Chef Benny brings the heat to your braai this summer
Every South African loves a good braai and this summer, it’s all about smaller get-togethers and keeping things closer to home. But that doesn’t mean get-togethers can’t be equally memorable. Getting everybody in the family involved in the preparation and the cooking process helps create great memories. Smaller groups are also easier to manage, especially when catering to different dietary preferences, said one of South Africa’s most-loved culinary masters, celebrity Chef Benny Masekwameng.
With his personal cooking experience, his time on Ultimate Braai Master, and his BIC Lighters and Firelighters ambassador role, Chef Benny sure knows his way around a braai! Here are his top tips for making sure that your festive season is “lit”.
“Summer is the time for braaing in South Africa. A time where families get together around a fire to laugh, eat, share stories, and have a good time.” says Chef Benny. However, he suggests keeping things light, simple, and healthy this year. “Use a combination of fresh, ready-to-eat uncooked dishes, cold cooked salads with different textures, sauces and relishes, and a protein selection with different seasonings and flavours.”
He adds, “My advice to make sure things go off without a hitch is to pay attention to your fire. I use South Africa’s favourite braai buddy – my BIC Lighter and Firelighters. To help ensure the perfect temperature of the coals, I divide them up so that on one side of the braai there are hot coals for quick browning and the other side for quick cooking.” He continues, “Another handy tip is to take your braai meat out of the fridge an hour or two before braaing. If it’s at room temperature, it cooks quicker!”
To ensure that everyone is happy and satisfied without breaking the bank, Chef Benny advises to look out for bulk specials this festive season. “I always buy my braai cuts in bulk. This is great for portioning, allowing you to freeze for the future instead of having to buy each time you braai. Cheaper cuts like chuck are also great for braaing, not just prime cuts like rump and rib eye. In my opinion, chuck is the best cut of meat. You can throw it on the braai or pop it in the oven – it works well for any occasion.”
Chef Benny also insists that anyone can add some finesse to their dishes this summer. “This summer is going to be hot, so light meals are going to be a favourite. Individual portions do it for me – think skewered seafood, chicken, vegetable or wors for a quick dish-up and presentation. It’s the small things you do that can create a truly great meal with minimal effort.”
He continues, “Presentation is as important as flavour for me and how you choose, cut, and prepare ingredients for your braai plays a big role in how the final product is going to look and taste. Use different colours, flavours, and textures to enhance your offering.”
While the summer season is all about family and memories, Chef Benny reminds us that it is also important to take the necessary precautions when handling the heat. “I use gas for a fast braai or when I have large batches of meat to cook as it’s easier to control. But like any proud South African, I prefer a wood or charcoal braai when I have time. Not only is this the true South African way to braai, but it adds a delicious, smoky flavour to steaks and bigger joints that will have your family members coming back for more,” he says.
Here are some of BIC and Chef Benny’s top braai tips:
Choose the right spot – Location is important when hosting the perfect braai. If you don’t have enough space at home, South Africa is teeming with beautiful parks, resorts, and braai spots to choose from. An open space is perfect as it will allow your guests to be free and really embrace the spirit of a good braai.
Turn up the heat – If you want to go the traditional route, the type of wood used can make all the difference in the world. Rooikrans burns quickly but gives great coals, while Wingerd is good for starting fires, flavours, and aroma. If you’re new to this, using charcoal will make things easier. To help ensure the perfect temperature of the coals, Chef Benny divides them up so that on one side of the braai there are hot coals for quick browning and the other side for quick cooking. His personal preference to get a winning braai going is to, “Use South Africa’s favourite braai buddy – my BIC lighter and firelighters.”
It’s all about the meat – In South Africa, a braai is all about the meat, whether it’s boerewors, lamb chops, ribs, steak, chicken or fish. Remember, the order in which you cook your meat is important. Red meat goes quicker and can be cooked on a higher heat, while chicken takes the longest and needs the lowest heat. Also, marinate your meat beforehand for extra flavor, and don’t skimp on the spices. Another handy tip from Chef Benny is to, “Take your braai meat out of the fridge an hour or two before braaing. If it’s at room temperature, it cooks quicker!”
Vegans are welcome – Braaing is for everyone, not just the meat lovers. There are a wide variety of meat alternatives for vegans to enjoy, while braai staples like grilled mielies and fresh salads will also go down well. Remember to cater accordingly and be mindful of others’ preferences.
Let’s talk about sides – From braaibroodjies to roosterkoek, mielie pap to potato bake, coleslaw to any salad under the sun – one of the best parts of any braai is the sides. If you’re willing to ask guests to bring a side along, this will make for a great feast to satisfy all taste buds. And it will take some pressure off of you too!
Keeping things light – With Spring welcoming warmer weather, Chef Benny predicts that, “Light meals are going to be a favourite. Use a combination of fresh, ready-to-eat uncooked dishes, cold cooked salads with different textures, sauces and relishes and a protein selection with different seasonings and flavours.” Individual portions do it for him – “Think skewered seafood, chicken, vegetable or wors for a quick dish-up and presentation. It’s the small things you do that can create a truly great meal with minimal effort.”
A bevvy of beverages – No braai is complete without refreshing drinks to sip on and to wash everything down. There’s no harm in asking your guests to bring their own, but if you are catering, be sure to have a variety of beverages to cater to different preferences. As the host, you should encourage responsible drinking. And make sure you have enough ice!
Don’t forget the snacks – Keep your guests smiling with some traditional braai snacks. Biltong and droëwors are always a hit, while chips and dip are another South African favourite. Consider including some fruit or vegetable crudités for healthy options that add a layer of freshness and gives you that summer feeling.
Some BIC Braai inspiration – Whether you’re looking to do a more traditional, meaty braai or a contemporary, nutritious vegan braai – finding new and exciting flavors may be difficult. That is why BIC has partnered with Chef Benny to create the Ultimate Braai Recipe e-booklet that has you covered with everything from snacks & starters, skewers & kebabs, veggies & side dishes , to the main dish and even a sweet treat.
For more braai inspiration as well as a chance to win incredible prizes, head to @BICLightersSA on Facebook, @bic_sa on Instagram or @chef_bennym. Join the conversation using #BICxChefBenny #LightUpYourMoment.