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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.

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49 thoughts on “What is a braai?

  1. Chris

    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!

    1. Bernd

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

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  4. […] and keeping them all charged and safe. I use my iPod in the car and for the Shox pig when we have a braai with friends but other than that it pretty much stays in the car or at […]

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  6. […] had a true South African dinner – braai. AMAZING! Lamb chops, steak, bacon wrapped around mielies, roast potatoes, roast vegetables, potato […]

  7. Paul

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

  8. […] perennial administrative tasks, sorting out our respective work projects, and having coffee/dinner (braais) with new friends, and by the time the sun sets it feels like we were carried through the day by a […]

  9. Cameron McDonald

    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 !

  10. […] a little bit of background for those who have never heard of a braai. The word braai comes from the word braaivleis, which is Afrikaans for roasted meat. Braai means […]

  11. […] booked might not live up to its online image, the Southeaster might interfere with your ability to braai, and the local wildlife might not keep its distance quite as much as you would prefer! Treat it as […]

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  13. 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!!

    1. Robin

      Did you get to try Braaibroodtjies? Man everyone forgot the staple snack of braaibroodtjies. Once you have on of these, wow you learn the LeeuLoop. It’s a tradition in SA, grrrrr.

  14. 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!

  15. […] I can find good deals on seafood and shellfish! In South Africa, it’s traditional to have a braai, and make chicken, steak/lamb chops and – of course – boerewors (you can also find the […]

  16. […] people outside of South Africa compare a braai to a barbecue, but let it be known that it is so much more than that! A braai to South Africans is […]

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  18. […] shedding. If you don’t know what a braai is – Google it. or see here for the lazy : http://www.braai.co.za/blog/generalbraai/what-is-a-braai/ and some nice recipes here […]

  19. […] was also awesome to have my parents, brother and aunt – all on the same team! – over for a braai at my house.  My aunt thinks there’s a lot of work to be done because I have no decorations […]

  20. […] volley ball, Robben Island trips, Braai’s, Outdoor markets are just a few to mention the fun summer things to do whilst studying at EC Cape […]

  21. […] extremely different. It’s the one day of the year that we politely ask to barbecue instead of braai. We stand huddled around the fire shivering in the cold night air. Being in the Southern […]

  22. […] spend holidays with us. It’s always been the norm to invite people you just met over for a braai. Now that I’m here, it seems everyone wants to take me under their wing. While none of my family […]

  23. […] G and I had been to a wedding last year with a South African caterer who served a proper ‘braai‘, which was a stroke of genius – what Brit doesn’t love a good summer BBQ? So our […]

  24. What about the drinks 😉

  25. […] ready for a Bush Braai inside the Kruger National Park, Not sure what a Braai is, http://www.braai.co.za/blog/generalbraai/what-is-a-braai/ . […]

  26. […] Africans love their braais, but as they would have you know, an essential ingredient to a fine braai is a South African potato […]

  27. […] was a bit of loin left, that got sauced up and braaied separately. Also braaied a kilo of gemsbok […]

  28. […] (the real Sparletta kind, not that awful creamy stuff) and Milo and Jelly Tots. And a real proper braai, even though we agree that a braai is hardly tantamount to […]

  29. […] (Heritage day) themed: “Semi-formal with a tough of heritage”. I had just returned from a braai, but when I got home and searched for what to wear I was stumped, what is my heritage? This is […]

  30. […] is a  little bit of background for those who have never heard of a braai. The word braai comes from the word braaivleis, which is Afrikaans for roasted meat. Braai means […]

  31. […] Africans love their braais, but as they would have you know, an essential ingredient to a fine braai is a South African potato […]

  32. […] supplied with a cup of rooibos tea at all times.  Saturday evening they even assembled an amazing braai in their backyard.  On Monday, I will shift to university student housing for a month.  That will […]

  33. […] the meeting we had a braai. The Olympafrica volunteers made chicken, sausages, pork, pap, and salads; everything was […]

  34. […] and township slang for the ritual-like grilling activity, which adheres to strict rules differentiating it from barbecue. South Africans so love braaing, they’ve co-opted the country’s national Heritage Day […]

  35. […] meat,’ and township slang for the ritual-like grilling activity, which adheres to strict rules differentiating it from barbecue. South Africans so love braaing, they’ve co-opted the country’s national Heritage Day holiday […]

  36. […] of the trip (and only because it was Christmas night, and we celebrated by dressing up and having a braai!) Not wearing makeup was truly a liberating experience, and I feel like I grew more comfortable in […]

  37. […] a little bit of background for those who have never heard of a braai. The word braai comes from the word braaivleis, which is Afrikaans for roasted meat. Braai means […]

  38. […] fellows drive 900 kilometers on a quest for free-range hormone-free meat, forget their first-night braaivleis in the farmer’s deep freeze, and end up on the back of a bakkie with a spotlight and a […]

  39. […] August 26, 2016 by monatenate Amagwinya as they are called in Gauteng meaning vetkoek,The term amagwinya originates from the historically Black townships of Gauteng in South Africa. This are known as the best breakfast and they can be eaten with polony,atchaar or whatever you choose to eat it with. this is a popular meal for people living in townships.The popularity of this food item is evidenced by the many spaza shops, hawkers at taxi ranks, roadside vendors, and fast food shops located in the Gauteng townships who sell this food. 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. AUTHOR:Bernd comments: beaded animals 13 August 2014 at 11:54 # […]

  40. […] & Janet for New Years celebrations Cape style. The sun sets at 8 pm so why not have a potluck braai  and meet some new friends. Howard has a twist and has couches, tables and chairs on his back lawn […]

  41. […] South Africa is a country. It has more than fifty million citizens who don’t BBQ. We braai. […]

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  43. […] place. There really is no rush for just about anything around here, apart from maybe for booze, braais and […]

  44. […] African, grilled meat is something close to me. My favourite food culture in South Africa is the braai culture, the South African version of the barbecue. It is something I miss when I am away from home […]

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