Welcome to our ‘how to barbecue like a pro wherever you are’ special – let’s jump right in…
A dop en tjop, a braai, a barbie, a barbecue, a grill and chill…whatever you call it, the braai – which goes by many names – is actually pretty universal. As humans, there’s something within us that just wants to be outside, smelling the fragrant aroma of our favourite meat and veggies sizzling on the grid. But that being said, there’s quite a big difference between how South African’s and the rest of the world braai, isn’t there?
The South African Braaier or “Braai Master” is somewhat of a legend. Every South African family and group of friends has one and it is up to this individual to ensure that the garlic bread isn’t scorched, the chops and steaks are cooked just right (for each person mind you), and the veggies are grilled to perfection. No pressure! Is there a similar concept in the Australian and American way of braaing? What quirks and customs do other countries have and how do they compare with ours? The reality is that the way we do it (braai) is not the way the rest of the world does, but it’s the differences in our world-wide cultures that makes the human race (and each of its countries) so special. Let’s see how South African braais compare to the the Australian barbie, and the American barbecue.
How to Braai the South African way
South African braais are often more about the outdoors and the pints of beers than anything else. While the men traditionally are the “braai masters”, it is often the women who prep and marinade the meat, make up the salads, stuff piles of garlic and butter into bread rolls, and make sure that the food actually gets cooked. The men gather around the braai telling war stories and swapping manly gossip, turning steaks and chops, and taming flames with a splash of beer every now and then.
- Braai equipment:
The equipment used across the board is pretty standard – a free standing braai (or a built in one) positioned in the garden with a perfect view of the night sky, charcoal/briquettes, and firelighters. In some fancier communities, electric and gas braais are used, but this is not a common thing. Oh, and of course, in SA, it’s BYOB (bring your own booze) all the way.
- How to start a braai?
Starting a braai is probably the trickiest part of the entire process. Most people use either wood or charcoal to braai – with charcoal being the most common choice. Air is needed to ensure that charcoal burns, so if the braai has a lid, it is placed to one side. First, firelighters are broken into pieces and placed into the braai. The charcoal pieces are built into a stacked pyramid, leaving just enough space to access the firelighters. A long match or burning stick is used to set the fire lighter pieces on fire. Much attention is given to the flames until some of the charcoal pieces “take” and starting to glow. In about 25 to 30 minutes the coals will be grey and ready to braai with.
How to Barbecue the American Way
When looking into how to BBQ the American way, you will find that they actually have a few types of BBQ events. In American culture, barbecues are typically family-friendly events focused around an occasion or celebration. What’s really interesting about American BBQs is that they are quite different from one area to the next and it really all comes down to what people were brought up on. For instance, Texas is known as the “Barbecue Belt” and here a white sauce is a key element to the entire occasion. The main meat cooked is brisket, which is rubbed with herbs and spices and cooked for a very long time.
In the Carolinas you will see that pork is the main meat used to BBQ with and often features an entire pig cooked whole. Then the meat is shredded or pulled – ending up in you guessed it; pulled pork, which is served with vinegar-based sauce and a mustard sauce too. In Kansas City you will find brisket and pork ribs in high demand at the family barbecue/grill.
For many Americans, the BBQ is all about burger patties and hot dogs on the fire with coleslaw, salads, and family fun in the sun. What you experience at an American BBQ comes down to where in the U.S you find yourself!
- Barbecue equipment and how to start a barbecue:
The American barbecue or “grill” as it is sometimes called is often done on an electric or gas grill. It’s often portable and very much like the ones you can find in SA. While electric and gas grills are popular, charcoal grills are often used too. Because of the equipment most often used, barbecue grills are a lot easier to start than a braai. Gas and electricity grills can be used immediately whereas the South African braaier knows that the 30 minutes waiting for the coals to “take” is prime time for catching up with buddies and knocking back a beer. Starting a gas barbecue is as simple as ensuring that the gas is attached and then lighting it, much like a gas stove. An electric griller just needs to be plugged in and the temperature adjusted. In the U.S, the host usually provides the drinks, but that’s not a hard and fast rule.
How to Barbie the Australian Way
When comparing the South African braai to other country’s versions of it, it’s apparent that the Aussies do things fairly similarly to the South Africans. In Australia, barbies are just as common-place as braais are in SA and there’s certainly an element of “barbie master”, although they definitely don’t call it that. If you are currently living and working in Australia, you might have heard the words “slip a shrimp on the barbie” and if you do, know that you‘re in for a seafood braai treat! While seafood barbies are quite popular, it can’t go unmentioned that the typical Aussie Barbie is about mates, citronella candles (to keep those infamous Australian mozzies at bay) beer, and sausages sizzling on the outside grill.
When in Australia, you will discover that there are different types of barbecues, but most of them feature around the same simplicity. The Aussies don’t like to get fancy with their barbies. All that is needed in terms of meat, as a bare minimum, is a pile of beef and lamb sausages, white bread and tomato sauce. If you think that sounds a little strange; we all have our quirks. Some barbies do have offerings of chicken, burgers, and prawns (which they call shrimps), but that’s not always the norm.
Just like back home, sides really do fill the gap! In Australia, a typical crowd-pleaser is a heap of onion slices cooked in beer on the grill. Other firm favourites include corn on the cob and potatoes. A bowl of bright green lettuce usually makes it to the table too – whether it gets eaten or not is really just the luck of the draw.
- Barbie equipment and how to start a barbie:
First and foremost, beers – this seems to be barbie “equipment” in Australia. Just like in SA, the barbie situation is BYOB all the way. Secondly, the actual BBQ, is of importance. Most Australian homes feature some sort of barbecue which ranges from a simple wood operated BBQ to big, overpowering top of the rage gas barbecue stations – in fact, Webers (kettle style grills) are quite popular too. Most Australians also have a portable braai, but unlike in SA, this is often used for going out on picnics or to certain beaches. Lastly, fire starters are typically used to get the fire going.
As a South African living in Australia, you won’t really need to be taught how to start a barbecue. It’s pretty much the same as back home. Let’s say you are using a wood-fuelled barbecue. Of course, you will use wood chunks as your fuel source. First, the fire starter is broken in half and half is placed into the barbecue. The wood chunks are stacked over and round the fire starter, with the rough edge exposed. The fire starter is then lit and while the wood burns and turns into grey fiery coals; the beers and chatter can proceed.
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