South Africans love to braai. It is a beloved pastime and culinary treat to cook over an open fire. Where this love of cooking over fire comes from, who knows? Perhaps you could trace it back to the days of the Bushmen, who rubbed sticks together to spark a flame. Or it could be the long summer months luring us outside. Or more recently, Eskom’s load-shedding forcing us to find alternative ways to cook without electricity. Regardless of the reason, we have put together easy to follow steps on starting a braai.
And although the act of braaing has traditionally been associated with males, who’s stopping you from going outside and cooking on the fire? If your partner isn’t around, or if you’re having girlfriends over for the evening, why not make a braai on the patio or garden? Starting a braai is a simple, yet rewarding, way to cook ( it is also the perfect place to gather with some friends and ‘kakpraat’).
Things you’ll need before starting
- Matchbox or lighter
- Firewood (see our recommendations for below)
- Fire-starter (Blitz, rolled up newspaper, or gas flame)
- Grid (see below how to clean it)
- Braaivleis (marinated meat) and prepared ingredients
- Fire extinguisher/bucket of water (safety precautions)
Making a braai
Time needed: 1 hour.
Tie up your hair, put an apron on, arm yourself with tongs, and head to the fireplace. Here’s our step-by-step guide for women on how to braai:
- Prepare the fireplace and food
Clear the fireplace of any debris or leftover ash before building the fire. Take dry, moderate-sized pieces of wood and stack them on top of each other like a Jenga tower. If you have sticks or dry leaves laying around in the garden, toss them into the centre.
- Lighting the fire
There are a few ways to get the fire burning. If you have Blitz (a white paraffin block) handy
,then simply place several bits in and around the firewood pile. Proceed to light these with a match or lighter. If the wood is taking a while to catch alight, add some smaller sticks/dry leaves into the fireplace.
- Preparing the grid
Grids lose their silvery-clean shine after the first use. They are still fine to use, despite looking slightly black. Use an old brush or braai cleaner to scrape off any dirt that is on the grid. The flames will kill any remaining grime.
Wait for the wood to burn down a bit before placing the grid down. Coals should be present and the flame not as prominent. Once placed, cut a lemon or onion in half and wipe down the grid. This will help disinfect it further and also give the food extra flavour.
- Cooking the food
To tell if your fire is ready for cooking, extend your hand 15cm over the fire for several seconds. If the heat is bearable for more than 5 seconds the fire is ready. If it burns or is too hot within the first second, you will need to wait a bit longer. Usually, the fire will take on the appearance of reddish-grey coals.
Cook ingredients that take longer first, such as chicken or potatoes. Steak, chops and breadbroodtjies cook more quickly. You’ll need hot coals for all these items, so it is handy to add more wood to the side of the fire as you cook. Use a tong to flip the meat over, and a knife to inspect whether it is cooked. Wrap garlic bread in tinfoil and place inbetween the hot coals for a minute.
- Cleaning Up
It is a common custom to setup a table or eating area close to the fireplace. This way you can enjoy your food, without needing to extinguish or worry about the fire whilst eating. Give the grid a light brush down into the fire before placing it on the side. Make sure the flames have died down before cleaning out the fireplace. Pour water over any remaining embers.
What firewood works best?
As with picking out the finest ingredients to cook with, you will want to choose quality wood for making a fire. The type of firewood you choose to use will affect the quality of the flame, the
Firstly, the firewood needs to be dry. Any wet or recently cut logs will create lots of smoke. You can easily tell if the wood is dry by looking at it, wet wood is green or will be soft when pressed.
Secondly, choose wood that is NOT indigenous (care for our planet). Pick an invasive species of wood like rooikrans or black wattle. If you want more intense coals or have limited wood on hand, briquettes and charcoal are great additions.
So if you are feeling like an independent woman, go ahead and make a fire. And if your man is away for the weekend, you needn’t have to desperately dial him for help. These handy “how to braai” tips will turn you from braaidsmaid to braaimaster in no time. Happy braaing, ladies.
“Nou gaan ons braai!”