Which wood is best for an epic braai (BBQ)?

Which wood is best for an epic braai (BBQ)?

When it comes to choosing firewood for a braai, various African hardwoods have gained immense popularity due to their exceptional qualities. Among the various options available in the UK, woods like Mopane, Rooikrans, Sekelbos, and Kameeldoring have earned a special place in the hearts of braaiers the world over. 

 

Let's delve into the main qualities that make these African hardwoods ideal for a braai, and discover why Mopane wood emerges as a great allrounder.

 

1. Mopane AKA "Ironwood":

Pros:

  • Exceptional Heat Output: Mopane wood is renowned for its remarkable heat-generating capabilities. It provides a consistent and intense heat, allowing for efficient cooking and excellent searing of meats.
  • Long Burn Time: Mopane wood burns slowly and steadily, ensuring a sustained heat source throughout your braai session. This means you can enjoy extended cooking sessions without the need for constant replenishment of firewood.
  • Distinctive Flavour: Mopane wood imparts a unique smoky flavour to grilled foods, enhancing their taste and creating an authentic braai experience.
  • Dense Coal Bed Formation: Mopane wood produces a dense and long-lasting coal bed, providing optimal temperature control and ensuring even cooking of your food.
  • It's an extremely dense wood but still relatively easy to light, especially if your wood provider ensures you get small to big pieces in a single bag.

 

Cons:

 

Rooikrans:

Pros:

  • High heat output: Rooikrans wood produces intense heat, making it suitable for quick searing and achieving a charred exterior on meats.
  • Long burn time: This hardwood burns slowly and provides a sustained heat source, allowing for extended cooking sessions without frequent wood replenishment.
  • Aromatic flavor: Rooikrans wood adds a distinct and pleasant smoky flavor to grilled foods, enhancing their taste.
  • Availability: Rooikrans wood is relatively more accessible in certain regions, making it a convenient option.

 

Cons:

  • Density: Due to its density, Rooikrans can be challenging to ignite. It may require additional kindling or fire starters to get the fire going.
  • Ash production: Rooikrans tends to produce a¬†decent amount of ash, requiring periodic maintenance during and after the braai.

 

Sekelbos:

Pros:

  • High heat intensity: Sekelbos wood is known for its intense heat, which allows for efficient and quick cooking.
  • Long-lasting burn: This hardwood burns slowly and provides a steady heat source, resulting in a prolonged braai experience without frequent wood additions.
  • Aromatic flavour: Sekelbos imparts a distinct, sweet, and smoky flavour to grilled foods, enhancing their taste.
  • Availability: Sekelbos is commonly found in South Africa and is distributed by various UK importers.
  • Can be used in combination with a harder wood to aid ignition.

 

Cons:

  • Not as hard as the others, so coals may not last as long, but more than sufficient for smaller braais with less to cook.

 

Kameeldoring:

Pros:

  • Intense heat generation: Kameeldoring wood produces a high level of heat, allowing for efficient and quick cooking.
  • Long burn time: This hardwood has a slow burn rate, ensuring a sustained heat source throughout the braai session.
  • Flavour enhancement: Kameeldoring imparts a unique and savoury flavour to grilled foods, adding depth and character to the dishes.
  • Availability: Kameeldoring is available¬†from specialised UK importers.

 

Cons:

  • Ignition: Kameeldoring is very dense (which is great for coals!)¬†but sometimes additional kindling or fire starters may be needed to get the fire going. For this reason it's often¬†used together with a slightly softer wood.

 

All these types of African hardwoods each have their own advantages and considerations when it comes to braai. Understanding their unique characteristics allows you to choose one that best suits your preferences, regional availability, and desired braai experience. Whether you prioritise high heat output, long burn time, aromatic flavour, ect. these African hardwoods offer excellent options for any braai.


However, I've chosen Mopane wood as our king of the braai. It hits the sweet spot and checks all the boxes for the perfect braai wood. 

 

Mopane wood offers a winning combination of ease of ignition, exceptional heat output, prolonged burn time, distinctive flavour infusion, and impressive coal bed formation. Its dense nature, slow burn, and consistent heat make it ideal for cooking loads of food when you have the friends and family over. The unique smoky flavour it imparts adds depth and character to smoked or grilled foods, elevating the overall taste. 

 

Now let's compare Mopane to some common wood types found in the northern hemisphere.

While oak, ash, and birch wood are popular choices for various purposes, they have distinct characteristics that don't make them ideal for a braai where a long lasting coal bed is the priority. Let's have a look at a few.

 

Oak logs:

Pros:

  • Good heat output.
  • Widely available in different varieties.
  • Provides a pleasant aroma and flavour to grilled foods.

 

Cons:

  • May require more attention and frequent stoking to maintain consistent heat.
  • Can be slower to ignite compared to Mopane wood.
  • May not impart as distinctive a flavour as Mopane wood.

 

Ash logs:

Pros:

  • Burns evenly and produces a steady heat.
  • Offers a pleasant aroma.
  • Provides a moderate flavor infusion to grilled foods.
  • Availability is high due to the¬†Ash dieback¬†disease.

 

Cons:

  • Burns relatively faster than Mopane wood, requiring frequent replenishment.
  • May not achieve the same intensity of heat as Mopane wood.
  • Flavour infusion may be milder compared to Mopane wood.

 

Birch logs:

Pros:

  • Easy to ignite and quick to reach cooking temperature.
  • Offers a mild, slightly sweet flavor to grilled foods.
  • Can produce a good amount of heat.

 

Cons:

  • Burn time is relatively shorter than Mopane wood, necessitating frequent additions to maintain heat.
  • May not provide the same long-lasting, sustained heat output as Mopane wood.
  • Flavour infusion can be less pronounced than with Mopane wood.

 

There we have it folks. While various African hardwoods like Rooikrans, Sekelbos, and Kameeldoring each possess their own merits for a braai and any of these would work well, Mopane stands out as my top choice. And while the softer Ash, Oak and Birch woods are exceptional for other uses there is not comparison when it comes to wood for a braai/ BBQ. Get Mopane "Ironwood" in the UK from a dealer today.

Chuck.

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