“You’d think something as common as a braai would be second nature to us South Africans but I realised just how divisive the subject of a good braai can be. Everyone thinks they’re an expert at it! It’s not really as straight cut as people may think it is. The type of fire used, to marinate or not to marinate, high heat or medium heat, red meat first or chicken first, dry spices or wet basting sauce…there are countless debates on this topic.
As a chef I always try do things a bit differently. Instead of using a gas braai or charcoal I always recommend people use wood. The reason is because a wood flame adds character to the meat, it smokes your meat whilst cooking it making it taste a whole lot better…and meaning you need less spices and flavourings.
Your meat is always dry? The reason is because we’re using the wrong cut or the meat has been sliced wrongly. The cut you use key, always go for juicy and fatty cuts, the reason is because the fat in the steak melts off as the meat is grilled, resulting in a more succulent steak. Rib-eye steak is my favourite cut for this. Make sure its cut at a thickness of about 2 fingers. The thickness of the steak is also important to getting a juicy steak. Too thin means it will dry out. Oh, and you shouldn’t marinate red meat! By marinating red meat you’re removing all the natural juices in it and actually drying it out, the salts in marinades draw out the natural moisture in the meat. When your fire is at its hottest, grill the red meat until it is well browned and then remove it and allow it to rest on the side until the heat of the fire has decreased and then return it to the flame to finish cooking, only season after this process, you’ll have a naturally tastier and softer steak. For the kids pork ribs are always popular. Just make sure you have extra basting sauce to keep basting the meat.
Also don’t shy away from seafood on the grill. Prawns and crayfish are awesome on Braai and very quick to do. Just marinate them in garlic, butter and lemon juice. They need a medium heat fire though. Whole fish is best wrapped in foil, be generous with the butter and season it well, sprinkle some lemon juice and wrap it tightly in foil. Fish only needs about 15 minutes on a braai. I stick it right into the hot coals.
Some people boil chicken first and then baste it to braai on the fire. Rather marinate your chicken overnight in a marinate that has an acid (like lemon juice or vinegar), oil and spices. What is the secret to juicy braaied chicken? An oven! You use the flame just to grill the outside of the chicken and brown it and then you place the chicken in the oven to finish it off. If you don’t have an oven nearby you can achieve the same concept by covering your braai with the chicken on the grid in thick foil for a few minutes, this creates the same oven effect.
You don’t always have to eat meat with pap! A couscous salad is quick, healthier and won’t leave you feeling heavy. You can also grill off sweet potato and sweet corn on the braai. Rub your sweet corn with butter afterwards or if you’re really trying to be fancy you can even try blue cheese!
One of the things that amuse me when I’m invited to a braai is observing just how people go about with their tools and fire starting. I try my best to keep my hands clean and avoid conflict by sitting as far away from the braai or group of people attempting to braai as possible.
There really isn’t that much that you need when braaing. The essentials that one should always have though are:
• Metal tongs
• A wire brush
• A basting brush
• Wood or logs
• Empty containers to store your meat in when done
• A dry clean cloth
• A small side table
• Your braai stand!
That’s it really. You don’t need any more than that. Fancy gadgets and cool looking tools don’t really add much to how well your meat will taste in the end.
There really isn’t that much to a braai. If you understand the basics of cooking then you’ll understand the fundamentals to making an awesome braai. There is so much one can do on a braai besides just grilling meat. You can bake bread, you can cook pancakes, make desserts and you can even make coffee.
Best way to start a fire?
• Use wood. ALWAYS use wood. The best kind of woods are hard wood. A wood fire makes the best braai because it imparts the most flavour and is just more fun. It’s great for a lengthy social get-together or a boys’ weekend. Though, it’s harder to control, and it’s more difficult to get the exact temperature you want.
Note: heavy, dense hardwoods, like mopane, kameeldoring, rooikrans or even Cape vines, are the best choice because they form good embers after burning. Light woods, like pine, should be avoided as they don’t produce nice coals.
• Build a pyramid like structure. Stack the wood in a square formation and keeping building up, maybe about 4 levels. Your firelighter should be in the middle of the stack. Light it and move away. That’s it. In about 30 minutes your fire should be roaring. Use a good set of heavy duty tongs to move the wood around once the pyramid collapses on itself.
• To test if a fire is ready hold your hand above it, if you can count to 10 without moving your hand away, your fire is cool/hot enough to grill meat on.”
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CHEF LESEGO’S BLOG