
Side dishes include various salads. A Greek salad or pasta salad works well. Potato salad is a favorite!
“Pap en sous” (grits and gravy) is a favorite with many South Africans. Some people make a tomato-and-onion gravy, but many also use regular brown gravy.
“Braai broodjies” (grilled sandwiches) is another favorite. They are quite easy to make. Make a sandwich and fill it with sliced tomato, onion, and some cheese. Then braai the sandwich after the meat when the coals are not quite as hot. (Tip: turn the bread regularly to avoid burning.)
Dessert can be as simple as ice cream, but South Africans love traditional desserts, like malva pudding or milk tart.
You now know most of what you need to know to have an amazing South African braai.
Join the Braai Party
Do you have anything to add to make an awesome braai even better? Tell us in the comments…
I am Welsh, but my wife is South African and I learnt to braai under the careful eye of my father in law and my two brothers in law…no pressure! We now live in Massachusetts, but continue to braai here using wood, of course. A recent favorite of ours is a braai pie: puff pastry (buy it ready made, lay one sheet over another with the filling in between and crimp the edges) fill with (cooked) homemade borewors meat (use leatloaf mix and season as you would to make borewors), cheese and Mrs Balls chutney. Cook it like a braai broodjie (fairly slowly over medium coals) and then cut into squares – delicious as a starter!