HomeFOOD & WINEMastering the flames

Mastering the flames

The Brafia Invitational Fire Master Showdown, hosted in Alberton, was most definitely one of the most sizzling food events in a long time. Here, eight pitmasters proved their skill and shared their passion for open fire cooking.

And what a feast it was. Music, lively chatter and jovial greetings by the pitmasters welcomed you into the venue and visitors wondered up and down, getting a little taste here and there and most definitely eager to dig in as the hunger pains started gnawing.

All you could do was stand in awe as these masters proved they were the best. With the meat sizzling on the flames, the masters were ready to share their knowledge. After all, they had been preparing since 6am when they arrived, set up and lit their fires. With this feast offering eight tastings of chicken wings, eight tastings of pork and eight tastings of beef, and let’s not forget the mouth-watering late night pork picking from a whole hog cooked in a Texas-style charcoal pit for 18 hours, we thought it best to chat to a master himself to share his insights to his dance with fire.

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Corné Borman sure has made a name for himself as Alberton’s own braai master. He is part of a family business, Borisimos Guest House in Brackenhurst, and his love for cooking outdoors and, more specifically, cooking over open flames, was born when he won his first potjiekos competition while in Grade 12.

This sealed his passion for outdoor cooking and he holds a variety of wins under his belt, including the Ultimate Braai Master 2018.

And watching the pitmaster at work, you soon realise that cooking with fire isn’t just about following a recipe; it’s about embracing the unpredictable dance of flames and harnessing the primal energy to create culinary masterpieces.

Borries explained that as a pitmaster he has learned that fire adds dimensions to cooking that can’t be replicated in any kitchen.

‘Cooking with fire is not like following a recipe. Even with a recipe, if given to two different people, you can expect to have different results. Fire adds many other dimensions

‘The time temperature ratio is most likely your strongest tool in that you want to have the perfect colour and doneness combination when you are done.’

His insights gathered over years of tending the flames:

  1. Embrace the time-temperature ratio: The key to mastering fire cooking lies in understanding the delicate balance between time and temperature. Achieving the perfect colour and doneness requires careful attention to both elements.
  2. Low and slow for tenderness: When cooking over low heat, you can coax tenderness and juiciness out of even the toughest cuts of meat. But don’t forget the importance of caramelisation for flavour. If your dish is tender but pale, finish it over high heat to add that essential colour and crust.
  3. High heat for quick cooking: For tender cuts like steaks or seafood, ensure you have enough heat to develop a beautiful sear without overcooking the interior.
  4. Resting is key: Cooking doesn’t end when you remove your food from the fire. Allow for resting time, during which the internal temperature will continue to rise, ensuring juicy and succulent results.
  5. Avoid moisture on the grill: Moisture inhibits caramelisation, so air dry your meat before grilling to achieve that perfect sear and flavour development.
  6. Seasoning is a process: Season your meat multiple times throughout the cooking process to ensure every bite is packed with flavour.
  7. Oil for colour and moisture: Brushing meat with oil or fat before grilling helps prevent sticking and promotes beautiful colour development. Think of it as ‘after sun’ for your meat, keeping it moisturised and flavourful.
  8. Essential tools: Invest in a digital thermometer to monitor internal temperatures accurately. A blowpipe is handy for adjusting heat levels, while good tongs keep you safe from the flames.
  9. Make the most of ingredients: Lastly, remember to cherish the ingredients you have and share the joy of fire-cooked meals with loved ones.

‘In the world of fire cooking, there are no strict rules, only endless possibilities waiting to be explored. So fire up your grill, embrace the flames, and let your culinary creativity soar.’

And there you have it, but you also have to realise that first attempts may not be as successful as you wish them to be. Being a pitmaster of this calibre takes many fires, long hours in the smoke and sun, yet with great reward. Because it is around these fires that time falls away and where new friendships are formed.

Bring on the fire and enjoy!

Showdown final

Remember we started off with the showdown between the pitmasters. Let’s have a look at what the winner is all about, and he sure has fire in his belly.

All the way from Midrand came the fiery force of Motherland BBQ, forty-two-year-old pitmaster Ntate Moloi (aka Thuto Moloi).

Three years ago, Thuto Moloi set his sights on smoking up a storm by starting to learn the art of meat smoking, inspired by mesmerising flames and drool-worthy American BBQ videos online. He wasn’t just playing with fire – he was mastering the art of slow and smoky perfection.

Now, his signature dish, succulent beef ribs that leave taste buds begging for more, is ready to take centre stage.

This newcomer is no stranger to dedication. Fuelled by a relentless pursuit of excellence and a team that shares his passion and energy, Thuto Moloi believes meticulous preparation is the key to BBQ glory. From perfectly understanding every cut to the artistry of smoking and plating, he leaves nothing to chance.

But what’s the secret weapon in Thuto Moloi’s arsenal? His ‘coffee rub’, a unique blend of coffee and brown sugar that elevates his BBQ to a whole new level.

For aspiring pitmasters out there, Thuto Moloi shares his wisdom: ‘Patience is king, wood selection is crucial, and the BBQ community thrives on sharing knowledge.’

More than just a competition, the Brafia Invitational Fire Master Showdown was a chance for Thuto Moloi to showcase his fiery passion for BBQ, connect with other pitmasters and, no doubt, have loads of fun.


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