What is a braai?

If you are a South African, you definitely know the answer to that question. So you probably don’t need to read this. If, as a South African citizen, you don’t know what a braai is, you should not have been given that citizenship in the first place. However, for those of you that don’t know what a braai is, here is Wikipedia’s description of it:

“The word braaivleis is Afrikaans for “roasted meat.”

The word braai (pronounced “bry”, rhyming with the word “cry”; plural braais) is Afrikaans for “barbecue” or “roast” and is a social custom in South Africa, Namibia, Zimbabwe and Zambia. It originated with the Afrikaner people, but has since been adopted by South Africans of many ethnic backgrounds. The word vleis is Afrikaans for “meat”.

The word has been adopted by English-speaking South Africans and can be regarded as another word for barbecue, in that it serves as a verb when describing how food is cooked and a noun when describing the cooking equipment, such as a grill. The traditions around a braai can be considerably different from a barbecue, however, even if the method of food preparation is very similar.

While wood formerly was the most widely-used braai fuel, in modern times the use of charcoal has increased due to its convenience, as with barbecues elsewhere in the world. There has however been a renewed interest in the use of wood after the South African government started with its invasive plant species removal program. An important distinction between a braai and a barbecue is that it’s fairly uncommon for a braai to use gas rather than an open flame.

The “Bring & Braai”

Similar to a potluck party, this is a grand social event (but still casual and laid-back) where family and friends converge on a picnic spot or someone’s home (normally the garden or verandah) with their own meat, salad, or side dish in hand. Meats are the star of the South African braai. They typically include boerewors, sosaties, kebabs, marinated chicken, pork and lamb chops, steaks, sausages of different flavors and thickness, and possibly even a rack or two of spareribs. Fish and crayfish (kreef in Afrikaans) are also popular in coastal areas.

The other main part of the meal is pap (pronounced /p?p/, meaning porridge), or the krummelpap (“crumb porridge”), traditionally eaten with the meat. This dish is a staple of local African communities and may be eaten with tomato and onion sauce,monkeygland sauce or the more spicy chakalaka at a braai.

Sometimes this activity is also known as a “chop ‘n dop” (dop being Afrikaans slang for an alcoholic drink, literally meaning “cap” or “bottle top”) when more drinking than eating is done.

Social Norms

A braai is a social occasion that has specific traditions and social norms. In black and white South African culture, women rarely braai (cook) meat at a social gathering, as this is normally the preserve of men. The men gather round the braai or braaistand (the fire or grill) outdoors and cook the food, while women prepare the pap, salads, desserts, and vegetables for the meal in the kitchen. The meal is subsequently eaten outside by the fire/braai, since the activity is normally engaged in during the long summer months. The braaing (cooking) of the meat is not the prerogative of all the men attending, as one person would normally be in charge. He will attend to the fire, check that the coals are ready, and braai (cook) the meat. Other men may assist but generally only partake in fireside conversation. The person in charge is known as the braaier (chef), and if his skills are recognised, could be called upon to attend to the braai (BBQ) at other occasions as well.”

If you have a different oppinion about what a braai really is, please leave your comments.

19 Responses to “What is a braai?”

  1. Chris
    30 August 2009 at 19:08 #

    The best wood to braai with must be Sekelbos. Botanical name: Landroviaflattyria. Beware, when you buy en route Leeupoort/Thabazimbi ex Warmbad, they sell you any kind of wood, but they will convince you that it is indeed
    sekelbos. Try for the braai en you will see that sekelbos koning kraai!! Laat waai!

    • Bernd
      31 August 2009 at 07:16 #

      Chris – Thanks a lot for the good advise. We will certainly take note of this.

  2. Paul
    4 December 2013 at 06:56 #

    I did a paper for college on grilling-the SA braai is definitely the way to go! I’m in the USA, btw.

  3. Cameron McDonald
    27 April 2014 at 02:43 #

    Have just completed a recent cricket tour representing the Austalian Over 60’s Cricket Team playing games from Durban to Cape Town and couldn’t believe how many Braais we had for the after game dinners.

    I thought we liked our BBQs(Braais) in Australia but the South Africans have us covered.

    Really enjoyed the tour and the hospitality we received from our opposition was second to none !

  4. 23 June 2014 at 00:51 #

    In my opinion, it is the best site to make money.

  5. 13 August 2014 at 11:54 #

    I am a US citizen and had my first braai in SA a few months ago. Unlike hamburgers and hot dogs in the US, we had steak, ribs and lamb chops! Yum!!

  6. 18 September 2014 at 13:16 #

    A braai is much more than cooking food; it is about the atmosphere, the experience and the people that you share it with. …and the taste; oh man the taste!!

    You can braai just about anything. What you braai, mostly depends on your budget. Prime cuts, like thick cut T-bone steaks and lamb chops are especially good. If you are on a low budget, you can even braai cheaper cuts of meat like beef chuck. Chicken “flatties” are also very nice to braai. Chicken is also not as costly as lamb and prime cuts of beef.

    One of my personal favourites; to braai a fresh whole fish over the coals. Kabeljou (Cob) is especially good. To wrap the fish in tinfoil is definitely not the way to go. You must have the patience and skill (and balls) to braai fish on the open coals, skin side down, without burning the meat… What is the point if you are going to wrap the fish in tinfoil? You could just as well cook it in the oven!

  7. 9 February 2015 at 15:55 #

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