Christmas Cooking Conundrum: Open Wood Fire or Kettle Braai?

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We are all getting ready for our festive season shisanyama! To make sure your family entertaining is a celebration to remember, we are going to help you figure out if you are an open fire or kettle braai kind a guy or gal.

The countdown to Christmas has officially begun. That means the clock is already ticking and the family will soon arrive at your house for the festive season gatherings.

Christmas has officially begun, time to get your cooking skills up to scratch
Cook up a storm on the braai this summer.

Please be sure to follow the COVID-19 Guidelines.

By this stage, most of us are (frantically) trying to get our house and outdoor entertainment area ready to wow our guests.

Besides investing in a couple of must-have appliances, such as an ice maker (no one likes warm white wine), we are here to help you make one of the most crucial decisions: open wood braai or kettle braai?

Shisanyama The Traditional Way

Wood braai purists might take a stab at kettle braai lovers and claim that cooking meat in a kettle braai with a lid is not, in fact, braaing.

You see, cooking on an open fire ignited by wood is a fine art. It is not just about lighting the coals and waiting for the braai to reach the desired temperature while you enjoy a cold beer.

open fires can be built in teepee shape

The tradition of making a fire and cooking on it awakens those primal instincts. It creates a deeply-rooted sense of being in touch with nature while preparing food the way our ancestors used to.

The taste factor is, of course, also a big discussion point. Wood fire experts will argue that the flavour and moisture created by a wood fire cannot compare to anything else. There is even some science to prove it!

Turns out the unique smokey flavour comes from the guaiacol aroma compound which is released as the wood is burning.

Wood also burns hotter and that high heat is required to cook red meat to perfection. Besides taking longer to get ready (although socializing around a fire is half the fun), one of the major cons to a wood fire is the dreaded cleaning the morning after.

Getting all the ash and coals out and scrubbing the grid can be really messy and require serious elbow grease. Not to mention the additional mess you could create if you cleaned your grid inside the house.

 delicious burgers on an open fire

With the right equipment, such as a heavy-duty grill brush coupled with a reliable braai cleaner liquid, your braai will be clean and ready to go again in no time.

Making Fire: Toppling teepee wood fire or tumbling charcoal tower?

Building a wood fire is a science in itself and a skill that takes many moons to perfect. There are various ways to place the firelighters, tea bags or newspaper, followed by the kindling and the wood to ignite the flame. In some cases it is a proud family secret, which is passed down from generation to generation.

One of the most popular methods include placing the firelighters first followed by the kindling (smaller pieces of wood) and then stacking the larger wood chunks like a teepee around the kindling.

 placing the firelighters first followed by the kindling (smaller pieces of wood) and then stacking the larger wood chunks

The teepee shape allows for a lot of air and therefore oxygen above the kindling to allow it to burn properly.

Alternatively, you can try the tower method whereby you place the fire starters first and then stack the wood, as you wood stack pieces of Jenga, until you have a tower of about 12 pieces. If the fire is struggling to get going, add some fire starters in the gaps between the wood.

 traditional open wood fire with teepee style set up

The fun part is that the tower will collapse when the wood is starting to turn to coal, which is a sign that it is time to bring out the meat and start to braai.

Kettle Braai it up!

A kettle braai is the perfect solution for apartment living.
A kettle braai is the perfect solution for apartment living.

Not a fire expert? Don’t have the time or patience to perfect the art of braaing with wood? No problem, a trusty kettle braai is your best friend!

Not only is it easier to control the heat (especially if you get the fancier option with the external thermometer) it is also a fantastic all-rounder that can cook just about anything.

From a vegetable sosatie or substantial steak to a whole turkey for Christmas – it will do it all deliciously thanks to the convenient lid that turns the braai into a portable, outdoor oven.

Cook anything from chicken to veggies on your trusty kettle braai.
Cook anything from chicken to veggies on your trusty kettle braai.

The convenient size and shape of a kettle braai means that there is a perfect fit for your entertainment space – be it a cosy patio or a large veranda. Its compact shape and design also means that cleaning up the post braai ash is breeze too.

If you live in a flat and don’t want to smoke out your neighbours, simply cook with a closed lid. If you live on the coast, make sure to invest in a good cover to protect your kettle braai from the salty sea air.

Open Fire Or Kettle Braai – Let’s braai!

Impress your friends and family this festive season with the juiciest pork chops! Bursting with whiskey-infused flavours complemented with the tarty tang of grilled apples, this recipe is an absolute keeper.

Check your braai temperature regularly for the best results
Check your braai temperature regularly for the best results

TIP: Have your thermometer ready and check that the braai is at 180 °C to 230 °C before cooking the pork Remember to close the Weber lid when you grill the apples.

WHISKEY-MUSTARD PORK CHOPS WITH GRILLED APPLES

Whiskey and mustard pork chops served with grilled apples and roasted potatoes
Whiskey and mustard pork chops served with grilled apples and roasted potatoes

Preparation time: 15 minutes

Braai time: 12 – 15 minutes

Total time: 30 minutes

Ingredients

  • ¼ cup bourbon whiskey
  • ¼ cup packed brown sugar
  • 2 tablespoons whole-grain mustard
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 4 bone-in pork loin chops, each about 2,5 cm thick, trim off excess fat
  • Vegetable oil
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • ½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 4 apples, cored and cut into wedges (ideally Granny Smith)
  • 1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh tarragon leaves

Method

  1. Whisk the bourbon, brown sugar, vanilla extract and mustard until the sugar dissolves. Reserve 3 tablespoons of the glaze in a large bowl.
  2. Lightly coat the pork chops on both sides with oil. Season evenly with salt and pepper, and brush with the whiskey glaze in the small bowl. Allow the chops to stand at room temperature for 15 to 30 minutes before braaing.
  3. Prepare the braai for direct cooking over medium heat.
  4. Lightly coat the apple slices on both sides with oil.
  5. Grill the apples over direct medium heat with the lid closed, until crisp-tender and lightly charred, 4 to 6 minutes, turning once or twice. Transfer the apple slices to the large bowl with the reserved whiskey glaze, add the tarragon, and toss to coat.
  6. Braai the chops over direct medium heat with the lid closed until still slightly pink in the centre for 8 to 10 minutes. Turn once or twice during cooking. Remove from the braai and let rest for 3 to 5 minutes. Serve the chops warm with the grilled apples.

Source: Weber

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