How to braai steak

How to braai the perfect steak.

The one thing that you really should be able to comfortably braai perfectly at your own house is a steak. If you stick to a few basic guidelines and pay attention to what you are doing, this is a skill that you will master in no time. Once you can comfortably braai a steak perfectly at home, the knowledge, skill and experience can also serve as the foundation for doing it anywhere else, in whatever strange braai conditions life might throw at you. Braaing the perfect steak assumes that the actual steak that you are braaing is of a certain quality. However good you braai it, a bad piece of meat is never going to turn out great.

1) The steak should be at room temperature by the time it goes onto the fire.

  • If is was/is in a fridge, take it out well in advance, and leave it in the shade or indoors. (When you make the effort to buy great steaks, you are probably not going to freeze them, but should the steaks that you want to braai be frozen, transfer them from the freezer to the fridge at least a day in advance to allow them to thaw at a gentle pace).
  • Its already 100% protein, so cover it with a cloth to keep the flies and bugs away. If there are dogs, place it well outside their reach.

2) You need copious amounts of extremely hot coals.

  • If, and this is preferable, you are making a real fire with real wood, 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 burned out, the coals of the first batch will be half dead. Once the meat goes onto the fire, the process will be over quickly, so if you want to stand around the fire and discuss life with your guests for a few hours before you eat, make a medium sized fire by all means. But when you intent to braai, add lots of wood, wait till its burned out, and braai.
  • If there was only wet wood available at the petrol station and you are using charcoal, light quite a lot of it. For a small braai, consider half a bag. Its not uncommon for me to use a whole bag of charcoal when braaing steaks for a dinner party.
  • If you are wondering whether you have enough heat, then the answer is probably no. For these easy steps to a perfect steak to work, you need peace of mind that your coals are extremely hot. This is important.

    To braai the perfect steak you need lots of really hot coals.

3) The exact height of your grid is not important. Anything between 5 and 15 centimetres is fine.

  • The important thing is that you when you braai steaks at your own house, you always braai them on the same height, and that you know exactly what that height is.
  • When you are braaing at a new location, you should compare the height of the grid to the height of the grid when braaing steaks at home, and adjust braaing time accordingly.

4) Steaks should be done medium rare.

  • If you really prefer your steaks rare and aren’t just saying it to try and sound rougher than everybody else ordering medium rare, then you should not be ordering rare steaks anyhow. There are two great dishes for you to try. Steak Tartar, and Beef Carpaccio.
  • If you prefer your steaks medium, then start buying better quality steaks, learn how to braai them better, and acquire the acquired taste of enjoying them medium rare.
  • If you prefer your steaks medium well or well done, then why exactly are you reading this? You are surely quite capable of messing up meat all by yourself.
  • If one of your guests wants their steak medium, and you prepared enough extremely hot coals to start with, then there will be quite enough heat to get her steak medium by the time everybody else has been seated and served.
  • If one of your guests wants their steak medium well or well done, refuse.

5) Take the time when the steaks go onto the grid and take them off after about 7 minutes.

  • Steaks cut to a thickness of 2,5cm to 3cm, braaied on extremely hot coals and a 10cm grid height take about 7 minutes in total to become medium rare.
  • After 2 minutes turn the steaks. After another 2 minutes, turn them again; now turn after 1:30 more minutes, and then a final 1:30. They are now ready.
  • It’s perfectly acceptable to ask someone else to keep the time.

6) Use braai tongs, not a fork, to turn the meat. A fork will make holes in the meat, and you might lose some juice.

7) After the first turn of the meat, you may start salting, spicing or basting the meat.

  • Adding salt before this might cause the salt to draw out some of the moisture in the meat. This is a high school science concept known as osmoses.
  • Rubbing salt or spice into the meat shortly before the braai will not draw out any significant amount of moisture and is thus fine. There is a risk that some ingredients in the spice will burn on the extremely hot coals though.
  • Adding salt before the braai does not make the meat tough. Buying bad quality meat makes the meat tough.

8) If you are using a closed grid (toeklaprooster) then all the steaks will obviously be turned at the same time. If you are turning the steaks one by one then turn them in the order that they went onto the grill and also remove them from the grid in that order.

9) Meat needs to “rest” a bit after the braai, before you eat it.

  • This gives the juices in the meat the opportunity to settle down, and not all run out when you cut the meat.
  • What you need to watch out for when resting meat is that it does not end up cold by the time you eat it. There are two easy ways to counter this problem. Heat the bowl that you are placing the meat into when taking them from the fire; and heat the plates you will be eating the steaks from.
  • By the time that everybody have been seated and served, the meat has rested enough.
  • Do not put the steaks in an aluminium braai bowl with lots of other meat and into an oven where they will steam cook for another hour whilst some fool is braaing his frozen chicken. Your steaks will be ruined by the time you eat them.

After having followed the above steps you need to make an honest assenement of whether the steaks were perfect. If they were not, you need to repeat the above steps, making slight adjustments until you have fine tuned your technique to perfection. The most obvious mistakes to make:

  • If the steaks are burnt black on the outside, there is a very good chance that its not the meat, but the marinade or spices that are burnt. The easiest way to get rid of this problem is by using a different, or even better, no marinade in future.
  • If the steaks are done medium or well, then they were probably cut to thin. Use steaks that are thicker in future, or, braai the same steaks but for a shorter time.
  • If the steaks look great when you slice it and look at it from the side, but are quite tough to chew, then they probably come form a badly raised animal, or they were not aged properly, or both. Buy your steaks at a different place in future.
  • If the steaks are underdone, then your fire was not warm enough. Repeat the process, and really go all out with that fire next time. You will be surprised how much heat a piece of un-marinated meat can withstand for 7 minutes without getting burned.

Once you can perfectly braai steaks at your own house, it’s easy to 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 longer and vice versa when they are cut especially thin. If the grid only has one setting and that is very high, allow a little extra braaing time.

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12 Comments

  1. Posted August 3, 2011 at 1:08 pm | Permalink

    If one of my guests requests a medium-well or well done steak, I would call the cops, because they must be trespassing on my property. My real friends would know better. :-)

  2. Gideon
    Posted August 4, 2011 at 10:40 am | Permalink

    Very good article, thank you Jan. I cannot agree more on the importance of having a hot fire – it must be screaming hot!

    I like to marinate my steaks (fillet or rump) in some Jimmy’s sauce for about 10 hours in the fridge before braaiing. I then take them out of the marinate and scrape the extra marinade off. This helps that the steaks don’t burn black because of the marinade.

    When on the fire, I then give it salt and pepper after the first turn (after the meat has been sealed in other words). During the last turn for each side, I then scoop some more marinade onto each side.

    Lastly, I like to keep a little fire going in the corner of my grid and just before removing the steaks, I plonk the steaks into the flames for like 3 or 4 seconds a side. It gives it a nice flame-grilled taste without burning the meat.

  3. Posted August 8, 2011 at 9:49 am | Permalink

    Baie dankie ek braai sommer vanaans a steak

  4. Posted August 8, 2011 at 9:50 am | Permalink

    Baie dankie ek braai sommer vanaand a steak

    saam a bier

  5. Basil Parsons
    Posted May 5, 2012 at 11:28 am | Permalink

    Now that`s great advise – Thanks and well done !!

    Basil

  6. Posted September 26, 2012 at 4:12 am | Permalink

    I used to read you blog regularly, I’m sorry I ever stopped! Now I remember what got me absorbed to begin with.

  7. Jono Naidoo
    Posted October 30, 2012 at 1:01 pm | Permalink

    Yip, couldn’t agree more. People who want their steaks medium-well or well-done need to be dragged into the market square and publicly flogged !

  8. Henri
    Posted January 18, 2013 at 2:55 pm | Permalink

    I wonder what people will say about the danger of eating meat too raw – bet they dont even know about the health risk. You are not more brave or posh by eating meat raw, it is only shallow men that believe that.

  9. Baris
    Posted April 23, 2013 at 1:16 pm | Permalink

    This all depends on personal preferences, so all the explanations and comments on how much the steak I’ll be eating should be cooked are no more than a talk on nothing..

    Yes I prefer to have mine well done since the mankind discovered how to use fire for good! Before that, yeah I was also taking bites on the cows, while they were grassing!

    If you’re going to tell me how to eat what I’m gonna eat, then better you pay for it! And still I won’t take it! Sorry!

    Cheers!

  10. Posted July 29, 2013 at 10:39 am | Permalink

    Well, first of all nice information in article.

    Now, braaing time is actually depend on what type of fire you choose while cooking and for steak it depends on the cook how he make it.

  11. Richard Bronosky
    Posted August 20, 2013 at 2:14 pm | Permalink

    You say that you can’t have the fire too hot, but I’m not sure you are considering clay dome style grills. If I walk away from my grill during the vents wide open heating up process, it can easily be 1300° when I return. So, what is the real max temp that you recommend?

  12. Gordon
    Posted January 31, 2014 at 12:34 pm | Permalink

    I have been to a local restaurant (Pretoria) recently and they prepare their steaks within the Pizza oven/clay dome style grill and OH….MY…..WORD!!. The best steak I ever had.

    Also, If you like your steak well done, you are probably a chops type of person.

One Trackback

  1. By Steak and chips with garlic mayonnaise | The Food Fox on September 23, 2013 at 10:08 am

    [...] After recently working with Jan Braai on his second book “Red Hot“, I quickly got some tips on how to braai the ultimate steak. Jan is a seasoned pro at making fires and braaing anything from meat to mielies to roosterkoek. Read more about Jan’s steak braaing tips on his blog. [...]

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