What is a Braai?

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What is a Braai?Have you ever wondered what is a braai? South Africa is a beautiful country renowned for its vibrant culture, stunning landscapes, and delicious food. One of the most popular culinary traditions in South Africa is the braai. If you are unfamiliar with this term, what is a braai in South Africa? This blog post will explore everything you need about the braai, including its history, cultural significance, and how to prepare and enjoy this delicious feast.

What's a Braai?

At its core, a braai is a South African barbecue. However, it is much more than that. A braai is a social gathering centred around preparing and consuming delicious food, often accompanied by copious amounts of your favourite beverage and good conversation. It is a time-honoured tradition deeply ingrained in South African culture and often viewed as a national pastime.

The History of Braai

The roots of the braai can be traced back to the earliest inhabitants of South Africa, who would cook meat over an open fire to survive. As time passed, this cooking method evolved, and the braai as we know it today began to take shape.

17th Century Braai

During the 17th Century, Dutch settlers arrived in South Africa, bringing their love of barbecuing. They introduced the concept of the spit braai, where meat is roasted over an open flame on a spit. This method of cooking became incredibly popular among the Boer people, who were farmers of Dutch descent. Over time, the braai became a symbol of Boer culture and tradition.

20th Century to the Present Time

In the 20th Century, the braai began to evolve again as South Africans from all walks of life embraced this culinary tradition. Today, the braai is enjoyed by people of all races and backgrounds and is an essential part of South African identity.

The Cultural Significance of Braai

The braai is more than just a way to cook food; it is a way of life in South Africa. It is a time for friends and family to come together, relax, and enjoy good food and drink in a convivial atmosphere. The braai is an integral part of South African culture and is often seen as bringing people together.

The Ubuntu Concept

One of the critical elements of the braai is the concept of ubuntu. Ubuntu is a Zulu word roughly translates to "I am because we are." It is a philosophy that emphasizes the importance of community, of working together for the greater good. The braai embodies this spirit of ubuntu, as it is a time for people to come together and share in the preparation and enjoyment of food.

Preparing for a Braai

Preparing for a braai is an art form in itself. The first step is to choose the right meat. Beef, chicken, and lamb are popular choices, as are sausages and boerewors (a type of sausage unique to South Africa). It is vital to choose good quality meat, as this will significantly impact the flavour of the final dish.


Once you have chosen your meat, the next step is to marinate it. This is a crucial step in the braai process, as it adds flavour and tenderness to the meat. There are countless marinade recipes, ranging from sweet and tangy to spicy and savoury.


The next step is to light the fire. Charcoal is the most popular fuel for a braai, although wood can also be used. Once the coals are hot, the meat can be placed on the grill and cooked to perfection.

Salads and Side Dishes

Side dishes are essential to any braai, and countless options exist. Popular side dishes include pap (a type of porridge made from maize), chakalaka (a spicy vegetable relish), and braaibroodjies (toasted sandwiches filled with cheese, onion, and tomato). Salads and bread are also commonly served.
Once the food is ready, it is time to eat. The meal is often accompanied by plenty of beverages of your choice, and good conversation and laughter are a must.

Braai Etiquette

As with any social gathering, certain rules and customs should be observed when attending a braai. These include:

  1. Bringing your meat: It is customary for guests to bring their meat to a braai. This ensures plenty of food and takes the pressure off the host.
  2. Helping with preparations: The braai is a communal affair, and guests are expected to help with the practices. This may involve marinating the meat, set the table, or helping to light the fire.
  3. Waiting your turn: When it comes to eating, it is essential to wait your turn. The host will usually serve the food in a specific order, and it is considered impolite to jump ahead.
  4. Offering to help with cleaning up: Once the meal is over, it is customary to offer to help. This shows gratitude to the host and helps ensure the braai area is clean and tidy.

Different Types of Braais

There are several different braais, each with its unique style and flavour. One popular type is the potjiekos, which involves cooking meat and vegetables in a cast-iron pot over an open flame. 
Another type is the sosatie, a skewer of marinated meat and vegetables grilled over hot coals. Regardless of the type of braai, the result is always delicious and satisfying.

South African sausageThe Role of Braai in South African Society

Braai is more than just a meal; it is a way of life in South Africa. It is a time for people to come together, share good food and drink, and celebrate the spirit of Ubuntu. The braai has played an important role in South African society throughout history, from the early settlers to the present. It symbolises community and togetherness, an integral part of the country's cultural identity.

Braai and National Holidays

Braai is essential to many national holidays in South Africa, including Heritage Day, also known as National Braai Day. This holiday is celebrated on September 24th each year and is a time for South Africans to come together and celebrate their diverse cultural heritage. Braai plays a central role in these celebrations, and it is a time for people to share good food, drink, and conversation.

The Health Benefits of Braai

Believe it or not, there are health benefits to braai. Grilling meat over an open flame can be a healthier cooking method than frying or baking, as it allows excess fat to drip away. Additionally, the marinades used in braai can be packed with healthy ingredients like herbs and spices, which can have anti-inflammatory properties and help boost the immune system.

Braai Culture and Tourism

Braai is a popular pastime for South Africans and a draw for tourists. Visitors to South Africa can experience the country's unique braai culture through tours, cooking classes, and even braai-themed accommodations. Many lodges and hotels offer braai facilities for guests, allowing them to experience this culinary tradition firsthand.

The Future of Braai

As South Africa continues to evolve and change, so will the braai. However, one thing is sure: this beloved culinary tradition will remain an essential part of the country's cultural identity. Whether enjoyed at a backyard barbecue or as part of a national celebration, the braai will continue to bring people together and celebrate the spirit of ubuntu for generations to come.

Braai Grill

The grill is the centrepiece of any braai. There are several braai grills, ranging from simple portable grills to large built-in grills with all the bells and whistles. Here are some of the most common types of braai grills.

boerewors on grillPortable Grills

Portable grills are ideal for small gatherings and picnics. They are lightweight, easy to transport, and can be set up in minutes.

Built-in Grills

Built-in grills are a more permanent option and ideal for large gatherings or those who frequently host braais. They can be customized to fit any space and equipped with features like rotisseries and side burners.

Kettle Grills

Kettle grills are a classic option and are perfect for cooking everything from hamburgers to steaks to vegetables. They are versatile, easy to use, and available at most home improvement stores.

Spit Grills

Spit grills are traditional and involve roasting meat on a spit over an open flame. They require more preparation and attention but are a great way to cook significant cuts of meat like whole chickens or lambs.
grilling in cubeNo matter what type of braai grill you choose, it is essential to use high-quality fuel and to keep the grill clean and well-maintained. This will ensure that your food is cooked to perfection and that your grill lasts for many braais to come.


The braai is a beloved culinary tradition in South Africa. It is more than just a meal; it is a time for people to come together and celebrate the spirit of togetherness and community. Whether you are a seasoned braai master or a newcomer to this culinary tradition, following the customs and etiquette of the braai will ensure a successful and enjoyable experience for everyone involved. So grab your meat, marinade, and friends, and get ready to experience the ultimate South African feast.
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