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How To Braai For American Expats in South Africa

By Edited Nov 13, 2013 1 8

Corner of a South African Flag

So you have finally been invited to a braai.  Well done integrating yourself with the locals.  If you have heard the word bantered around so much that you are sure there is more significance to a braai than just a meal off the grill, then know you are absolutely correct.  There is a whole world and lifestyle behind the concept of a braai.  Best you know what it is before you rock up and hear, "shame, poor guy just didn't know..."

What To Bring

Besides yourself and whoever else you can drag along to act as your defense team, you need to bring whatever you are drinking.  This is supposed to be beer, of course.  Good choices are Castle, Black Label or Windhoek.  You are not supposed to bring less than a six-pack, but two six-packs is even better because inevitably, some poor soul is going to only bring six and end up drinking eight.  You can also bring whiskey, but only if you plan on leaving the rest of the bottle behind when you leave.  Girls are allowed to have girly drinks, preferably ones that match their dress or toenails, but this is not an option for men.  You are supposed to drink, because it will make your hosts feel more comfortable.  If you insist that you that you won't drive drunk, they will tell you that you can stay.  Or they will tell you your car can stay and you can get a cab.

You must also bring meat for the braai.  Under no circumstances should this ever include hot dogs or hamburgers.  It doesn't matter if your father was a butcher and you are using his special hamburger recipe.  People will point and laugh.  Actually, South Africans are more polite than that; they will just laugh.  Meat that you are allowed to bring includes:

Pork Chops Are Acceptable Meat For a Braai
  • Boerewors.  It doesn't make any difference if it comes from the butcher or the Spar.  And you should always pick up the corresponding rolls (don't say buns).
  • Steak.  These should be marinated beforehand or at the latest, when you arrive.
  • Pork Ribs.  This is a good option if you know there will be children around.
  • Flattened Chicken (or pieces thereof).  But you can only include this if you are not going to arrive late.
  • You can also bring lamb chops, pork chops, espetadas and other skewered meats, but it is best to stick to the basics until you get the hang of it.

Your host may have also asked you to bring a salad.  This could include, but is not limited to green salads, potato salads, pasta salads, beetroot salads, or carrot salads.  The list goes on.  Bring enough for six to eight people most.  People only eat the salads to be polite anyhow.

What To Wear

Guys should wear shorts and t-shirt in summer and jeans with a jersey (sweater) in winter.  Only flip-flops or takkies (tennis shoes) are acceptable footwear.  If it is very hot, you can expect to walk around barefoot or even have a swim.

Ladies should wear basically the same, expect sun/tennis dresses are also acceptable.  These must be worn with flat sandals however as no one in their right mind would wear heels to a braai.

If the braai is also the rugby-watching venue, then it is best to wear your team's shirt.  If you don't have a team, you have to support the host's team.  Make secret calls to other Americans who have been in South Africa longer to find out who you are supposed to support and what colours you are allowed to wear.  If worse comes to worse, you can always wear the Springbok colours (green and yellow, in case you didn't know).  In fact, if you don't own a South African rugby or soccer shirt, it is best if you run out and get one now.

When To Arrive

If your host invited you for 2:00 pm, then it is acceptable to arrive anywhere between 2:3o and 4:00pm.  You are only going to eat at 5:00pm at the earliest anyhow.  Whatever you do, don't arrive at or before 2:00pm because if your host wanted you there then, he would have told you to arrive at 12:00pm.  That, by the way is the time given to the people who generally arrive 4 hours late.  Not everyone can arrive late though because the host is unable to light the braai by himself.  This can only happen one beer after the first guest arrives.

What Is Expected of You

When you arrive, you need to put your beers in the fridge.  You offer a beer to the host and then offer your help with anything.  Usually this will involve carrying something outside.  It could be a bag of chips, or an ashtray or a bag of ice for the more convenient beverage storage outside.  If you have meat that needs to be marinated, it is supposed to happen now.  Then greet anyone already there, including all dogs, cats and children that come to say hello.  

Once you have completed the carrying and greeting tasks, your job is to stand around and drink beers, occasionally snacking on chips.  You are only supposed to sit if your host seems to want to.  Unless you are a girl.  Then you can sit when you like because your job was making the salad and painting your toenails to match your drink.

Braaiing Homemade Sausages on a Braai

It is up to the host to decide when the braai is lit and to handle the braai.  If you are a guy, you are supposed to watch your host working.  If you are a girl, then you need to make excuses to go to the kitchen or bathroom so that the guys can tell you to bring a beer for them on the way back.  You can also help by bringing salads to the table just as the meat is coming off the braai.

This entire experience should last from roughly 2:30pm until nearly 7:30 or 8:00pm.  Your sole occupation will be slowly preparing food and swiftly getting drunk and talking about how terrible the government is, how terrible the neighbouring governments are, any upcoming holidays in the bush or to the coast and rugby.  Unless there is a game on, then the conversation goes in reverse.

When To Leave

You can't consider leaving until everyone has finished at least one beer after the meal.  To leave any earlier would just be rude.  After that people will slowly trickle out.  Because this is your first braai, you should leave when the first person starts making the rumblings to do so.  That is simply because everyone else will need time to ask the host who you are.  Of course if you weren't smart enough to bring light beers or even a spare stash of non-alcoholic ones, then you need to leave when your cab arrives.  This is always a better idea than driving home.  Unless you really want to have a jail story to tell at the next braai.  And if you have any luck, as you get home and reflect on your first braai, its only Saturday night.

This Fire Is Not Acceptable at a Braai

By the way, South Africans say "wee-ber" instead of "web-ber".  Don't point it out, but go ahead and laugh in your head.  All American expats do.



Jan 13, 2012 1:59am
hahahahah EXELLENT! well done...the observations were just brilliant!

Andy (proud South African Braaier)
Jan 14, 2012 12:46pm
Thank you so much Andy... I myself am a proud salad maker (and a Bulls fan)!
Jan 15, 2012 6:22am
Salad maker...great...Bulls fan? Not so loudly.

But yes we South Africans sure have some weird cultural activities.
Jan 13, 2012 1:42pm
Damn lady, you're making me miss Africa so much!. And I can only relate to this all personally, lucky for me, I do a braai here all the time (called BBQ's here), and make home made boerwors!. The only thing we don't get here is the Castle, Red Label or Rhino beers!.
Jan 14, 2012 12:47pm
Well, home is home sometimes, isn't it. Dunno where here is, but Africa generally stays in your heart!
Jan 15, 2012 11:28am
Hey There... As a South African woman and proud braaier I am completely offended by the comment about woman and the pink drinks.... We don't drink pink drinks, Dave! or wear sundresses/tennis dresses. All my female friends wear short or jeans to a braai and it is perfectly acceptable and woman are not expected to stand in the kitchen making salads- we stand at the braai with the guys drinking beer or whiskey or other hard tack and talking crap! Welcome to the 21st centuary braaiers! however I really enjoyed reading your "how to braai" Also I have found that the "braii is from 230pm and people only arrive at 5pm" is a Cape Town thing not a Natal Free State thing.
Jan 17, 2012 9:24am
Hi there,

I am sorry that you were offended, but if you read a bit closer, I said it was acceptable - not expected on pink drinks and dresses. I also never said you were supposed to stand in the kitchen making salads, simply that you could sit at any time. Also, I guess I was referring to Joburg since that is primarily where I have braaied in the last 10 years, though I have been to a few in Natal and the Eastern Cape (although never one in Cape Town). FYI, I am a proud female braaier myself and South African by choice (not default).
Jan 22, 2012 10:36am
Great article, this should be a feature.
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