How to Host a South African Braai

Summer in South Africa is synonymous with the braai (barbecue as we know it in America). When I go out for my evening runs, the scent of grilling meat often encourages me to run faster and hurry home to make my dinner.  If you've never been to a braai and are curious how to host one, here's an introduction.

If you're visiting friends in South Africa, you're likely to be invited to something called a "bring and braai". This is an informal sort of potluck party where the host will do the grilling and tell you beforehand what dish you should bring. If they don't tell you what to bring, it's okay to ask. If you're too shy to ask, it's safe to assume you should bring your own meat to cook, some alcohol (a bottle of wine, or if you're feeling fancy maybe some gin), and maybe one other side dish or dessert to share.

balcony braai

If you're hosting your own braai, you'll start by buying a selection of meats and braai seasoning or marinade. You could also try braaing (yes, it's a noun and a verb in South Africa) chicken or fish, but if it's your first time, I recommend starting with meat because it's easy to grill. You can't go wrong with lamb or steak. Next, grill the boerewors. Boerewors are one continuous, spiraling sausage made of beef (or pork), and usually cut up after cooking and eaten in a roll, just like a hot dog.  While you're at it, buy a bunch of salad ingredients, white bread, skewers for sosaties (kebabs), charcoal, fire lighters, matches, and tongs for turning your meat. Throw in a couple of bottles of delicious Cape wines, some Savannas (alcoholic cider), and some Darling brews, and you’ve got yourself a starter kit for a typical South African Sunday. 

If you're invited to a friend's house, don't be surprised if you notice the women are busy fixing the salads in the kitchen, while the men are outside building the braai fire. It's a cultural norm, but of course, it ultimately depends on whose home you are in. In my house, anything goes! Everyone helps with preparing everything to eat. If you're tasked with building the fire, you'll want to stack the coals or wood in a pyramid with a fire lighter block in the center. The coals should burn for about an hour until they glow. When you can hold your hand just above the coals for around 7 seconds, the fire is ready for the meat and vegetables.

braai grid example by

The thickness of the meat determines the cooking time, so someone should be nominated 'Braai Master' and station themselves by the braai and turn the meat regularly. We all have that one vegetarian friend, and for them, you can add some foil wrapped veggies like red onions, peppers, and corn on the cob.  Red onions become a sweet treat when roasted, and cutting a cross on top makes them bloom when unwrapped. It's also traditional to make braaibroodjies (as I like to call it, insanely good grilled cheese).

Are you working up an appetite yet? Expect to eat outside, or, in a covered patio area, no matter the weather. When the food is ready, crack open that wine (if you haven’t already done so), kick your feet up, and enjoy spending this time with good friends.

(Photos: my own,, my Instagram, and Getaway Magazine)

Marie Frei

One Carry-On is a blog managed by Marie Frei, a travel expert and photographer with a passion for exploring off the beaten path locations. The blog covers honest and personal stories about living and traveling as an American abroad, shares her global appreciation for culture and design, and promotes traveling to far-flung destinations with a carry-on as fun, affordable, and easy.