The ABCs of: Braai (South African barbecue)

March 6, 2019

Depending on what part of the world you’re in, “barbecue” can mean many different things: to some, it’s simply meat cooked on an open grill, over fire or hot coals; in the American south, it’s as much a regional cuisine as it is a subculture. To some, “barbecue” is a flavour (think: sauce, potato chips). Meanwhile, South African barbecue — known there as “braai” — is as much a social custom as it is a type of food. Here is a quick primer to the delicious, culturally significant South African braai.


The word “braai” has its roots in Afrikaans, the West Germanic language spoken in several South African countries. “Braai” means “to grill”, while “braaivleis” means “grilled meat.” Afrikaans itself is evolved from Dutch; “braai” therefore is evolved from the Dutch word braden, which means “to roast”.

Boerewors and beyond

There aren’t many hard and fast rules for what a braai entails — only that it involves food being cooked on a grill over an open fire (or hot coals). What is grilled is entirely up to the braaier (or griller) — and this, perhaps, is the one rule of the braai: there is only one braaier, and their methods, tools, and recipes are entirely up to them. What hits the grill can be anything from meat to fish to vegetables. More regionally specific foods you might find at a South African braai include braaibroodjies, which are grilled cheese sandwiches often served with tomato and onion, and the aforementioned boerewors, which are farmer’s sausages.

Conversation is key

A braai isn’t just about food. More than anything, it’s a social gathering where people mingle for long lengths of time over food and drink. If you plan to attend a braai, go with an empty stomach — and a lot of space in your day planner.

Getting there

Experience a traditional braai in South Africa on a trip with National Geographic Family Journeys with G Adventures, a new line of trips for adventure-loving families in search of a meaningful way to discover the world together. With itineraries inspired by National Geographic's expertise in photography and storytelling, wildlife, culture, history, and geography, these trips let families connect with the world and each other.

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