To braai the perfect steak at your own home is one of those things you should be able to do with ease. These Top Ten Braai Tips, courtesy of Jan Braai’s Fireworks book, will stand you in great stead, whatever the weather:
The steak should be at room temperature by the time it goes onto the fire
- Remove the steak from the refridgerator 20 minutes before you want to braai it, and leave it in the shade or indoors.
- It’s already 100% protein, so cover it with a cloth to keep the flies and bugs away. If there are dogs or hyenas around, place the steak well outside their reach.
You need plenty of extremely hot coals
- If you are making a real fire with real wood, and this is the best way to braai, make a big fire from the outset. Do not make a medium-sized fire and add more wood later. By the time the second batch of wood has burnt out, the coals from the first batch will be half dead. If you need to use charcoal, light quite a lot of it. For a small braai, consider half a bag.
The exact height of your grid is not important- Anything between 5 and 15 centimetres will do
- When you braai steaks at your own home, always braai them on the same height and know exactly what that height is.
- When you are braaing at a new location, compare the height of the grid to the height of the grid at home, and adjust the braaing time accordingly.
Steaks should ideally be cooked to medium rare
- If you prefer your steaks medium, then start buying superior quality steaks, learn how to braai them better, and acquire the taste of enjoying them medium rare.
- If one of your guests asks for medium, and you have prepared enough extremely hot coals to start with, then there will be quite enough heat to get their steak medium by the time everybody else has sat down and been served.
Add salt whenever you want to
- Jan Braai doesn’t think it makes any difference to meat tenderness or juiciness whether you add the salt before, during or after the braai.
Timing is everything
- Steaks cut to a thickness of 2.5 cm to 3 cm, braaied on extremely hot coals, and at a grid height of 10 cm, take about 7 minutes in total to become medium rare.
- Break up the 7 minutes as follows: After 2 minutes turn the steaks for the first time, then turn them again after another 2 minutes; then turn them after 1½ minutes, with a final turn another 1½ minutes later.
Use braai tongs, not a fork, to turn the meat
- A fork will make holes in the meat, and you might lose some juice.
The meat should be dry when it goes onto the fire
- As the heat from the coals seals the outside of the meat facing downwards, certain chemical reactions occur in the meat which develop part of the flavour. If you baste the meat before those chemical reactions have happened, the basting will boil and steam the side of the meat, and your steak will have less taste.
Perfect turning makes for perfect results
- If you are turning the steaks one by one then turn them in the order that they went onto the grid and also remove them from the grid in that order.
Meat needs to ‘rest’ a bit after braaing before you eat it
- This lets the juices settle down and not all run out when you slice the meat.
- Watch out that the steak does not end up cold by the time you eat it. If you heat up the plates you will be eating from, this shouldn’t be a problem.
And finally, some adjustment tips
Once you have followed the above steps, you need to make an honest assessment of whether the steaks were perfect. If they were not, you need to repeat the steps, making slight adjustments until you have fine-tuned your technique to perfection. The most obvious adjustments to make are:
- If the steaks are burnt black on the outside, there is a very good chance that it’s not the meat but the marinade or spices that are burnt. The easiest way to get rid of this problem is not to marinate the meat in future.
- If the steaks are done medium or well, then they were probably cut too thin. In future, braai steaks that are thicker, or braai the same steaks but for a shorter period of time.
- If the steaks look perfect but are quite tough or tasteless, buy your steaks from a different place in future.
- If the steaks are underdone, then your fire was not hot enough. Alternatively, your steaks are very thick; in that case, increase your braai time slightly.
- Once you can braai steaks perfectly at home, you can easily do it anywhere else as well. If there are less-than-ideal coals, try to set the grid very low. If the steaks are cut exceptionally thick, braai them for longer, and vice versa if they are cut especially thin. If the grid only has one setting and that is very high, allow a little extra braaing time.