Before we get to the nitty gritty, let’s have a little perspective: the occasional braai has a much smaller impact on the environment than other day-to-day activities such as commuting to work, air travel, using a tumble dryer, and so on. Any attempt to reduce your carbon footprint is admirable, of course, but let’s not topple into the abyss of zealotry. Okay, here are our tips.
The briquette thing
Charcoal may be compact and convenient, but it has a negative impact on the environment because it releases high levels of carbon monoxide and produces ground-level ozone. If you choose to go this route,.try to find sustainably produced briquettes, which release fewer toxins and soot when burned. If you look around, you’re likely to find a variety of eco-friendly products – including “logs” made from compressed (read biodegradable) paper pulp. If you run out of fire-starters, avoid the temptation to help the fire along with a dollop of turpentine or other flammable liquids. Aside from the risk to your “green” credentials, this constitutes a serious threat to your health (that is, you could be horribly burned). How about a gas-fuelled braai? Well, we’re told that liquid petroleum gas (LPG) emits 100 times less CO2 than the average charcoal briquette that’s been impregnated with a petroleum solvent. Your call.
If you prefer to use porcelain plates for your braai, that’s fine, but if you choose the disposable option, try to find plates and dishes made from biodegradable or recycled materials. Don’t use Styrofoam cups and plates; they’re reputed to take 5 000 years to biodegrade. While you’re in eco-friendly mode, avoid products that are excessively packaged and, if possible, buy in bulk.
Who ya callin’ fat?
Then there’s the food – and this one will make carnivores slightly uneasy. Although fat represents an essential part of your diet, you should know that fatty meat is probably the most environmentally hazardous food that can be tossed on to the braai grid. When fat burns, it releases harmful carcinogens in the smoke. If you like the taste of meat but aren’t hung up on authenticity, consider a vegetarian substitute in the form of a lentil burger. With the addition of a few suitable spices, it can actually taste quite good. While we’re on a roll, you could also try corn on the cob, brown mushrooms – organic, naturally – or switch to fish. However, if you must have your meat, trim off all excess fat before you cook it, and be sure to buy meat that’s free of hormones. The last thing you want to do is wake up one morning and discover that you need a bigger bra – especially if you’re a guy.
Keep it local
Buy local produce whenever possible. You’ll not only be supporting local industries, but you’ll be reducing your carbon footprint because the produce doesn’t need to travel very far. Visit organic food markets and be prepared to pay slightly more for vegetables that actually have a taste.
Braais and booze
Okay, so you’ve been known to have a drink at a braai. We suspect that nothing we say here is likely to alter your habits, but on the outside chance that you care enough to make a few small concessions, we propose that you choose cans rather than bottles (they require less energy to produce and recycle), or better still, rent a beer keg and eliminate cans and bottles entirely. A pitcher of sangria also goes down well at braais.
What goes around…
Don’t compromise your ecofriendly braai by tossing all the debris into the same rubbish bin. Place all containers (bottles, cans, plastic plates, etc) into separate containers and dispose of them in the appropriate places. Add food scraps to the compost.
Take it from a pro
We asked Jan Scannell, the man behind the Braai4Heritage concept, to give us some useful tips for our next braai. Here’s his response:
* Nothing beats a real wood fire. (Subtext: Use those briquette things if you must.)
* Braaing is a direct form of energy use. From the coals to your food. From a power station, through the lines, to a stove, to a pan and finally to your food, there is a lot of spillage. If you love the Earth, braai.
* Smoke flies to pretty people, so send them to the kitchen to make a salad.
* Always have enough ice on hand at your braai. It can be used to put in your Klipdrift and Coke, to keep your Castles cold, or to treat burns.
* Gas is an Afrikaans word for a guest at your braai; it is not something you braai with.
* Animals eat lots of healthy grass, leaves and vegetables all their lives and convert it into meat. Eating meat is like eating vitamin pills.
* Braaing is the only fat-negative way of cooking. Even when you steam food, the fat that is in the food stays behind. When you braai, the fat drips out.
* Never braai with indigenous wood. Alien wood such as Rooikrantz and black wattle drink lots of ground water, and besides, it’s great burning Australian rubbish.
* A cow should only be killed once. Do not kill your steaks all over again by braaing them too much.
* A braaibroodjie is your best opportunity in life to have the bread buttered on both sides.
Jan’s final word: “May the wors be with you!”
Around the table
How’s this for togetherness? The Bavati is a home-grown 8-seater table braai that ropes in everyone to enjoy the occasion. Constructed from steel and hardwood, it allows you to braai and eat without having to get up from your seat (and better still, without the risk of spilling your beer as you turn the meat on the grid).
It comes complete with an ember burner, grids, potjie arm, folding seats for eight people, and a “converter” that allows you to use it as a conventional table. A stir-fry wok is optional. For more information, visit www.bavati.co.za
Burn, baby, burn
There’s no mystery about what makes a good braai fire: a couple of firelighters, a bag of charcoal, and you’re smokin’.
Thing is, who hasn’t stood there looking at the others, grumbling, “I thought you brought the Blitz”?
Of course, there are alternatives to conventional firelighters – some of them organic, some planet-friendly, and some absolutely failsafe… but horribly polluting. So, even when you do remember to bring along everything you need, there’s no harm in adopting an eco-friendly approach to what is, after all, a primitive activity of limited eco-friendliness.
For starting a fire, paraffin is the weapon of choice, being the basis of most of the commercially successful firelighters (and some non-commercial ones. A hand-sized chunk, broken into a few smaller bits, should be ample. To get the fire going, don’t dump all your charcoal briquettes over the firelighters at the outset: about 10 should do – give them some space. A quarter of an hour later, with a gentle glow evident, give everything a stir and add the balance. If you’re using wood, start with some chopped-up logs before following up with full-sized logs.
You can also avoid burning more firelighter than necessary by combining a chunk of the stuff with rolled-up newspaper and twigs, which does at least have the advantage of a less penetrating smell.
But hey, you’re the Do-It-Yourself type. You don’t need no steenkin’ firelighters.
One simple recipe that we spotted on an off-road forum involves nothing more complicated than newspaper. Take 3 sheets of the stuff, folded together from one corner, ending up with a flattish paper sausage. Coil up your sausage, tucking in the end. It helps to have two or three of these stacked with your wood (the inventor’s fuel of choice). Other ideas, some of them clearly for emergency use:
* Cooking gel as used under bains-marie (get it at supermarkets).
* Briquettes soaked in used cooking oil.
* Teabags (used, naturally) soaked in suitable fuel such as paraffin or used cooking oil.
* Ash mixed to a paste with diesel oil.
* Tissue or kitchen paper soaked in cooking oil.
* Rolled-up newspaper soaked in paraffin.
* Chipboard chunks soaked in paraffin.
If you are keen on recycling, it’s been suggested that a cardboard egg-container with about a teaspoonful of oil soaked in each hollow does the job nicely.
Now, all of these methods are less than helpful in minimising climate change or shrinking the hole in the ozone layer. But there are some things even worse – good for getting a blaze going in the absence of proper firelights, but bad, bad, bad for everything else. We’re talking about substances such as floor polish and frozen-food trays. Or polystyrene that’s been dissolved in petrol to turn it into a convenient and most effective fluid. You don’t want to be in the vicinity when these substances spew their toxic by-products into the atmosphere. Now go forth and burn. Responsibly, of course.
Related article: The science of braais
Tackle the following DIY projects in time for Braai4Heritage:
1) Make your own flawless backyard steel braai
2) Convert a bin into a stylish smoker
3) Build your own braai cart , including step-by-step plans