Woo hoo, this weekend promises to be a hot bank holiday. Being born and bread in the UK, as soon as the sun comes out, the first thing we do is reach for our BBQ’s. So if this is your plan for the weekend ahead, what are you planning to have on it? Traditionally for me, it was burgers and sausages, with the occasional chicken drumstick! Then I was introduced to the South African way! Having a braai!
South Africans have the benefit of much better weather than us Brits, so it wouldn’t surprise you to know that they spend a lot more time having a BBQ, or as they call it a braai, in one year than we potentially could in a lifetime! The benefit of this is that they seem to take it to another level!
In 2006 I moved house. One of my neighbours was South African. This was my first experience of a Braai. 2 years later, I met my very own South African who is now my husband. Now burgers and sausages are a rarity.
I don’t know about you, but cooking your dinner al fresco is so much nicer! Everyone is much more relaxed and its fun!
So what makes the perfect braai?
I always thought one bbq was as good as the next! How little did I know!
Ok, lets start with the actual bbq/braai itself! Firstly gas or charcoal? I personally have never seen the point of a gas one. To me, it would be like cooking in the kitchen. I can see the benefit though if you want to be able to control the temperature, or if we had wall to wall sunshine. For me its charcoal all the way! Gas cooking doesn’t alter the flavour of your food, but with charcoal, you get a lovely smokey flavour!
When looking for a charcoal bbq, you will find there are hundreds of options ranging from cheap to expensive. We have been using a Weber, as does everyone is South African, so it seems! The main advice I would give you is to make sure whatever your budget, look for one that allows the air to flow under the charcoal! If possible, it should also have an adjustable grid so you can control the heat (sadly the Weber doesn’t have this!) and another to try to catch your ash!
You will also need a good set of tongs, a cleaning brush for the grid and if you like kebabs, metal skewers! If you want to experiment with different meats then a meat thermometer would be a good idea!
The right fuel
If you have gone for the gas option this is easy! You just need to buy the right gas canister! For a charcoal one, you need to consider what it is you are planning to cook!
Charcoal – This is great for faster cooker. Its easier to light but also burns quicker!
Briquetttes – This is the best type of fuel if you want to retain the heat longer. They are also recommended for a kettle braai such as the weber above.
Wood – If you want a smokey taste to your food, you can use wood. Be careful what wood you use though as some of them let off horrible smells which you certainly wouldn’t want with your food!
If you want to add flavour to your food, you can buy wood chips which are infused with things like Hickory. These are great for things like fish or pork. Or go for Applewood infused chips for a sweeter taste! Just soak them before adding to your fire.
Lighting the Braai/BBQ
There are a few options to help you get a perfect fire going:
Kindling – Lighting small sticks and twigs may remind you of old camping days as a boy scout! Scrunch up some old newspaper, light it, then top with the small twigs. As it catches, you can add larger pieces of wood or coals.
Gel – I don’t recommend this. It is difficult to see if the coals or wood is alight, and seems to not last that long, so you end up using the whole bottle with little effect!
My personal favourite is Fire Lighters! They are relatively cheap to buy these days. You can add them around your coals or wood. Once lit they will burn for up to 10 minutes, giving the coals or wood a chance to catch! I also love the smell of them – which I know is a bit weird, but a Braai/BBQ is all about the smell as well as the taste!
Building the perfect fire
Fire needs oxygen, which is why I recommended you buy a Braai/BBQ that allows air to flow under the coals. These mini ones you can buy in foil trays at the shops might sound like a good idea, but they are more difficult to use than you think, as the airflow is restricted.
Place some firelighters inside the Braai/BBQ and light them. After about 10-20 seconds add a few coals over them. As the coals catch, you can add more coals. To help regulate your cooking it is a good idea to build the fire so that one side is higher than the other. That way you can place your food on different parts of the grill to cook at different times and speed. Replace the grill and relax to allow the fire to take hold!
So when is the right time to put the food on? Well this type of cooking can’t be rushed! How many times have you seen food raw or burnt from a Braai/BBQ? The best time to add your food is when you can hold your hand over the grill about 2-3 inches away and count to 3 without burning your hand! Any longer and the coals may not be hot enough to cook your food through. You can of course add more later and some people have some heating up separately. This is especially useful when you are cooking something that takes many hours!
What do we put on our Braai/BBQ
Well the number 1 item you will mostly find on our grill is a nice piece of steak! This in itself was a learning curve for me! Not any old type of steak would do! It had to be about an inch thick and have some fat on it! We marinate it with a dry rub which you can buy in most supermarkets although as you would expect, ours comes all the way from South Africa!
So what else can you find on our grill?
- Spatchcock Chicken – this is usually marinated in a piri piri, chinese or bbq sauce. Its basically a flat chicken! These need to be cooked on a low heat for a long time. Always check it is fully cooked before serving! We tend to put it in the microwave for 10 minutes before adding to grill to help start it off. Keep the lid on to retain the heat while cooking will help it cook all the way through.
- Chicken Drum Sticks – again marinated ones are great.
- Chicken breast – just be careful it doesn’t dry out! Using a marinade will help this.
- Beer Can Chicken – Place an opened can of beer inside a chicken and stand up on the grill. You can also use soft drinks like ginger beer!
- Rack of Ribs – great with a marinade
- Lamb Chops – these need to be chunky chops.
- Kebabs – These can be made in different variations – Vegetable, Chicken, Lamb or prawn!
- Garlic Potato Kebabs – Pre – boil your new potatoes and put them on skewers with garlic cloves!
- Corn on the Cob – I prefer to put these in foil. You can add butter if you wish.
- Roasted vegetables – Chop vegetables of your choice and place in foil dish with a bit of oil and garlic.
- Garlic Bread – Wrap in foil
- Whole joints of pork or beef – These need to be cooked slowly. As with the Spatchcock Chicken, keep the lid on during cooking.
- Fish – again I would recommend wrapping in foil unless it is a whole fish
- Burgers – yes I know what I said earlier but I still love my traditional burgers. If you make your own they can be great fun and you can vary your flavours.
- Sausages – go for big chunky ones or the Cumberland wheels. Again there are so many flavours out there that you can really vary it!
If using marinades, keep some aside to baste the food as it cooks.
Amazon sell some really good Braai/BBQ recipe books. Treat yourself to one. It might give you some new and interesting ideas! Remember that cooking this way isn’t something you can time exactly.
I mentioned above about building your coals up higher one side to the other! This is great when cooking as you can move the meet around so it doesn’t get burnt! If cooking the chicken for example you can put it on the lower side with the lid on. This will ensure it is still exposed to the heat without the flames being directly under it. It will act like an oven.
Don’t forget to include some side dishes with your meal. The usual salads are great but what about a potato bake. They are easy to make. Just peel some potatoes then slice. Chop up an onion! Layer a dish with potatoes and onions adding some feta or cheese of your choice throughout the layers. Cover with either chicken stock (for healthy option) or full fat cream. Bake in over for about 40 minutes or until golden brown and potatoes cooked.
What ever you do with your Braai/BBQ this weekend, make sure you have fun! We Brits don’t get to see the sun very often, so make the most of it. Experiment with different things. A good old British BBQ can be so much more than just your sausages or burgers, although to be honest, there is nothing wrong with just having them either!
A word of warning though! Make sure the ash is 100% cold before you dispose of it! Even the slightest heat could spark a fire if you threw it into the bin!