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Gas vs. wood braai: answering the burning question

Gas - wood braaiGas - wood braai
Gas - wood braaiGas - wood braai

Gas vs. wood braai: answering the burning question

Braaing is South Africa’s national past-time. It is a tradition that brings families together and unites friends around a warming fire and some delicious food. However, there is an age-old debate that can cause extra heat around the grill: the question of gas versus wood braais.


The advantages of gas braais

Convenience: A gas braai is a highly convenient way to grill your meat. At the push of one button, your braai is raring and ready to go. It is ideal for those impromptu times when friends come over on weekend afternoons or you feel like a braai feast after work.

Temperature control: One of the advantages of a gas braai is that it allows you to have accurate and even temperature control at all levels. You can cook a variety of meats and side dishes at a time with little effort. You are also able to cook more, for longer, without having to worry about stoking the coals.

Safety: Gas braais are safer in smaller areas due to the fact that there is no open fire, which means no danger of a flare-up. Gas braais are perfect when used  in smaller gardens or open patios but should not be used in unventilated rooms.

The disadvantages of gas braais

Flavour: With a gas braai, the smoky flavour of a traditional braai is often missing, which can be an issue if that is your goal when having a gathering of mouths to feed. You can use smoke chips to achieve this but this can prove tricky and time-consuming.

Availability: Good gas is sometimes not readily available and some batches have proven to be unstable. With the increased popularity of gas cooking, gas canisters may become harder to source and the price is liable to increase.

Price: Some gas braais cost significantly more than traditional wood or charcoal braais. This makes them more of a luxury item than one used on a daily basis, but the true cost of a gas braai can be calculated by how the setting is when you use it and how often you use it.


The advantages of a wood braai

Flavour: The smoky flavour achieved when braaing with wood is one that brings back memories for many South Africans. The guaiacol aroma compound that is released when wood is burnt creates a sumptuous smoked, spicy flavour depending on the wood used.

Availability: Wood and charcoal are almost always available, and can usually be found at garages, convenience stores or even being sold on the side of the road. This saves both time and money that would have been spent on filling up a gas canister.

Higher heat: Both wood and charcoal burn at a higher heat than gas. A hotter fire is better for red meats and for cooking your (infamous) chicken pieces. This heat is also less likely to overcook the meat to the point of being overdone.

The disadvantages of a wood braai

Time: Wood braais take much longer to reach the perfect point of ‘readiness’, often at least two hours are needed for the wood to burn down. Often people believe that sitting around the fire is a part of the braai experience, but it is highly time-consuming to have to wait for two hours before being able to begin cooking.

Cleaning: Cleaning a wood braai is not an easy task. Charcoal and burn stains are not easy to remove and often require intense amounts of elbow grease to scrub off. The maintenance can also be difficult and requires a lot of upkeep to avoid damage.

Safety: Working on an open flame can be dangerous, especially if you live in a dry, windy area. Many of us know how to handle an open fire, but one small spark in a bushy area can start a fire or an over-enthusiastic child can knock the braai over and cause a fire in your garden. Safety measures should be taken every time you braai, no matter how experienced you are.


Final verdict

If you are looking to have an impromptu braai after work with your family or for yourself, a gas braai is the way to go. You will be able to start it up almost immediately and have perfectly cooked meat in minutes, making for a delicious dinner. However, a wood braai is the way to go if you enjoy spending time relaxing with your friends in front of a crackling fire. Your meat will have the traditional smoked taste that all South Africans have come to know and love. Whatever your preference, your friends and family are sure to appreciate the effort put into a perfectly braaied steak or tjoppie.

Gas - wood braai