The Braai Way: Cooking With Coals

I spent the recent South African Women’s Day holiday weekend at a river house a few hours away from Cape Town and discovered what might possibly be the nicest braai–or barbecue–setup I’ve yet seen:


The entire braai functions like an outdoor kitchen stove with a large open area for a fire; it’s all set into a brick wall with a chimney. No charcoal briquettes or gas here. We lit a nice roaring wood fire and waited. And waited. And waited. Once we had a bed of red-orange coals, we separated the burning logs from the coals in order to cook a traditional African poike (or potjie) pot meal.

2-braai coals

Keeping the wood fuel burning separately in this braai enabled us to use the coals we already had while we burned more fuel to create more coals that we could eventually add beneath the pot:

3-braai pot

Another nice feature in this braai was the swivel stick for the pot that allowed us to suspend this heavy cast iron pot over the coals and then swivel it out of the fire to check our progress.

4-braai pot extended

A poike pot is a traditional meal that involves slow-cooking many different things all together in one pot. Think: witches’ brew. The name of the meal comes from the word “potjiekos,” which means “small pot meal.” Sometimes people choose to simmer the pot all day long.

5-braai pot steaming

We created a pot that would feed 10 people, and its contents included chicken, carrots, celery, beans, cilantro, spinach, tomatoes, spices, and pretty much any other leftover vegetables we had in the fridge.

6-braai pot open

We eventually served the meal over a bed of rice, but one of the nice things about cooking in this way was that we could enjoy the company of family and friends while we waited…

7-enjoying the braai
…and waited. Cooking over coals in a cast iron pot isn’t a microwave-quick process. But the just rewards will be enjoyed soon enough as a juicy, evenly-cooked meal.

Want to know more about survival camping and cooking with coals?
Read my article on the Survival Skills website:

“Cooking With Coals”

Photos © Traci J. Macnamara.

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