Upgrade Your Barbecue: The South African Braai

Ditch your tired barbecue routine for a traditional South African braai, where fire-cooked meats, delicious wines and amazing company reign supreme.
Much like barbecue in the U.S., braai (rhymes with fry) in South Africa is something akin to religion.

It’s not just about what you braai, it’s about how you braai, when you braai, where you braai and with whom you braai.

It’s a social event that gathers people around a fire to watch, smell and share a meal. It’s a place to eat, drink and tell stories for hours.

A braai often includes many different types of meat prepared over an open wood fire. Chops, steaks, loins, poultry, boerewors (sausages) and sosaties (skewers) are staples, while along the coast seafood plays a prominent role, from boiled crayfish (spiny lobsters) to whole-grilled or smoked fish, particularly snoek, an oily, cold-water fish found around the Cape of Good Hope.

And don’t forget the wine. South Africa’s wide variety of wines mixes and matches perfectly with the various dishes.

To share the secrets of a proper braai, we asked Reuben Riffel, a celebrity chef in South Africa, Winemaker Marc Kent of Boekenhoutskloof Winery in Franschhoek, and some of their vintner buddies from across the Cape Winelands to show us how it’s done.

 

THE ATTENDEES

Meet the folks who know how to braai: the grillmaster in charge of the feast, the host and the winemakers who brought along prized bottlings to share with friends new and old.

Reuben Riffel, chef de cuisine and restaurateur, Reuben’s Restaurant, locations in Franschhoek, Cape Town, Robertson, Paternoster; author, Reuben Cooks (2008), Reuben Cooks Local (2011), Braai: Reuben on Fire (2013); television personality, 5 Sterre met Reuben (2013), MasterChef South Africa (2014, 2015)

Host Marc Kent, winemaker and partner, Boekenhoutskloof Winery; member, Cape Winemakers Guild

Pieter Badenhorst, winemaker, Fleur du Cap 

Andries Burger, winemaker, Paul Cluver Wines; chairman, Cape Winemakers Guild 

Pieter “Bubbles” Ferreira, cellar master, Graham Beck Wines; member, Cape Winemakers Guild

Lizelle Gerber, winemaker, Boschendal 

Rudiger Gretschel, head winemaker, Vinimark 

Gavin Bruwer Slabbert, winemaker, Raats Family Wines

Martin Smith, winemaker, Vilafonté; owner/winemaker, Paserene Vineyards 

Rebecca Tanner, winemaker, Fable Mountain Vineyards

Debbie Thompson, winemaker, Simonsig Wine Estate

 

THE BRAAI MENU

Beef Sliders
The Bok Loinout (Springbok Loin)
Sosaties (Lamb Skewers) with Smoky Red Salsa
The Hot Bird (Chicken with Peri Peri Sauce)
Yellowtail on the Braai 
Green Salad
Heirloom Tomato & Burrata Salad
Kent’s Killa Spicy Smoked BBQ Sauce

Braai Mousse (Oak-Smoked Chocolate Mousse with Braaied Bananas) 
Starstuck Citrus 

 

THE EQUIPMENT

Sure, you’re down with the vibe of the braai, but the key to success is having the right tools. Here’s the skinny on what you need in your arsenal.

The Gear

Obviously, you need something with which to cook. There are many grills to choose from, and many braaiers use more than one to prepare various items. Make sure you have at least one main fire pit or wood-fired grill, like a Big Green Egg or Weber, as well as a smoker or smoking box to add to a closed grill, if desired.

The Fuel

Wood is king. It creates the ambiance and sustained cooking centerpiece that’s integral to a traditional braai, while also imparting wonderful smoky characteristics to the grilled food. The fire should remain consistently hot throughout the food preparation, mellowing later when guests settle around it after dusk with their favorite glass of wine. Charcoal can be used in a pinch, or when time is limited. Gas should be a last resort.

The Gadgets

Don’t forget basics like fire starters (matches, chimney, newspaper) and clean, flat grill grates that are cured or oiled to prevent sticking. Additional items, like a large-hinged grill basket, a fish grill basket, skewers and a spray bottle for basting, can definitely come in handy. Make sure you have a container to ice your sparkling and white wines—a wheelbarrow works wonders. It’s also wise to have a fire extinguisher nearby, just in case.

The Cutlery 

A quality chef’s knife is key for any general chopping or trimming needs. A sturdy cleaver is also handy for bigger butchering jobs. A set of extra-long grill tongs will be your best friend, so splurge on a quality set.

 

Beef Sliders

Recipe courtesy Duncan Savage, winemaker, Cape Point Vineyards, Cape Town, South Africa. Adapted from Cellarmasters in the Kitchen, by Wendy Toerien (Struik Lifestyle, 2012)

1 pound ground beef
1 onion, finely chopped
1 cup fresh breadcrumbs
½ cup chopped fresh parsley
1 egg
1 tablespoon hot English mustard
Salt, to taste
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
12 thick slices of mozzarella cheese
12 soft small rolls
24 fresh basil or arugula leaves
3 medium tomatoes, sliced
4 large gherkin pickles, sliced lengthwise

Mix together beef, onion, breadcrumbs, parsley, egg, mustard, salt and pepper. Form 12 patties, and grill to desired doneness. Melt slice of mozzarella on each patty.

Halve rolls and lightly toast on grill.

To serve, place patty on rolls. Top with 2 basil or arugula leaves and one slice each of tomato and gherkin. Makes 12 sliders.

 

Sosaties (Lamb Skewers) with Smoky Red Salsa

Recipe courtesy Reuben Riffel

2 onions, chopped, plus 1 onion, quartered (optional)
3½ tablespoons canola oil or butter
3 cloves garlic, crushed and peeled
Grated ginger, equal in volume to garlic
3½ tablespoons curry powder
2½ teaspoons turmeric
2 cups malt vinegar
16 ounces smooth apricot jam
2½ teaspoons salt
4½ pounds leg of lamb, deboned, cleaned and cut into 1-inch cubes
4-8 fresh bay leaves, torn into pieces
1 pound dried apricots (optional)
2-4 peppers of your choosing, cut into pieces (optional)
Smoky Red Salsa

To make marinade: Sauté onions in oil or butter for 4 minutes, or until soft and golden, but not brown. Add garlic, ginger, curry powder and turmeric. Sauté another 2 minutes. Stir in malt vinegar, apricot jam and salt, and heat until boiling. Remove from heat. Let marinade cool to room temperature.

Place meat in bowl. Add marinade and bay leaves. Toss to coat meat. Cover and marinate, refrigerated, for at least 12 hours, preferably 2–3 days. Stir meat every 8–12 hours.

To cook: Skewer meat, adding dried apricots and pieces of onion and peppers between lamb cubes, if desired. Braai for about 10 minutes, turning a few times in closed, hinged cooking basket. Serve with Smoky Red Salsa. Makes 10 skewers.

 

The Hot Bird (Chicken with Peri-Peri Sauce)

Recipe courtesy Reuben Riffel

1 medium onion, sliced
15 long red chilies, deseeded and chopped
4 red bell peppers, deseeded and chopped
1/3 cup, plus 4 teaspoons red wine vinegar
2 tablespoons smoked paprika
2 baby chickens, about 1¼ pounds each, spatchcocked (split open to prepare for grilling)
2 lemons
6 large figs (Adam variety, if available), halved

For peri peri sauce: In medium-sized pan over medium heat, sweat onion, chilies and red peppers for 10–15 minutes. Deglaze pan with the red wine vinegar. Add smoked paprika. Simmer for 20 minutes, then blend until smooth.

Place chickens in container. Rub with peri peri sauce (reserve some for serving) and refrigerate overnight.

Braai on grill over medium heat. Cook for 15 minutes, turning every 5 minutes. Squeeze lemon juice over chickens. Cook for another 15 minutes. Grill figs for 5 minutes, and serve with chicken.

 

Yellowtail on the Braai

Recipe courtesy Reuben Riffel

4 garlic cloves, chopped
7 tablespoons butter
½ cup, plus 2 tablespoons apricot jam
Juice of 1 lemon
1¾ tablespoons soy sauce (optional)
3–7 tablespoons white wine (optional)
Dash of chili sauce (optional)
Salt, to taste
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
Olive oil, to taste
1 fresh yellowtail, 6–7 pounds, cleaned and head removed

Using small stockpot on fire or stove, lightly fry garlic in butter. Add apricot jam, lemon juice and any optional ingredients. Add salt and pepper, to taste. Stirring constantly, heat until melted and mixed.

On baking sheet lined loosely with double layer of aluminum foil, drizzle olive oil and place fish on top. Drizzle with prepared sauce. Gently rub and massage sauce onto and inside fish. Let marinate approximately 30 minutes.

Leave fish on foil, and slide onto grill for indirect cooking. Make a few small holes in foil to prevent pooling. Tear off excess foil.

Cook with grill lid closed for about 15 minutes, or until flesh flakes when lightly pressed. Slide foil with fish back onto baking sheet. Serve warm or at room -temperature.

 

Braai Mousse (Oak-smoked Chocolate Mousse with Braaied Bananas)

Recipe courtesy Reuben Riffel. Adapted from Braai: Reuben on Fire by Reuben Riffel (Quivertree Publications; 2013)

2 cups dark chocolate
Seeds of 1 vanilla pod
1 cup whipping cream, whipped softly
4 egg whites, whisked to stiff peaks
4 bananas
Chocolate shavings (optional), for garnish

Place chocolate in the top portion of a double boiler.

In grill, bring oak chips to smoke over low heat. Cover double boiler and place inside grill for 30 minutes. Remove chocolate. Let cool to room temperature.

Stir in vanilla seeds. Gently fold in a quarter of the cream, then remaining cream. Fold in egg whites. Refrigerate until ready to serve.

Grill bananas, skins on, over medium heat until skin is completely black.

Serve bananas (hot or cold) with the chocolate mousse, and garnish with the chocolate shavings. Serves 4.

 

Starstuck Citrus (Sliced Oranges with Star Anise-Butterscotch Sauce)

Recipe courtesy Reuben Riffel. Adapted from Braai: Reuben on Fire by Reuben Riffel (Quivertree Publications; 2013)

1 cup white sugar
½ cup butter, cut into pieces
1 cup heavy cream
3 star anise
5 oranges, peeled and sliced into ¹⁄₅-inch thick rounds

Boil 1 cup of water and sugar in nonstick pan. Allow mixture to reduce down to caramel color (do not stir). Whisk in butter, cream and star anise. Remove from heat.

To serve: Arrange orange slices, and drizzle with sauce. Serves 4–6.

 

Additional Recipes

Smoky Red Salsa

Recipe courtesy Reuben Riffel, Chef de Cuisine and Restaurateur, Reuben’s Restaurant, locations in Franschhoek, Cape Town, Robertson, Paternoster.

1 red onion, unpeeled
6 garlic cloves, unpeeled
1 ripe tomato
 red pepper
½ long red chili
2 teaspoons lime juice
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
1 tablespoon sugar
Pinch of salt, to taste

Place onion, garlic, tomato, pepper and chili on grill. Char until completely blackened, approximately 15 minutes. Let cool. Peel skins from all items. Remove seeds from tomato, pepper and chili. Chop all ingredients into a -inch dice. Add lime juice, vinegar, sugar and salt. Yields about 1 cup.

 

Kent’s Killa Spicy Smoked BBQ Sauce

Recipe courtesy Marc Kent. Adapted from Braai Masters of the Cape Winelands by Wines of South Africa (Jonathan Ball, 2010)

20 medium tomatoes (preferably Roma)
2 medium onions
Fresh chilies (variety and quantity of your choice)
8 tablespoons olive oil
1 cup ketchup
1 cup Italian tomato purée
1½ cups apple cider vinegar
4 tablespoons aged dark rum or brandy
½ cup orange juice (optional)
4 tablespoons mild molasses
½ cup light brown sugar
2 tablespoons smoked Spanish paprika
4 teaspoons ground black pepper
8 large cloves garlic, crushed
Ground chili (to taste)

Cut tomatoes in half lengthwise. Scoop or squeeze out seeds. Peel onions. Place tomatoes in smoker/grill opposite the heat source, cut side up. Add onions and whole chilies. Smoke until tender. Remove and let cool. Peel tomatoes (saving as much juice as possible) and chilies. Roughly chop tomatoes, chilies and onions.

Heat olive oil in large pot. Add tomatoes, chilies, onions and remaining ingredients. Stir over high heat until boiling. Reduce heat to low. Simmer uncovered for at least 2 hours, stirring occasionally, until sauce thickens considerably. Let sauce cool. Transfer in batches to blender and purée until smooth. Add ground chili and additional salt or pepper, to taste. May be made ahead and refrigerated until use. Yields about 3 cups.

Heirloom Tomato and Burrata Salad

Recipe courtesy Reuben Riffel, Chef de Cuisine and Restaurateur, Reuben’s Restaurant, locations in Franschhoek, Cape Town, Robertson, Paternoster.

½ baguette, thinly sliced diagonally
½ cup extra-virgin olive oil, plus extra for brushing
2 garlic cloves, halved
4 burratas, room temperature
½ pound baby heirloom tomatoes of various colors, halved
4 oxheart tomatoes, coarsely chopped
2 golden shallots, thinly sliced
3 teaspoons salted baby capers, rinsed and drained
3 tablespoons vincotto (available online or in gourmet shops)
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
Basil cress, for garnish

Heat grill over high heat. Brush baguette slices with olive oil and grill, turning occasionally, until golden and crisp, about 2–4 minutes. Rub each piece with cut side of garlic and set aside.

Halve the burratas and place on plates. Combine tomatoes, shallots and capers in a bowl and scatter around burrata. Whisk the remaining ½ cup oil and vincotto in a bowl to combine, season to taste and drizzle over tomato salad. Scatter with basil cress and serve with crostini. Serves 8.

Roast Onion Vinaigrette

Recipe courtesy Reuben Riffel, Chef de Cuisine and Restaurateur, Reuben’s Restaurant, locations in Franschhoek, Cape Town, Robertson, Paternoster.

2 red onions
1 large brown onion
5 shallots
5 tablespoons Cabernet Sauvignon vinegar
½ cup extra-virgin olive oil
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
1 sprig thyme

Cut onions and shallots in half, and place on a grill over hot coals. Close the grill lid and allow to roast until completely soft and tender, approximately 10 minutes. Allow to cool, then remove outer skin and slice onions as thin as possible. Add vinegar and olive oil, mix and season well with salt, pepper and thyme leaves. Serve alongside grilled lamb skewers or beef.

 

PERFECT PAIRINGS

Poultry

The main factor is the dish’s preparation and seasoning. For spicy rubs and sauces, try dry Rieslings. Savory herb crusts work best with earthy Pinot Noirs or herbal Sauvignon Blancs, while smoked birds match with weighty, oaked whites.

Best picks: Boschendal 2013 Appell-ation Series Chardonnay or Pinot Noir (Elgin), Reyneke 2013 Reserve Sauvignon Blanc (Stellenbosch), Simonsig 2014 Chenin Avec Chêne (Stellenbosch)

Seafood

For grilled fish seasoned simply, opt for bright, citrusy white wines. Rich, oily fish like salmon or char can stand up to more robust bottlings, like white blends or even Pinot Noirs. For raw preparations, serve a Méthode Cap Classique sparkling wine.

Best picks: Fable Mountain Vineyards 2012 Jackal Bird (Western Cape), Graham Beck NV Méthode Cap Classique Brut (Western Cape), Paul Cluver 2012 Seven Flags Pinot Noir (Elgin)

Beef

Bold Cabernet Sauvignons, with ample tannic structure and dark fruit flavors, pair seamlessly with fatty proteins. Blends that incorporate Cabernet Franc will lend green pepper notes and ashy complexity. Pinotage will play to the smoky flavors of the beef’s outer crust.

Best picks: Boekenhoutskloof 2012 Cabernet Sauvignon (Franschhoek), Simonsig 2012 Redhill Pinotage (Stellenbosch), Vilafonté 2012 Series C (Paarl)

Lamb

Lamb and Syrah is a match made in heaven—look for ripe, juicy selections that offer savory notes of bramble, fynbos and black pepper, framed by ample tannins and a satiny structure. You can also consider Syrah-based blends or Merlot-based wines that offer rich, dense black-fruit notes and a supple mouthfeel.

Best picks: Fable Mountain Vineyards 2011 Syrah (Tullbagh), Reyneke 2013 Organic Syrah (Stellenbosch), Vilafonté 2012 Series M (Paarl)

Game

Game meats like springbok or venison pair well with wines that offer complementary accents of curing spices, pepper and sweet smoke. Syrah and Rhône-style blends are ideal. A Pinotage will emphasize the dish’s gamy notes, while Bordeaux-style blends will bring out spice notes.

Best picks: Boekenhoutskloof 2012 Syrah (Coastal Region), Fleur du Cap 2013 Bergkelder Selection Pinotage (Stellenbosch), Raats Family Wines 2013 Red Jasper (Stellenbosch)

Greens

Crisp, classic white wines play well with a variety of green salads and sides. Try Cabernet Francs alongside salads with green beans or strawberries, while fresh, zippy rosés are ideal with salads of tomato and cheese.

Best picks: Boschendal Appellation Series Sauvignon Blanc (Elgin), Gorgeous by Graham Beck 2015 Pinot Noir-Chardonnay Rosé (Western Cape), Raats Family Wines 2012 Cabernet Franc (Stellenbosch)

Dessert

Even if it doesn’t exactly match the dishes being offered, a sparkler’s refreshing effervescence is welcome after a hearty meal. Jammy, sweet-spiced red blends are decadent companions to chocolate desserts, while late-harvest or botrytized whites are best paired with citrus or custard-based finales.

Best picks: Boekenhoutskloof 2012 The Chocolate Block (Western Cape), Fleur du Cap 2012 Bergkelder Selection Noble Late Harvest (Stellenbosch), Paul Cluver 2013 Noble Late Harvest Riesling (Elgin)

Get pairing tricks, cocktail and fine food recipes, plus tabletop tips and more for your next summer soirée in our Ultimate Summer Entertaining Guide >>> 

Photos by Maree Louw; Food styling by Abigail Donnelly 

Published on May 21, 2015
Topics: Hosting Tips, Pairings, Recipes
About the Author
Lauren Buzzeo
Managing Editor, Print, and Tasting Director

Reviews wines from South Africa and Languedoc-Roussillon. Reviews beers.

Buzzeo joined Wine Enthusiast Magazine in 2006 as a tasting coordinator, and eventually became Tasting Director and Senior Editor, responsible for overseeing all aspects of the tasting and review program. Most recently, Buzzeo assumed the role of Managing Editor. Since coming to Wine Enthusiast, she has made it one of her personal missions to promote the acceptance of cross-drinking, encouraging everyone to embrace finely crafted libations across all beverage categories. Buzzeo is also an avid homebrewer and a member of the AHA (American Homebrewers Association). Email: lbuzzeo@wineenthusiast.net.




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