BBQ Versus the Mighty ‘Braai’

If you ever choose to visit South Africa, you may get invited to attend a braai. Don’t panic, as this is merely the local variant of a good old fashioned BBQ, with a few subtle differences. Take notes from here on and you’ll go a long way to impressing a few locals with your knowledge of what can only be described as one of the cornerstones of South African male tradition.

Mention the word ‘BBQ’ when you attend such an event and you might very quickly become the centre of some unwanted attention. This attention can range from a subtle correction in your use of vocab and an explanation as to why a braai is not a ‘BBQ’; a bit of wors flung in your general direction accompanied by an exclamation of the word ‘Pommie’ (more on the ‘wors’ later), or a good firm Boer hand klap around the back of the head. I speak from experience.

In short, a BBQ is seen by the locals as an English past-time, where-in everyone is stood on a 2m x 2m patch of garden, huddled under an umbrella to shelter from the rain (or to keep warm) and the grill has a few flat patties and/or chicken thighs on it to tempt your tastebuds. In stark contrast, a South African braai has, as a minimum, a sizeable piece of steak, a littering of lamb chops and at least one wors (the explanation is coming!). Chicken may feature at a braai if it is close to the end of a month and funds are running low, however a smart local will have a chest freezer in his garage with a meat selection to rival that of Sainsbury’s or Tesco (or any other good supermarket). 

And now for the wors. Not to be mistaken for a ‘banger’ or ‘sausage’, the ‘boerewors’ can only be described as a Cumberland ring (x10), with one wors enough to provide you and your family with your recommended weekly allowance of protein. Once, and only once the wors is cooked they can be cut up into a manageable size for use in a hot-dog bun etc. Should you happen to break a wors whilst cooking, you might as well bin the result and start again and deal with the insults which ARE headed your way.

Braai-ing is a work of art, especially when it comes to how the locals like their meat cooked. If you mess this up, again you could be subject to another firm hand klap and some verbal abuse. Most South Africans like their meat to be cooked anywhere from rare to medium rare, where ‘well-done’ does not feature on the scale. A proper man, whether South African or not, should be able to cook a piece of meat to perfection – ek is amper daar!

Acceptable ‘sides’ to accompany your braai-vleis include meat (of a different variety) and/or pot-brood (bread made especially for the braai). Anything green, or in any way related to a vegetable will be frowned upon (with the exception of potato).

Finally, a short word on the tools of the trade. W-E-B-E-R – these grills were made for South Africans by Americans. You will be the talk of the town if you can stretch to buying one of the premium Weber braais, however a Weber of any description should suffice (just don’t opt to buy a ‘no-name’ brand in an effort to save money, unless the braai happens to be made from an oil drum sawn in half (this is manly!). In addition to the actual grill, a braai-er should be equipped with a heavy-duty set of braai-tongs to lift the farmyard of meat which should adorn the grill, a wire brush with which to clean the grill (because no one likes eating the char from a previous braai) and a sharp knife, to cut the meat into manageable portions once it has been cooked. Readers should notice that ‘pattie flippers’ are not required due to the fact that burger patties do not feature on a South African braai.

(Oven gloves, also need not apply unless you want to be labelled a sissy).

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9 thoughts on “BBQ Versus the Mighty ‘Braai’

  1. I’m just wondering if you live in Gauteng, cause in the Western Cape our braais include greens, salads, even braaied veggies, the sides are as NB as the meats perhaps its a competition between both men and women. Bread added can be roosterbrood, those grilled tomato and onion sandwiches , or garlic loaves. But definitely salads. I once went to a braai of different African people, South African and other countries, and only two of us were Cape Townians, and we were quite shocked and a bit disappointed (but happy for new culture experience) to be at a braai where it was just meat, meat, and meat and pap! That is not how we braai here!

    • Hi Chandre – thanks for the visit. I do live in Gauteng (good guess!) and although my wife ensures that we have veggies and salad on the table at our braais, I’ve been to a few friends (incidentally not married) who only do meat and at a push, some braai brood. Grilled tomatoes and onion sandwiches – my skoonouer’s favourite 🙂

  2. Now, here’s the thing, there’s wors and wors…! In the Karoo and other farflung places lamb wors is usually thin. so is some game wors, Fatty meats are yuck when thick. Th e game wors is thin but needs to cook fast, so there you go already! another contradiction! Have you tried pofadder? That’s a real wors!

    • Hi Chris – thanks for the post, although I realise this is a delayed response. I haven’t tried a ‘pofadder’. I presume this is another name for a type of wors, rather the snake which you catch and put on the braai :). Does spar stock it?

  3. Note, this strategy only works with the thin wors — it’s about the circumference of a small hot dog, and only available from Woolies as far as I know. It’s far superior to the thick stuff, in my humble opinion. (I think the thick wors is nearly always too dry.)

    • Hmm that’s a toughie. On one hand, he is a South African, but on the other he is ‘only’ English. I would have to go with my Afrikaner braai-king friends on the proper way to cook a wors, but am tempted to give your way a go. Will comment back on any abuse I receive

  4. This is the best braai post I’ve seen. I do beg to differ on the wors-cooking instructions though. My boyfriend buys the thin wors from Woolies and actually allows it to fall apart a little while braaing it. Once it started to break, that means it’s ready to eat. Straight off the Weber, with your hands. Perfection.

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