This Heritage Day, millions of South Africans will once again heed the call to wheel out the Weber, spark up a fire and congregate around grill-cooked grub. But if you’re just throwing meat at the grid to see what sticks, you aren’t doing this national holiday justice. Don’t worry; we’re here to elevate your braai game so that you aren’t caught serving up scorched vleis.
1. Introduce Your Chicken to Chef Mike
Nothing creates delays more than portions of poultry that take ages to cook. To speed up the process, spread your protein in a single layer on a microwave-safe plate and nuke it for six minutes on medium-high heat or until the meat just begins to turn white. Brush with your chosen marinade and slap it onto the braai to seal the deal.
Instant Upgrade! Too many leftovers? No problem. Make this chicken tortilla casserole. Grab 2 cups chopped, grilled chicken; 1 can rinsed and drained black beans; 1 bottle of drained chilli peppers; half a cup of enchilada sauce; 3 quarter cups crumbled nacho chips; half cup of grated cheese (chef’s choice). Stir the chicken, beans, peppers and enchilada sauce together. Place in a 20x20cm baking pan, top with the crushed nachos and bake at 200°C for 20 minutes.
2. Buy a Reliable Meat Thermometer
Guesswork is for boomers who like serving leathery steaks (or have that fabled sixth sense to detect when their protein is perfectly cooked). You, well, you’re a man from the digital age, and there’s no shame in investing in gear that’ll help you cook meat perfectly every damn time. We like the Meater Plus, you (and your guests) will love it, too.
Instant Upgrade! Gauging whether you’re in medium-rare territory or about it to go over the edge into dreaded well-done country is as easy as checking the digits on your thermometer. If your steak is sitting at 52°C, it’s still rare. 57°C will get you a medium-rare finish. 71°C? That’s well done, but in a “here’s a trophy, thanks for ruining our braai” kind of way.
3. Deploy the Rubs
Using a spice rub will net you flavour in droves. Start with three simple ingredients: salt, brown sugar and black pepper. You can tag in chilli powder, cayenne pepper and cumin, too, but feel free to go beyond these braai day staples with ground fennel seed for pork or cracked coriander on meaty fish like snoek and tuna. (Chipotle chilli powder shines on steaks!)
Instant Upgrade! Here at Men’s Health, we’re big fans of smoky Spanish paprika, which maxes out flavour on both chicken thighs and sweet potatoes AKA the preferred diet of every aspiring muscle man.
4. Crack the Sauce Code
Making your own sauces isn’t just something reserved for your eclectic uncle who only seems to appear around Heritage Day. Mixing up your own sauce will let you tweak the flavour profile and give your guests something truly unique to chow on. You can also nix the calorie-dense ingredients most sauce makers use to juice up their offerings. Just make sure you’re using your sauces for both basting and dipping.
5. Turn Down the Heat
It’s tempting to scorch your cuts over a blazing inferno if you’re hunting for style points, but no one’s going to be impressed by the pyrotechnics while nibbling on charcoal remains of what was once an expensive cut of steak. Always opt for moderate heat. If you’re using wood or charcoal—and let’s face it, what self-respecting, self-proclaimed braai master is going with gas—let the flames burn down before letting any meat touch the grill.
Instant Upgrade! If you don’t like the taste of lighter fluid, avoid using any type of fuel to get the fire going. A natural spark is the best ingredient.
6. Don’t Fiddle Around (Seriously)
Prodding and poking your meat from the moment it hits the grill will just ruin your cuts. Always—and we mean always—use tongs to maneuver your meats around the grid. Plus, you should never press your meat into the grill to speed up the cooking process—that’s the good stuff you’re sending dripping into the coals!
Instant Upgrade! If you’re tempted to peek, AKA cut into your steak to check its progress, just don’t.
7. Keep It Clean
A grill caked in grime isn’t doing your cooking any favours. Invest in a high-quality braai scraper and get to work. If the grime is particularly resistant, you can use some warm soapy water to break down dirt. For a natural approach, raw onions are a tried-and-tested way to loosen up filth but will never be as effective as a scraper.
8. Upgrade Your Tools
A barebones approaching to the braai can still yield chargrilled perfection. But, if you aren’t a natural when it comes to fanning the flames, taking time to deck out your Weber-ready armoury could help lift your game where your skills usually fall short. Not sure where to start? Don’t worry; we’ve got you sorted with the best braai gear of 2023.
9. Let It Rest
Before gorging on the fruits of your labour, it’s often best to give the meat a short breather. This is especially true if you’re slamming steaks on the grid as the moment you take your cuts off the heat, the constricted muscle fibres will begin to unwind. So, after around 10 minutes, all those choices that have gathered together will start to permeate the outer edges of the meat. Net result: hitting pause before you feast will ensure that every part of your steak is moist and flavourful.
Upgrade It! Isaac Toups, Chef/Owner of Toups Meatery, suggests resting your steak in butter for an extra dose of flavour.
10. Keep Your Chicken on the Bone
While chicken breasts are muscle-makers, keeping your poultry on the bone when it hits the braai will help you tap into a greater level of flavour. Just make sure you slap your cuts down on the hottest parts of the grid for a good sear before migrating to the “warm” outskirts for a slow cook that won’t leave your dinner dry, charred or both.
11. Try a Fireblasted Dessert
You can make a delicious (and healthy) after-dinner treat using your braai. Here how: grab 4 ripe peaches (halved and pitted), 1 tbsp of olive oil, 1/4 cup honey, 1 teaspoon vanilla extract, 225g mascarpone cheese and a bundle of fresh mint leaves.
First, brush the sides of your peaches with olive oil to prevent them from sticking to your grid. In a small bowl, mix together the honey and vanilla extract (this is your glaze). Place your peach halves cut side down on the braai. Ideally, your coals should be down to a bed of glowing embers before you start cooking dessert. Turn them over and give them another 2-3 minutes of cooking time until they are slightly softened and showing signs of caramelisation.
Using tongs, retrieve your peaches from the braai and place them on a serving platter of your choice cut side up. While they’re still piping, drizzle over your glaze. Now, spoon a dollop of mascorpone on each piece. Here’s where you can sprinkle over a few mint leaves. Now? You’re ready to serve, and look like you were always this proficient in front of the Weber.