The main difference between a braai and a BBQ has to be the fire. A braai just isn’t considered a braai if cooked on a gas grill. The fire also remains lit for the duration of the braai, even after the food’s been cooked. Guests will gather around the fire after eating and spend the rest of the day or evening there.
Most South Africans braai at least once a week and don’t need a reason to light up the fire. They braai on Sundays because it’s relaxing, and some braai on Christmas because the weather allows it. The opportunities for a braai are endless.
Unlike a BBQ, braais are not strictly reserved for warm weather. Many South Africans can braai on a covered patio, making rainy weather irrelevant to the occasion. Many also have indoor braai areas. This is especially evident in Cape Town because though very windy, not braaing is simply not an option.
South Africans love good food, and they’re great at preparing and cooking it. Grilling options can include boerewors (“farmer’s sausage”), steak, chicken, lamb, and often game meat as well as sides include anything from potato bakes to corn on the cob.
The food at a braai is delicious, but the whole experience is also very social. Waiting for the fire to produce the right amount of heat takes time, then there’s eating, drinking, and more drinking. This is the whole point of a braai: a long social gathering that can last for hours on end.
Braaing is one of the few things in South Africa that cuts through cultural and racial lines. Regardless of language, race, or culture, the love of meat cooked over a wood fire is something that all South Africans share. It really is a South-African tradition.
Whether it’s breakfast, lunch, dinner, or midnight, there’s a braai taking place somewhere. Whereas a BBQ typically takes place during the daytime, a South African braai has no time constraints. South Africans make their coffee and breakfast on a braai when in the bush, they braai on weekends as well as for weeknight dinners, and they sometimes even braai after an evening out.
A braai is all about having a good time and catching up with friends, a combination of everything South Africans love—family, friends, good food, and drinks. A braai also often revolves around another event, like a rugby match, ensuring a lively (and loud) atmosphere.
At most braais, there’s only one “braaier”—normally the host—and backseat braaing is seriously frowned upon. Each braaier has certain methods and gadgets that they always use, and not allowing anyone to tell them otherwise may be an unspoken rule.
There’s no shortage of food at a braai. Expect an overabundance of meat, salads, and of course, braaibroodjies—a glorified-toasted sandwich made with bread, cheese, onion, and tomato. After the meat, this is the hero of any braai.