The word braai (plural braais) is Afrikaans for “barbecue” or “grill” and is a social custom in South Africa, Botswana, Namibia, Lesotho, Swaziland, Zimbabwe, Zambia and Malawi.
The term originated with the Afrikaans-speaking people, but has since been adopted by South Africans of many ethnic backgrounds. The word vleis is Afrikaans for “meat”.
The word has been adopted by English-speaking South Africans and can be regarded as another word for barbecue, in that it serves as a verb when describing how food is cooked and a noun when describing the cooking equipment, such as a grill. The traditions around a braai can be considerably different from a barbecue, however, even if the method of food preparation is very similar.
While wood was formerly the most widely used braai fuel, in modern times the use of charcoal, briquettes and gas has increased due to their convenience, as with barbecues elsewhere in the world. There has, however, been a renewed interest in the use of wood after the South African government started with its invasive plant species removal programme. Many households now own both a gas and wood or charcoal braai.
Boerewors and pork in a concrete braai structure
Similar to a potluck party, braais are casual and relaxed social events where families and friends converge on a picnic spot or someone’s home (normally the garden or veranda) with their own meat, salad, or side dish in hand. Meats are the mainstay of the South African braai. They typically include boerewors, sosaties, kebabs, marinated chicken, pork and lamb chops, steaks, sausages of different flavours and thickness, and possibly even racks of spareribs.