The Burning Question: What’s the Best Braai Material?
There is no denying that South Africans take braai-ing very seriously, and each social gathering is overseen by a designated, beverage-holding braai master. This person is well-versed in all the intricacies of setting up the braai and ensuring the meat is cooked perfectly.
But the depth of knowledge and required skill to be a braai master aren’t just learnt overnight: it can take years of practice and serving as a braai apprentice. We can’t all be experts like the folks on The Ultimate Braai Master.
Of course, if you are on a quest to become the king or queen of the coals yourself, then you need some basic insight to help build a solid foundation (quite literally, actually). And that involves knowing the difference between using wood, coals or gas.
So, let’s take a look at the basics of each braai material, and before you know it, you will know exactly what to use for cooking our delicious Woody’s Smoked Braai Range to perfection.
Gas: Let’s start with gas. Most experts would agree that using gas is one of the easiest ways to braai. This means if you are an amateur braaier, gas would be the best option since it’s pretty much the same as cooking on a gas stove and allows you to control the temperature if need be. It’s also very convenient, so a gas braai can also be set up anywhere (on a balcony, for example) and you’re good to go. There are some drawbacks, of course: you won’t get that smokiness on the meat, gas braais can be quite pricey, and the actual gas cylinders aren’t always readily available. That said, don’t listen to the braai purists who say using a gas braai isn’t “proper braaing”; it’s perfectly fine and an excellent first step.
Charcoal: While not as quick as using gas, charcoal is still very convenient as it lights very easily and then it’s just a bit of a waiting game until the coals are ready. Using charcoal adds to the whole braai experience- i.e. prepping the braai, cracking a few colds ones, chatting to friends and family and eventually getting the coals to the right temperature. Some cons, though: cleaning up after using charcoal can be quite tedious, and you won’t be able to control the temperature at all.
Wood: And now onto the holy grail of braai materials *cue the angelic harmony*: wood! This is, by far, the best material to use for a braai since experts will agree that the food will taste better. There is actually a little bit of science around that statement. You see, when wood burns, the cellulose that binds the wood strands melts and releases a guaiacol aroma compound, which adds a smoky almost spicy flavour to whatever is on the grill.
Not to mention, there is just something special and typically South African about gathering around a blazing wood fire and having a great time. Braai tip: heavy and hardwoods (rooikrans, mopane etc.) are recommended since they form the best embers/coals. As for the negative aspects: when we say a wood fire is smoky, we mean it; in fact, some people are put off by the fact that the smoke infiltrates almost everywhere, like clothing and homes, for example. So, it’s also best to find a beautiful open space for your braai. Stoking the fire and waiting for the flames to disappear and the embers to release the perfect cooking temperature can be time-consuming as well. But, it is a social event, after all, so waiting is part of the fun!
If one of your 2019 goals is to up your braai skills and eventually unlock braai master status, start with the basics and work your way up. Before you know it, you will be raising your tongs and striking a victory pose!
Need to get those taste buds inspired? Have a look at these recipes featured on the Ultimate Braai Master.