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How to braai – the proper South African way

How to braai - the South African way. PIcture of chicken thighs with crispy skin, just taken off the braai.

Ever wondered why a South African braai is such a big thing or why we make it out to be? Because it is – there is emotion in every aspect of braaing – why we are having a braai, what we are braaing and who is invited to the braai are all very important elements at every South African braai.

Braais take place at nearly every occasion in South Africa, from baby showers where the men cook the food on the sidelines to wedding after parties (and at funerals sometimes!). A braai can be a remembrance or a celebration. Most of all to create an occasion where friends and family can share stories, memories, love and food.

We take braaing seriously, and so should you. So to help you do it right this Heritage Day, we have put the following guide together. It will help you do it properdentlik*, the South African way.

*combination of ‘properly’ and ‘ordentlik’ (which is Afrikaans for the word ‘properly’).


How to organise a braai

You can have a braai for any occasion. Braais can be stylish for more formal occasions and casual for Friday night get togethers. Whatever the occasion, a braai is suitable. To organise a braai is easy, you need to:

  • Invite people – usually instructions like ‘bring and braai‘ and ‘bring dop and chop‘ will suffice. In South Africa the sides are usually provided by the hosts, but kind friends always ask what else they can bring (hint-hint). Invitees are also expected to bring their own drinks, unless you specify what you will provide.
  • Be flexible on the times provided, people are generally an hour early or an hour late to a braai. It is the norm.
  • Ideal start time for a braai is usually 12 to 2 pm, this gives the kids time to play together, adults time to mingle and sports to be watched. By ‘start time’ we mean the get together of people, the start time of the braai is another thing altogether.
  • No dress code required, unless it is a formal occasion or dress up party, in which case you can include this on the invite. If there is rugby on, expect people to come dressed in their teams’ t-shirts.


Braai meat options

The morning of the braai quite a bit of prep needs to be done, from getting the meat ready to making the side dishes.

Good meat is essential, so find a good butcher that you can trust and buy some good quality meat. You can braai anything, from prawns to fish to chicken, but three foolproof options are boerewors, steak and lamb chops. Ask your butcher for their advise on the best braai meat. Haloumi cheese is a good option for people who are not crazy about juicy meat.

Note: If you’re a pescatarian, rather try out this tasty, proudly Capetonian snoek braai recipe.

To prepare the meat, often just plain salt and pepper does the trick. If you do use a marinade, rather baste (paint it on) during cooking toward the end of the braai session to prevent sauces that are high in sugar or tomatoes from burning. And if you are going to spice, do so while you’re braaing on the second- or third-last turn, or rub it in at least an hour before you braai. The reason for this is that salt draws out moisture so you need to give the meat sufficient time to reabsorb it (so that it’s not dry and tough).


Braai tool and equipment options

Braai tongs are the best accessory a braaier can have. And as far as the braai structure itself goes, kettle braais are great, but there are a lot of options. Just make sure it is sturdy for safety. It is more about what you use for fire, than the structure itself.

Set up a table close to or next to the braai if possible, to put meats, drinks and snacks on for the people that are likely to congregate around the fire.

The options for braai fires are gas (easiest, lazy way), wood (best choice but can get lengthy), charcoal (carbonised wood for fast, convenient braaing) and briquettes (charcoal residue that’s been compressed into shapes, best for kettle braais). What you use depends on what you want to do.

To start the fire you will need firelighters (small parafin flammable tablets), kindling (small twigs and sticks) with newspaper, or dried materials like corn cobs.


Building the fire

Fire needs oxygen. For a charcoal or briquette braai, light the firelighter tablets first and let it burn for about 20 seconds before throwing some, not all, of the pieces on. If you don’t do this, you could smother the flames.

For a wood fire, light the firelighters and build a square stack of wood around them (place two logs parallel to each other, then place another two perpendicular to these on top, and so on). Tepee form wood logs are not advisable as these usually collapse at some point, sending ash all over the place.


When and how to put the meat on the fire

This is mostly learnt by experience (sorry!) but one way to do it is to hold your hand above the grid and if you can keep your hand there for 5 seconds before it gets to hot, then the fire is ready for steak; 7 seconds for boerewors and 10 seconds for chicken. Basically, the longer the meat will take to get done, the longer your hand will have to be able to stay above the grid, otherwise it will just burn on the outside and be raw on the inside.

Turning the meat is simple, do it before it gets black. Less is more though – if your meat gets black to quickly, the fire was too hot. With regards to knowing when it is ready? In the case of steak, you can slice it to see if it done (or to your taste) and chicken is generally done when the juices are running clear. Boerewors is done when it snaps easily with a tong. If you are doing a lot of types of meat at the same time, chicken goes on the edges of the grid, boerewors and chops on the inside of the chicken and steak towards the end in the middle, where it is hottest.


What to eat with the meat – popular side dishes

Potato Bake

Sliced potatoes baked in oven (or on the fire in aluminium tray) with veggies and cream. Use this basic recipe and add in vegetables, mushrooms, bacon, etc.

Braaied (Baked) Potatoes

Can be done with normal or sweet potatoes. Take any reasonably sized potato (fist size or bigger) and poke a few holes in with a fork. Sprinkle them with some course sea salt and wrap them in aluminium foil. Put them directly in the braai fire, on the side, and turn them regularly to cook them. Generally these are done when the meat is ready

Black Garlic Mushrooms

Buy big black mushrooms and wash them under running water. Put a dollop of butter and fresh or minced garlic on top and wrap in aluminium foil. This will go on top of the grid, with the meat, and will cook well in generally 5 to 10 minutes.

Garlic Bread

These can be bought ready made from most stored (in the bread section) or can be made from scratch. To make them, buy a french baguette (or similar) and cut slits in across the bread not all the way through. Make a mixture of soft butter (real butter, not margarine), garlic and cheese, and spread this with a knife into the slits you cut. Cover the bread with aluminium foil and bake it on top of the grid, with the meat, remembering to turn it often or the bread with go hard and burn on one side.


“You won’t find a more authentic braai dish than this,” says butcher Andy Fenner, who feeds guests these cheesy sandwiches when they crack their first beers. Braaibroodjie translates to “barbecue bread,” and this version stacks slices with cheddar, tomato, onions, and chutney before grilling. The chutney is key: Mrs. Ball’s, an iconic brand in South Africa, is made from dried fruits and vinegar, but any sweet and sour chutney will do.

Great basic recipe here.


Here anything goes. From Greek salads to potato salads, whatever you fancy. Buy it or make it, your choice.


Braai dos and don’ts – for hosts and guests

  • If you are invited to a braai, always offer to bring something (like a salad or a garlic bread). Also always bring your own meat (and a bit more, to share) as well as your own drinks, unless you are explicitly told not to do so.
  • Do tell the braaier how you like your meat, especially steak.
  • Don’t tell the braaier how to braai, even if you see your medium rare steak is turning well done.
  • Do offer to lend a hand when you see things are getting sweaty, but don’t feel offended if your help is not needed. Some braaiers take pride in working hard to provide you with food.
  • Keep the braaier company and offer him a drink when you see he is running low.
  • Don’t bother asking for the marinade recipe, it is always a secret.
  • Do have a good time. Braaing is not actually about the food or the cooking; it is about the company and the memories being made.



We are not affiliated to the products or services mentioned in this article, in any way. It is mentioned as a result of our own experiences and research on public domains.

We endeavour to check all information for accuracy upon writing the article. If this information is outdated or wrong, please let us know and we will gladly amend it where need be. 



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Elize Rowe

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