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The Braai-Guru’s Guide to the Perfect Steak

Ridwaan Parker knows his meat. And he takes his braai quite seriously. He’s the guy with the thermometer in hand, judging you for having your meat well done. I’ve been impressed with his braai skills for a long time and it’s its taken me 2 long years but I’ve finally gotten him to pen a piece to help you guys get the best out of braaing a steak. Now I’m impressed with the fact that he can write too. Check out his post below.

Gone are the short, wet, drab days of winter, filled with soup and cottage pie, and in are the long, hot, sunny days of summer! And one of the best things about summer is that every day is braaiday! A typical braai would consist of lamb chops, sausage, chicken etc., but nothing beats a good steak flame-grilled over sizzling hot coals. It seems, however, that braaiing a good steak has proven to be a bit of challenge for many people, hence the reason for this post. So, my aim is to give you a couple of pointers on how to braai the perfect medium-rare steak. I’ll even go as far as just medium. For those of you who prefer steak well-done, please wait for my one of my next posts titled “Why you don’t like steak” and “How to braai chicken”.

First off, let’s start with the steak prep. Remove the steak from the fridge and from its packaging at least an hour before cooking so that the steak can get to room temperature. It also worth noting that a steak that has been vacuum-sealed for more than a couple of days should be aired for about an hour before cooking. Don’t remove the fat from the steak, just score it with a knife. This will help the fat to render out when braaiing (more on that further down).

When it comes to seasoning don’t be liberal with the salt. Coarse salt works best as it allows for an even seasoning across the meat. Steak should not be seasoned more than 15 minutes before cooking. The moisture starts to draw out of the steak so you lose that moisture and it affects the cooking process. If you do need to season it before the time for whatever reason, it should be at least an hour before. The moisture will start to draw back in (trust me, I’ve done this experiment). Add some pepper, or dry spice if you like, and give it a rub with a bit of oil. This helps the seasoning and spices to stick and helps with charring. Don’t use wet marinades. It prevents the steak from getting a good char. It’s better to use the marinade as a basting when the steak is on the fire and almost done.

So, there are a couple of ways to braai a steak. There’s the traditional “gooi hom oppie kole” way, or there’s the indirect cooking method with a reverse or front sear, searing it in a pan first, and then finishing it off over the coals. Braaiing it directly over hot coals is the simplest and quickest so that’s the method I’m gonna tell you about.

One of the most important things when it comes to braaiing steak is getting a good char. If you don’t get a good char you might as well boil the steak in a pot of water and serve it with some broccoli… Maybe I’m exaggerating, but the flavour imparted by a good char is the difference between mediocrity and perfection. To get a good char with the braai you need high heat with some flames to boot. When it comes to braaiing steak, flames are your friend! Lump wood coal instead of briquettes is the way to go for steak as it burns hotter (although it doesn’t last as long). Once your fire is nice and hot (hot, as in you can’t hold your hand over the grid for more than a few seconds), throw on the steak. My general rule for medium-rare is 2.5 minutes per centimetre. So for a steak that’s 2 centimetres thick, 5 minutes on high heat is enough for medium rare with a good char. Yes, you heard me, 5 minutes TOTAL cooking time, 2.5 minutes on each side. Once the steak is cooking, that fat and juices will drip into the fire causing flare-ups. Don’t be alarmed, and don’t get the water to douse the flames. The flames help to get that beautiful, brown char on the meat. The steak should be turned every minute or so depending on how hot the fire is and make sure to cook it on each side for an equal amount of time. You want the meat to be medium to dark brown in colour. You might get a bit of black on the fat and bone but that’s ok.

Once the steak is braaied take it off the fire but do not cut into it yet! Let it rest for at least 7 minutes, covered in foil or in a pot to keep it warm. The steak will continue to cook slowly during this time and the juices inside will slow down and settle into those minute cracks and crevices inside the meat. Cutting too early will cause the juices to run out prematurely resulting in a dry steak. When you slice the steak it should be pink in the middle. The darker the rarer. It is important to note that your cooking time might vary depending on the type of braaier you have. And by “braaier” I am referring to the physical braai stand as well as the person doing the braaiing. After all, not all braaiers are made equal – some burn hotter than others…

By Ridwaan Parker

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You may also like: How to Braai a Wagyu Steak

As well as: The Best Braai Spots in Cape Town

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