Up your steak braai game with these super simple and little known tips from some of South Africa’s expert magazine chefs.
Steak is by far the easiest thing to mess up on the braai: if you’re not careful, before you know it, you’ll have a charred, chewy piece of meat. We’ve gathered top tips from some of South Africa’s best magazine and food writers; Margie Els-Burger, the food editor at Your Family magazine, and Leila Saffarian, food editor and stylist at Pass the Salt and formerly food editor at Food & Home Entertaining Magazine.
Not of the braai, of your meat! Says Leila, “Steak should always, always be at room temperature before braaing, or any type of cooking. The proteins are relaxed, helping result in a more tender final product.” Margie recommends opening vacuum packed steaks at least 20 minutes before to let them breathe, defrosting frozen meat in the fridge overnight, and leaving meat out the fridge to adjust to room temperature 30 minutes before cooking.
If you’ve bought a piece of high-quality meat, you really don’t need to overdo the seasoning. A generous sprinkling of salt - Leila recommends using a good quality salt like Maldon Sea Salt Flakes - and pepper should do the trick, but if you want to mix things up Margie says, “Chipotle - smoked, dried jalapenos - is currently very trendy. I love rubbing my steak with a peeled clove of garlic and a sprinkling of this spice for extra flavour.” Rub your steak with some oil too before cooking.
Both chefs recommend medium-rare as the perfect ‘doneness’ for a steak, but this can adjust according to your preference. The first priority is the heat of your coals or cooking surface. “Hot coals are essential when it comes to cooking steak, or any meat that doesn't sit on the coals for a lengthy period of time,” recommends Leila. A steak of 2.5cms thickness will need about 3 minutes each side - and only flip it once! Another tip is to “keep the grid at a consistent height over the coals,” says Leila.
This is an essential and often skipped part of the cooking process. Margie recommends resting steak under a piece of foil for 3 - 5 minutes “to allow the meat juices to settle, otherwise they will run out when cut and result in a dry steak.” Leila agrees, adding, “Always allow at least 2 minutes resting time after the steaks have been removed from the coals. This allows the juices to run back into the meat, resulting in a more tender and juicier steak.”
- Avocado oil, melted butter or even sunflower oil are all better than olive oil. Says Margie, “Olive oil, while delicious, should not be used to sear steaks, because the smoke point is too low.”
- Good quality meat is essential, says Margie. “A bad piece of meat is never going to turn out great.”
- The best steak cuts for braaing are ribeye, sirloin, rump, T-bone and fillet, says Margie. Leila says a cut with a good swath of fat on the edge or running through it are the best.
- Adding oil to frying pan when frying. Much rather rub it on the steak; adding it to the pan will burn the oil and add a bitter taste, warns Margie.
- Moving the steak around Says Margie, “You need maximum heat transfer from the pan or grid to the steak to brown it.” Flip the steak as rarely as possible.
- Seasoning the steak at the wrong time Adding seasoning to your steak too early or too late can dry out the steak (by drawing out the moisture) or under season in (the seasoning comes off on the grill). The ‘just-right’ moment is right before cooking.
- Turning with a fork Again, this goes back to the juices! Piercing the meat will ensure you lose that essential moisture. Says Leila, “Braai tongs are your friend - easy turning, without losing any of those meaty juices.”
- Basting Says Margie, “Basting should be applied only after the meat has been seared on both sides or in the last minute or two of cooking. If the steak marinated in a sauce, scrape it off and pat dry.”