Cooking with Fire: The Art and Science of South African Braai

Olubayo Stephen
May 8, 2023

The South African Braai, which is also known as a barbeque or BBQ, is a cultural and social institution that has become a celebrated way of cooking and sharing food in South Africa. It is a unique style of cooking that blends the art and science of preparing meat and vegetables over an open flame.

Historically, the term braai originates from the Afrikaans word “braaivleis,” which means “grilled meat.” The first braais were held by early Dutch settlers, known as the Voortrekkers, who were traveling through the interior of the country in the early 1800s. They would gather around the fire and grill meat while socializing and sharing stories.

Over time, the tradition of the braai has become an integral part of South African culture, especially on weekends and holidays. It has become a way for families and friends to connect, share stories, and bond over delicious food.

One of the defining characteristics of the South African braai is the use of wood or charcoal as fuel. This creates a distinct smoky flavor that infuses the meat, giving it a unique taste. In addition to the smoky flavor, the heat from the coals sears the meat, sealing in the juices and creating a crispy outer layer.

The types of meat commonly cooked on the braai include beef, lamb, pork, and chicken. South Africans have also developed their own unique style of sausage, known as boerewors, which is a staple at braais. Boerewors is a type of sausage made from beef and pork, with a mix of spices that give it a distinct flavor.

The South African braai also includes a variety of side dishes, such as pap, a type of cornmeal porridge, and chakalaka, a spicy vegetable relish. Other popular side dishes include baked potatoes, garlic bread, and roasted vegetables.

The braai is not only about the food, but also about the social experience. It is a time for family and friends to gather around the fire, share stories, and enjoy each other's company. The art of the braai is in the preparation and cooking of the food, but the science is in creating the perfect fire and maintaining the temperature to cook the food to perfection.

To prepare for a braai, the first step is to start the fire. The most common way to start the fire is with a chimney starter, which is a metal cylinder that holds the charcoal and allows it to heat up quickly. Once the charcoal is hot, it is spread evenly across the grill, creating an even heat source.

The meat is then seasoned with a variety of spices, such as salt, pepper, and paprika, before being placed on the grill. The key to cooking meat on the braai is to maintain a consistent temperature, which is achieved by adjusting the distance between the coals and the meat. This ensures that the meat is cooked evenly and not burned on the outside while being undercooked on the inside.

As the meat cooks, it is basted with a sauce made from tomato, vinegar, and spices. This adds flavor and moisture to the meat, ensuring that it remains tender and juicy.

The South African braai is more than just a way of cooking food; it is a cultural institution that brings people together. It is a time for families and friends to connect, share stories, and enjoy each other's company over delicious food.

In conclusion, South African braai is more than just a way of cooking meat. It is a cultural experience that brings people together, celebrates traditions and creates unforgettable memories. From the traditional boerewors to the modern-day sosaties, there is a wide range of foods that can be cooked over the flames of a braai. The key to a successful braai lies in the preparation, the quality of the meat, and the art of cooking it to perfection. Whether it's a family gathering or a national holiday, South Africans take great pride in their braai culture, and for good reason. It is a unique and cherished part of their heritage that has been passed down from generation to generation. So next time you find yourself in South Africa, make sure to join in the fun and experience the magic of a true South African braai.


  1. "Braai Culture in South Africa." South African Tourism,
  2. Claassens, Sarina. "The Art of Braaing." The Culture Trip, 27 Apr. 2017,
  3. Hani, Samkelo. "All About Braai Day." South African Government, 23 Sept. 2019,
  4. South African Poultry Association. "The Best Chicken for Your Braai." The South African Poultry Association,
  5. Tourism South Africa. "South African Food: Braai (Barbecue)." South Africa,

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