In a country as serious about the art of braaing as ours, having strange or out of place braai equipment is certainly noticed. A new guest won’t NOT comment on my braai. They demand an explanation. No, more than that, they request a justification!
Why challenge the conventions of the classic braai. Why go against what our forefathers have perfected? It’s tantamount to Burgundy uprooting all the Cabernet in favour of Hanepoot, to the Queen’s butler dishing up for her from the left, to the exiled male lion having a go at the ladies anyway. If I don’t justify this abomination, I will be judged, and shunned. Possibly shamed. I have my metaphoric pants down in the high school of braaing, and all the girls are looking.
How did this happen to you?
I just got told. I didn’t have a choice in the matter. I promise. My girlfriend just said “Jan Braai’s got this braai thing, he wants me to use it so I can understand how it works.” Braai research is serious business at the National Braai Day NGO.
Next thing I had an 80kg ceramic dinosaur egg on my stoep.
Yes, it’s like a Weber. But it’s not. The most obvious difference being that one person can’t pick it up. Which I’ve discovered is actually kind of handy because I live on Devil’s Peak, where wind comes from. And fetching the Weber from the neighbour’s garden was only fun till her daughters moved out.
Why would you want one?
Firstly, let me say that this thing costs ten grand so while crash testing it, I’ve got that constant niggle in my head. It can’t just be a braai. It needs to justify the price tag. It needs to be cool. Cooler than a kettle braai anyway. And those are pretty good at what they do. And I like them. I’ve certainly spent more time perfecting my Weber roast chicken and leg of lamb techniques than I ever did on any subject at varsity.
It turns out that millions of Americans swear by these ceramic balls. They say they have a unique purpose, and deserve their place in braai lore. The Big Green Egg is a massive brand in the states, and Monolith braais are big in Germany. So without judging these other braaing cultures prematurely, I have decided to give it a go, and see what they’re on about.
This thing is, in short, the ultimate man oven. It stays warm much longer than a tin can kettle braai, and can reach temperatures of 500 degrees (should you wish to smelt metal, or happen to be welcoming small Venusian visitors unused to earth’s icy cold). It’s also easier to control its temperature inside, and this temperature can stay constant for much longer than other methods of braaing.
So… does it work?
I started with a chicken but I immediately realised that this was going to be too easy a task for this particular monster. A Weber can do a good chicken. I would need a bigger challenge. If I was going to understand its purpose, and the mind of its creator, I needed to braai something that I couldn’t do another way. Something that this braaisphere did best. Better than anything else. The chicken turned out awesome, but that was child’s play. We had bigger animals to braai.
See, the Monolith can stay warm for hours. And hours. Roasting a large leg of lamb in a no-name kettle braai is easy enough, but this thing can possibly do the classic slow-cooked style leg of lamb that French winemaker’s grandmothers do by hanging the leg in front of the hearth. That grunt-inducing melting soft texture, coupled with the rich roasted flavour. Weber lamb legs have to be done quick (1hr), and are then best served slightly pink as they go dry when cooked for longer at the temperatures a tin can requires to be at to go the distance. The Monolith can happily do seven hours at a steady 120 degrees. This is the Ron Jeremy of braais.
So I set it to 110 (not a phrase many braaiers get to throw around), and went for a walk up Table Mountain. On my return a few hours later, a foodgasm awaited. Some people go their whole lives without having one of those.
Street cred still intact?
This magic globe certainly has a quite unique braai purpose. And it fills this niche with 80 kilo’s of authority. It does everything your kettle braai can, but slow roasts and pulled pork are also suddenly on the menu. And if that’s not enough, to drive the point home, I’ll sometimes whip out its other secret weapon – a pizza stone.
Look, make no mistake, I still have a half drum braai taking pride of place next to my monolith. But the Weber is gathering rust and dust in the garage. Till Jan takes his braai back, that is.
By Konrad Raubenheimer
For more info on the Monolith visit www.monolithbraai.co.za