South African braai is very similar to American barbecue or grilling, but with its own special touches. It typically includes a variety of meats prepared over an open wood fire—never propane. Chops, steaks, loins, poultry, boerewors (sausages) and sosaties (skewers of cooked meat) are staples, while fish and vegetables will often make an appearance as well. Of course, lots of great wine to wash it all down is essential.
Given the wide assortment of proteins that star at a braai, as well as the optional array of sides, wine-pairing options are near infinite. To channel the proper South African vibe, offer an assortment of lekker wines across a variety of styles. Start with chilled Methode Cap Classique sparklers and crisp Chenin Blanc for afternoon refreshment, followed by bold reds like smoky Pinotage and spicy Shiraz to complement the main event and carry you through the night.
There are lots of grills to choose from, and many braaiers use an assortment to prepare various items. You’ll need at least one main kettle grill or fire pit that can accommodate a wood fire, like a Big Green Egg, Weber or Char-Broil charcoal grill or smoker. If you can’t create a hardwood fire, a wood chip smoker box can do the trick.
Wood is king. It creates the ambiance and sustained cooking centerpiece that’s integral to a traditional braai and imparts wonderful smoky characteristics to the food. The fire should remain consistent while cooking, and later mellow when guests settle around with their favorite glass of wine. Charcoal can be used in a pinch, or when time is limited.
Bigger does not mean better when it comes to the flames. If it’s too big, it’ll likely just torch the meat, which will dry up juices and cook too fast for any subtle smoky flavors to develop. You can test your fire’s strength carefully with your hand. Place your palm about 10 inches from the flames. Ideally, you should need to pull your hand away after 5–7 seconds, which is medium heat and just right.
Don’t forget basics like fire starters (matches, chimney, newspaper) and clean, flat grill grates, preferably cast iron, that are cured or oiled to prevent sticking. Additional items like a large-hinged grill basket, fish grill basket, skewers and a spray bottle for basting can come in handy. And a set of extra-long grill tongs will be your best friend.
The key to ensuring succulent poultry and meat, especially when you’re cooking leaner cuts and proteins, is to brine it. Soak meat overnight in a salty, spicy water bath to produce juicier results. Rinse the meat and wipe off the brine prior to cooking.
Spice is essential, but don’t overseason—it will overpower natural flavors as well as any smoky influence from cooking. Need a good rub? South African wine importer Cape Classics shares its house recipe:
1 tablespoon Hungarian paprika
2½ teaspoons salt
2 teaspoons ancho chile
2 teaspoons chipotle chile powder
¾ teaspoon garlic powder
½ teaspoon cayenne
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon ground mustard seed
1 teaspoon ground coriander
1 teaspoon ground turmeric
1 teaspoon lemon pepper
Combine ingredients together in a small bowl. Dry rubs can also be combined with olive oil or other fatty bases to create a marinade.