It’s a debate that has raged for years. Which one is better for your braai? Charcoal, wood or gas?
Most are charcoal and wood people. But others prefer the ease and convenience of gas.
So which one is best? Well, it depends who you ask.
MasterChef winner Deena Naidoo says that although gas was convenient, he usually uses charcoal. “I think it depends on the situation. But I prefer charcoal because it just has a good ability to retain flavour. I use the gas rarely, when I am in a rush or after a long day, but charcoal is much better for a relaxed braai.”
When he does use gas, he says, he prefers to use a gas flame for braaing or grilling.
Surprisingly, gas, wood and even charcoal are all a big no-no for Max Mqadi, owner of Max’s Lifestyle, the famous shisa nyama restaurant in uMlazi, Durban. Instead, the secret to his culinary success, he says, is ordinary coal.
Mqadi started using coal several years ago when his business picked up.
“I use the coal that is used for trains,” he says. “Coal is pleasing, doesn’t taint the meat and produces tasty, tender and quality meat.”
He orders it from Joburg and although it’s a bit pricey compared with charcoal, Mqadi says it lasts longer.
“It lasts me a day. You can use charcoal when you’re having a small braai with your friends or family but it doesn’t last long if you’re running a business.”
Chef Shaun Munro is a gas fan, simply because charcoal and wood aren’t always ideal. “The gas flame heats the volcanic rock over it, so it is actually the heated rocks that cook the meat. This creates an intense, constant heat source, allowing for great flavour.”
Charcoal sometimes has a funny aroma, he says, and sometimes good wood is hard to find, so gas is his favoured method. “It’s more practical and has a great grip on the meat.”
What we have found is that even though gas is easier to work with, it steams more than it smokes, which may mean your chicken skin won’t get as crisp or flavourful.
Charcoal takes a little more finesse and there is a chance of flare-ups, but it also gives you richer, smokier flavours.
Wood takes longer and most of us don’t have the time. To get that wood-smoked taste, simply add wood chips to your charcoal. The trick is to sprinkle the chips over the charcoal, spray a bit of water on the chips and let the braai smoulder.
We also got a hack for solving the problem of wet wood. Ashley Conquest, of Endless Horizons in Durban North, suggests putting sugar on wet wood.
“Sprinkle some plain white sugar over the wood and light with Blitz. The sugar burns at a high temperature which helps you increase the internal temperature of the wood, making it easier to braai with.”
* For more Braai content, browse IOL Lifestyle’s special magazine dedicated to South Africa’s favourite pastime.