A braai is a word which is not normally heard of outside of South Africa, and it is defined as the cooking of meat over hot coals, usually out of doors, using certain types of equipment. Coals are usually made with charcoal or wood.
The South African braai is a ritual or a ceremony that takes place during leisure and social times. It is a social event which usually involves family or friends getting together and participating in various activities which constitutes a good braai. The eating of the meat is quite often just the last part of the ritual which had been going on for hours.
Typically, a braai is accompanied by warm weather, beer, friends, family and/or some form of sport. In South Africa it is common for people to watch a cricket or rugby game on TV while doing a braai. Wood or charcoal is purchased and a fire is built, while cuts of meat are prepared by marinating or spicing. The usual meats are pure cuts of beef such as steak, pork or lamp chops, or the typical South African sausage called “boerewors” with means “farmer’s sausage”.
The men will typically prepare the fire, pour drinks and watch the game, while the women will commune in the kitchen to prepare the meat, salads and other side dishes to be served with the cooked meat. These could range from toasted sandwiches cooked over the coals, to a maize porridge which is typically served with a spicy tomato stew.
When the coals are ready, the meat is brought to the fire and the men with cook the meat. Braai etiquette is quite a serious issue in South Africa and all men are expected to know how to cook which cuts of meat to perfection and at what stage of the braai it should be cooked. For instance, cooking chicken will require less heat but will cook longer over medium coals until fairly well done, while steak is done quickly over searing hot coals, and served rare. It would therefore make sense to separate coals to cool in one section of the braai and do the chicken there first, and then cooking the steak over the hot section at the end of the braai when all the other meat is cooked.
A braai is sometimes compared to the American Barbeque, but they are essentially two very different things.