Mankind has long been drawn to cooking meat and devouring it. There’s evidence of fire and cooking as far back as the early Pleistocene period, which means even homo erectus loved a good BBQ. We’ve come a long way since then, but of all the modes of eating, drinking and relaxing, the South Africans display the highest level of evolution. They don’t just barbecue, they braai.
Far from throwing a few franks on a gas grill, the braai (rhymes with ‘cry’) is a bonfire and meat-centered cultural tradition that embodies the South African party spirit. It is where the best evenings are spent, the finest conversations occur and where a really really healthy amount of wine is consumed.
Every braaimaster has his/her own tricks (there are pages of arguments over which firewood is best at what time of year) but there are some firm rules in place to ensure that any aspiring braai earns the title. You’ll want to follow them. Here are our tips for a DIY Braai. Thank us later:
1) Find a great place for a roaring fire to roar. The fire serves as the method of cooking and the centerpiece of the night.
2) Invite everybody. A hundred people could show– a braai is a big deal.
3) Get enough firewood (coal is okay, but never gas) to last you a day.
4) Get pounds (about 25) of beef, lamb, chicken, fish, pork and boerewors (South African style sausage).
5) Generously marinate the meat with oil, lemon juice, garlic and onion.
6) Get more wine than you’d ever want to drink (yeah, that much). It must be South African. Try pairing a Shiraz with the red meat and a Chenin Blanc with the light meat.
7) To accompany the meat, you’ll need to make some putu pap (AKA krummelpap or simply pap). Pap is a traditional Bantu food a lot like polenta. It’s made with water, salt, butter and maize meal (easy enough) and it’s a mainstay of any authentic Braai. Check out a recipe for pap here.
8) Guests should arrive an hour or two before sunset so they can admire it as it happens. Start your fire before then so you have a bed of glowing embers to cook with. Don’t rush the fire!
9) Once the wine is uncorked and the party is moving, get cooking. Try halving an onion and rubbing it across the grill before placing the meat down. Flavor is everything!
10) Revel! Converse. Drink and eat a shitload! Enjoy the sunset, night sky, and fire. Stay up past your bedtime, feel amazing.
Finally, at any braai there can only be one Braaimaster who is devoted entirely to the meat. Guests are not allowed to do anything but eat, drink and firegaze.
Keep in mind, it is the braaimaster’s own success that earns invitations to future braais as a guest (and that creates an unforgettably awesome time.) It’s just not fair for South Africans to have all the wine fueled fun, so go forth!
And remember, it’s okay to braai.