Barbecue, barbi, braai or char siu – whatever you prefer to call it, grilled meat is a worldwide favourite. Each country and nationality has its own unique traditions when it comes to barbecuing, but its essence remains the same. The social or bonding element is the thread that unites BBQ masters and their guests around the world.
We can’t stray from the practice of grilling meat over an open fire with friends and family to share in the experience. Perhaps it has something to do with our roots and the need to stay in touch with our inner cavemen. Seeing as barbecuing is part and parcel of our existence, we’ve looked at some of the unique BBQ traditions from around the globe.
Most UK homes have some sort of barbecue – either a Weber – style grill on wheels to easily escape the weather or, for some lucky people, a built-in brick barbecue in the back garden. And even though it’s not as wildly popular as it is in South Africa or the USA, the British have their own National BBQ Week each year.
The British BBQ is vastly different from anywhere else in the world, as it relies less on the use of different flavours, marinades and sauces and more on the social elements. The preferred foods of the British barbecue includes chicken, hamburgers and bangers, usually accompanied by a range of salads and bread.
In South Africa, as with most countries, folks tend to think they invented the barbecue. Known locally as a braai, it’s more than just the occasional affair. It’s an event in itself and everyone’s invited. South Africans have a braai for everything, from birthdays and anniversaries to even rugby games. And if there’s no event, they braai anyway. To emphasise how serious they take their grilling, the country even has a National Braai Day for Heritage Day every year.
Historically, wood was the preferred fuel for a South African braai, but charcoal or briquettes have since become an acceptable substitute. The host isn’t the only one responsible for providing food, however; guests are urged to bring their own meat, drinks and a side dish – hence the term “bring and braai”.
It’s important to note that there’s an unwritten rule about touching someone’s BBQ. To say it’s frowned upon would be an understatement. There is one braai-master in charge of the coals. He oversees the whole process with tongs in one hand and a drink in the other, while actively engaging in fireside conversation with the guests.
Favourites include lamb chops, boerewors (a type of sausage), chicken skewers, a variety of salads and grilled bread served with syrup and butter.
The USA is famous for their BBQ cookouts. However, the jury’s still out on whether they are the founders of this sacred dish. Like the South Africans, Americans take their barbecue seriously and see it as a part of their heritage. They have television shows dedicated to barbecue methods around the country and, in the South, they have cook-off competitions that draw thousands to show off their skills.
Americans make use of a variety of barbecue equipment, such as gridiron, gas or charbroil grills, depending on the type of meat. Chicken, beef, pork, lamb and fish are the most popular, but turkey also gets its turn during the colder months.
In Asia the barbecue mainly comes in the form of skewers at street markets. In China they prefer skewering small pieces of meat and roasting it over charcoal, rather than grilling large quantities. Chicken, beef, lamb and pork are the most common, but in tourist spots you’ll see anything, from insects and birds to other exotic creatures on a stick. At a social event, however, you’re expected to cook your own meat.
Outdoor BBQ’s in Hong Kong are popular in the countryside or busy street markets and consist of grilling marinated meat (mainly pork) on long, handheld forks. Strips of pork grilled with a honey and soy sauce is another well-known regional dish. It’s also customary to cook your own meat, instead of having one dedicated barbecue-master in charge of everyone’s food.
Just like in Hong Kong, the Japanese favour soy-based sauces when cooking outdoors on a hibachi grill. In addition, they enjoy barbecuing spare ribs, chicken and steak with a teriyaki glaze. Chefs prefer to use the electric teppanyaki grill with a smooth surface, as it allows them to cook indoors in front of guests at a restaurant.