Not the Sunday Times column s01e03

Give me meat and fork. Plates are for pussies.

Men are good at meat.  And I’m not just saying that because that sentence has a certain alliterative allure.

Or wait, are they?  I don’t know so much anymore.  The last couple of braais I went to, everyone stood as far away from the fire as they could, desperately ignoring the stack of chops that needed cooking in the hope that somehow it would magically get done, while simultaneously trying to avoid being the one who’d actually have to do it.

What’s happened?  This is meant to be the one area where we step up, where we deftly and confidently take charge, while all around us lesser beings cower in the presence of our general awesomeness, while the coldest beers in the land are offered up in gratitude.

Maybe its because these days our shoes are more expensive than they used to be, maybe it’s because it takes us longer to do our hair in the mornings, or maybe its because the internet has taught us that anything that takes longer than the amount of time required to download a video clip of a guy getting kicked in the nuts by a horse isn’t worth doing.  Lets face it, ‘braaimaster’ is a title created mostly so that the guy who now reeks of wood-smoke, is blinded from the bucket’s worth of ash he now has in his face, a snotty nose and most of the hair burned off his forearms – feels slightly better about spending the last three hours cooking everyone else’s dratted sosaties while the girl he was hoping to speak to was getting chatted up by a guy who has a Chinese-symbol tattoo that instead of saying “hope” actually says “finest cat meat”.  Oh sure, everyone will sling a torrent of compliments your way once their faces are happily stuffed full of boerie, but 20 minutes ago the only sentence you were likely to hear was, “Howz my sausage bru?”  And this spoken with the slight edge of someone who’s suspicious enough that you’re doing it wrong to come and check, but not concerned enough for its welfare to pick up the braai tongs.   You know what?  If that’s your attitude I’d rather be at home polishing my Spicy Christmas Nuts thanks.

This is how most social circles have come to appoint their Grill Warrior – the person who (whether they like it or not) is default braai guy. It’s a thankless task, but usually there’s someone who feels strongly enough about properly flame-grilled meat to wearily step up when the time comes.

Girls of course do salads (and by salads we mean something with potatoes in it, not this leafy crap we have to secretly scrape off our plates while we were pretending to go to the kitchen looking for chutney), for which we are thankful because girls are nice.

And yet at the same time – I’m faintly worried that we’re in the midst of a secret cultural coup that none of us are really paying much attention to.  What with every second person I know investing in a massive and fancy gas-braai unit that’s bigger than most people’s first car, I fear we might be watering down the cornerstone of what makes us stand apart from the rest of the world: we like the hell out of our protein, and we’ll build a fire to cook it on.  That’s our thing.  No doubt, gas braais are super fancy. They gleam mysteriously in the evening light with their exciting chrome bits and the trimming that was looted from an experimental military vehicle intended to detect unflattering attitudes toward American foreign policy.  But there’s something distinctly and uncomfortably functional about them – because what’s the point of inviting people around for a ‘braai’ if what you’re actually going to do is just cook some meat on a thing more sophisticated than your actual stove, which just happens to be within eyesight of the swimming pool?  Might as well just microwave a curry and let everyone get on with watching Idols.

Surely the point is that all you need to braai is a couple of bricks and a grill? You want to infuse your meat with the distinct sharpness of woodsmoke, the juices that send good smells and hot ash into your face, revel in that unique heat that burns the hair off your….oh, hang on.  Ah.  Hmm.

Yeah, I think there’s a braai I need to go and attend to.

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