Top 5 Reasons Why a South African Braai Trumps an American Barbecue

Trust me. I was skeptical too. When my then boyfriend, now husband tried to explain the beauty of a South African Braai, I’ll be honest, I didn’t really get it. It sounded like a basic barbecue. A gathering of friends and family eating food from the grill. “Our barbecues are great,” I argued. “My dad makes a mean burger.” But whenever we cooked out on the grill, my husband’s face said it all – he longed for his beloved braai.

Saturday 30th July 2011. Cape Peninsula & Surrounds, Hout Bay, Constantia Nek, Newlands, Woodstock, Gugulethu, Cape Town, Western Cape, South Africa. JAN BRAAI ALL OVER THE CAPE 2011! A series of images taken of Jan Braai in various parts of the Cape Peninsula and surrounds for use in his media and advertising campaigns, press releases etc. These images were taken on Saturday 30th July 2011 in the Cape Peninsula, Cape Town, Western Cape, South Africa. Jan Braai (real name Jan Scannell) is the man behind the Braai4Heritage initiative. “… what Jan Scannell had in mind with the Braai Day initiative… is nurturing and embracing a common South African culture, which is shared across all races and genders. Not one South African person can tell you that they have never witnessed a braai. Even in rural areas they light a fire and put their meat on it to cook. As a meat lover, I urge that on Heritage Day people Braai4Heritage and share their meat with those who do not have.” - Archbishop Desmond Tutu (The Times 12/09/2008). PICTURE: MARK WESSELS. 30/07/2011. +27 (0)21 551 5527. +27 (0)78 222 8777.

Just a little bit of background for those who have never heard of a braai. The word braai comes from the word braaivleis, which is Afrikaans for roasted meat. Braai means “barbecue” and vleis means “meat.” The word is pronounced “bry” and although it originated with the Afrikaans, the word and social custom has been adopted by many ethnic cultures within Southern Africa. 


When I first visited South Africa in 2010, the night I arrived I was treated to the first of what would be many braais. I can honestly say I will never see a barbecue the same again. The food, the drinks, it was so much similar, so simple, but somehow so much better than our typical American cook-out. I’ll try to explain in ways my husband couldn’t, the top five reasons a South African braai takes the gold over an American barbecue.

1. A braai is acceptable for ANY occasion

That’s right. Birthday braai, christmas braai, going away braai, welcome home braai, a wednesday night just to get a few friends together braai, a graduation braai, housewarming braai, these are all perfectly acceptable times to have a braai.

A braai, unlike a barbecue, is not only reserved for a Summer Day, Memorial Day or Labor Day, it’s an any and every day celebration of life. While American’s bring out the sandwich platters, fingers snacks, and hot dogs, South African’s light up the braai.