Barbecues Around The World: South African Barbecue Braai

If we’ve learned anything from selling and writing about barbecues it’s that bar barbecues are obviously an extremely popular thing here in the UK – as long as we get the weather! We also know that places like the USA and Australia are also absolutely potty for barbecues, and there’s enough variety out there in just these places to fill a thousand years’ worth of future blog posts (and that’s a lot of barbecues!). However, what about the rest of the world? Do they love a good grilled sausage r two? Of course they do, and in our barbecue themed trip around the world we’re going to kick it off with the South African barbecue.

South Africa Flag

Cooking Up a Braai

There’s a word in South Africa that everyone living there will most likely know; braai. Braai comes from the Afrikaans word braavleis; which means ‘barbecue’ or ‘grill’. In fact, having a braai and cooking vleis (‘meat’) is also a social custom in other areas of Africa; including Botswana, Swaziland, Zimbabwe and Zambia. Cooking meat on an open flame remains a much of a popular pastime as it does elsewhere in the world.

Traditionally a braai was made using wood as fuel, but in more recent times charcoal and briquettes are commonly used too. Gas is also used in some cases, although it’s not as common as that’s generally seen as a western gas barbecue grill rather than an African braai. Wood remains the most popular as it’s in ready supply, plus hardwood makes the strongest fires on a braai and will burn for far longer than your average piece of wood.

As with barbecues, braais tend to be laid-back social events where families and friends normally cook in the gardens of someone’s home; with side dishes and helpings of drink thrown in for good measure.

Food on the Braai

The type of food you can expect at a braai includes a variety of different meats. South Africans love their beef steak, kebabs, marinated chicken, pork and lamb chops, plus other steaks and sausages with a mixture of flavours. You’ll also tend to find boerewors on the menu; which is a thick beef sausage arranged in a coil shape, before being flavoured with herbs and spaces and grilled.

The coastal areas of South Africa also enjoy a healthy helping of fish on the Braai. Here you’ll find such delights as rock lobsters (known as ‘kreef’), which are a species of spiny lobster found off the coast of South Africa. Other fishy selections include snoek, sardines, prawns and any other type of fish available in the local area.

It’s all finished off with a selection of salads; including potato salads, three beans, carrots, lettuce and even corn on the cob. Sidedishes include maize, a staple dish in Africa, and pap. Pap may sound like it’s not worth eating, if you go off the name alone, but it’s quite a common dish in South Africa. It’s made from ground maize and can be made into porridge, but can also be served with meat. In a braai pap tends to be served as stywe pap (pap with a thick consistency) or phutu pap (which is dry and crumbly, a bit like cheese).

As with barbecues there is usually only one person in charge of maintaining and cooking on the braai, normally male, while everyone gathers close to the braaistand. Braai etiquette should be observed, meaning you can’t interfere with the braaier’s cooking unless specifically asked to do so. This doesn’t really sound any different from UK or American barbecues, there’s always someone who takes on the role of ‘head chef’, and also gets the flak if all the food ends up burnt!

So if you’re ever in South Africa and get invited to a braai you now know what they’re all about so you don’t attend one like a headless chicken – although they may be some of them already there in the real sense! Take along a few cold ones too and it will most likely be much appreciated, but it’s worth checking first to see what the host would like you to bring along.

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Images by Jim Sher and Catherine Scott on Flickr. Used under a Creative Commons licence.

Boerewors On Braai