Braaiing 101: Everything You Need to Know

A barbecue is a staple of many countries’ cuisines, but none quite so much as South Africa’s braai. Braai takes barbecue to a whole new level, with its rich smokey smell and unique and delicious taste. It is a staple that is practised all over our country not only in the summertime, but all year round,  and for good reason. Tourists and locals agree, whenever one finds oneself in South Africa, attending a braai is simply a must. Not everyone knows where the custom originated from and more importantly, how to braai perfectly. We will go over everything you need to know about braaiing; from its history and the etiquette surrounding it to how to prepare it properly. We hope to surprise you with some new facts you may not know, as well as tips that will make your next braai unforgettable.

The History of Braaiing

Braai is a Dutch word that means “to roast”, and braaiing is believed to have originated from a Dutch colony in South Africa. The term was then adopted into the Afrikaans language and has become such an integral part of South Africa’s culture that there’s a national holiday, which we know as Heritage Day, but to us, it really means Braai Day.

Since its inception, it’s become loved by South Africans from all over the country, including many different ethnic groups within the region. Now braaiing serves as a symbol of unity and community throughout the South African population, which is important knowing how divided the country is today. This is because everyone loves a braai, and the fact that a braai often acts as a social centerpiece, accompanied by delicious food brings even the seemingly most diverse people together.

A braai is about having fun and connecting with friends and family. It’s about good meat, good friends, and good drinks. A braai can happen on Christmas day, at birthdays, or graduations. It they can also be an accompaniment to a rugby match, which is another thing South Africans love.

Etiquette of Attending a Braai

Knowing how important a braai is to the people of South Africa, there is a certain etiquette surrounding its preparation. First, we know that a little rain has never stopped a braai, so expect to attend regardless of the weather. The host or hostess is generally in charge of preparing the fire and is referred to as the ‘braai master’, at least for the day, so you should never get in their way or attempt to take over. Some braai hosts only supply the fire and expect the guest to bring their own meat, a ‘chop ‘n dop’, while others provide everything, so be sure to ask what the arrangements are when you are invited. No South African will ever say no to a guest who brings a “karate water” or a ‘Klippies and coke” to get the party started, so if you’re looking for something to bring, that’s an easy go-to; especially since braais are known to sometimes last until the early hours of the morning and running out of alcohol is not an option.

How to Prepare a Braai

If you’re hosting a braai, you know it begins with making the right kind of fire. Some believe that a classic braai can be grilled on a charcoal fire but there’s nothing quite like the distinct smoky aroma and taste of the meat when the fire is made with local wood. A gas fire may be easier to light, but it won’t create a classic braai; and because the fire is the focal centerpiece of the event, guests notice when you don’t take the time and energy to create the right kind of flame.

Next get all the meats you and your loved ones enjoy, from classics like chicken, pork, beef, and lamb to more unique meats specific to South African cuisine like warthog, ostrich, and eland. Even seafood is delicious when it’s braaied, so get as creative as you like! Be sure to marinate your meat or seafood before you grill it so that it maintains its flavor and texture while on the fire.

The sides for a braai can be simple or complex, depending on how much time you’re willing to spend in the kitchen. But no one attending a braai can resist the braai hero or braaibroodjie, so having butter, white bread, tomato, cheese, onion, and a great chutney on hand is a must!

What Makes Braais Special

For all these reasons and so many more, braais present a moment when you can just hang out and be yourself and spend time with the people you love most in the world. In South Africa, family, friends, a braai, and beers, mean everything, and we hope you’ve learned something new about the pastime that means so much to all South Africans.

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