There is a question that has bothered man for thousands of years. It has kept us awake at night, distracting us from our everyday lives. The question needs to be answered and today is that day, my friends.
What wood should I use?
Firstly, we need to realise that not all wood is equal.
When selecting wood for the fire, avoid chopping down your willow or foraging for twigs the wind might have blown in.
Hardwoods (sekelbos, rooikraans, mopane, and camelthorn/kameeldoring) are ideal because they retain heat well and burn for longer, which means you’re able to cook a lot more in one go. Besides fuel, cooking over wood also lends a “woody”, smoky flavour to food and, when used correctly at the right temperatures, you could effectively smoke whatever you’re cooking without all the equipment normally needed.
The only downfall is that wood has to burn for a while to become ashy white coals before you can start cooking, which means that there is a longer wait before you get your braai on. But that doesn’t seem to be much of a downfall to me, after all, aren’t braais all about the gees?
If you’re looking to speed up the process, fear not – bring on the charcoal.
Essentially, charcoal is wood burned at high temperatures in a low-oxygen environment. The result is coal.
But once again, not all coal is created equally, and I need to stress that briquettes should not even be considered when preparing a fire.
There are so many unnatural, unpronounceable, and downright dirty things added to what we call briquettes – we should be avoiding the stuff at all costs.
What charcoal should I use?
Lump charcoal is a natural product without any of the added extra nasties. It burns clean and also holds heat well.
Like wood, lump charcoal also has the ability to add that desired charred flavour to food that we love so much.
It reaches the correct temperature faster than wood does so you’ll be able to get those chops going a lot faster this way.
After searching for the perfect coal I’ve found two and one of them (my favourite) is available at Woolies: the restaurant-grade charcoal is my favourite non-edible product from Woolworths, truth!
To please the masses, this summer I’ll be using both, wood in the braai and charcoal in the Weber.
And before we end I would like to make a public service announcement.
Those little white blocks that bring the love and light to our braais, are not so loving. Firelighters are not ayoba.
Ever noticed how you don’t really want to handle the stuff because of the nasty smell left on your hands, yet we use it to light the fire that we are going to cook on?
Instead of using firelighters use a chimney starter when working with charcoal and simply add some lit newspaper to the bottom of the chimney to get the coal going.
There are a few firelighters available that don’t contain hazardous chemicals and materials and opt for a more natural approach using recycled materials and vegetable oils to kick-start the fire.