Best Wood to Use for a Braai: Selecting the Ideal Timber for Your Barbecue

In South Africa, the braai is not just a method of cooking but a significant part of the cultural fabric that unites families and friends.

Selecting the right wood for a braai is an integral aspect of the tradition, imparting a distinct flavour to the food and enhancing the overall experience.

Braai enthusiasts take great pride in their skill at creating the perfect fire, which starts with choosing the appropriate wood that burns hot and lasts long enough to cook the meal thoroughly.

A stack of dry, aged oak logs sits beside a gleaming stainless steel braai, ready to be lit for a smoky, flavorful barbecue

Different woods produce varied results; therefore, understanding the nuances of braai wood becomes crucial for any successful outdoor cooking event.

Hardwoods, like rooikrans and kameeldoring, are often recommended for their density and ability to generate substantial heat over an extended period.

This characteristic not only ensures a consistent cooking temperature but also contributes to the ‘geselligheid’, a convivial atmosphere indicative of South African social gatherings.

Choosing the best wood for a braai goes beyond ignition quality; it encompasses sustainability, availability, and the impact on local ecosystems.

As South Africans cherish their heritage, the selection of braai wood is made with due consideration to preserve the environment, ensuring that this beloved tradition can be enjoyed by future generations.

Selecting the Right Wood for Your Braai

The perfect braai experience not only hinges on the skill of the person behind the grill but also on the type of wood used.

Different woods impart varied flavours and burn characteristics that can either elevate or diminish the quality of your cooked meats.

Understanding Wood Characteristics

Selecting the ideal wood for a braai comes down to understanding the burn time, heat output, and natural oils that contribute to flavour and aroma.

Woods enriched with natural oils tend to release pleasant aromas that infuse the food with distinctive tastes.

Comparing Hardwoods and Softwoods

Hardwoods, derived from broad-leaved trees, typically have a higher density and a longer burn time, making them suitable for cooking meals that require sustained heat.

Softwoods come from conifers and tend to burn faster with more smoke, which can be useful for initially getting a fire started but are less ideal for the cooking phase due to the quicker burnout and increased smoke production.

Wood Options and Their Properties

  • Kameeldoring and Sekelbos: Known for their long burn time and minimal smoke.
  • Rooikrans: Popular for its availability and termite-resistant properties.
  • Mopani: Offers a strong heat output and robust flavour.
  • Black Wattle: Burns with intense heat and imparts a smoky taste.
  • Apple Wood: A favourite for its sweet smoke that enhances flavour.
  • Oak: Renowned for its heavy density and slow to medium burn rate.

Soft woods such as Pine or Blue Gum are less suited for cooking due to their high sap content and tend to burn with excessive smoke.

The Impact of Moisture on Braai Wood

Dry wood with low moisture content ignites easily and burns steadily, producing less smoke and more consistent heat.

In contrast, wood with high moisture levels, or wetness, tends to generate a substantial amount of smoke and is less efficient, potentially dampening the fire and the flavour of the food.

Thus, ensuring the dryness of the wood is paramount for a superior braai experience.

Preparation and Safety Considerations

When preparing for a braai, it is essential to select wood that will ignite effectively, burn well, and ensure a clean burning fire.

Additionally, the type of wood and its condition can have significant safety implications.

Pre-Chopped vs. Whole Logs

Pre-chopped wood is convenient and readily ignites, making it a popular choice for braai enthusiasts.

It often comes in a uniform size, which ensures a stable fire and even burning.

Conversely, whole logs require additional preparation before they can be used, such as splitting and sizing, but offer a longer burning period and can be more cost-effective if one has access to bulk wood.

Dealing with Damp or Wet Wood

Damp or wet wood should not be used in a braai as it’s difficult to ignite and creates excessive smoke, which can dampen the overall experience.

To ensure wood burns well, storing it in a dry, covered space away from moisture is crucial. If one encounters damp wood, allowing it to dry completely before use is advised.

Avoiding Potentially Dangerous Woods

Selecting non-toxic, clean-burning wood is imperative for a safe braai.

Woods from pine or eucalyptus trees are not recommended due to their high sap content, which can create dangerous sparks and excessive smoke.

Additionally, these woods can leave a residue that may affect the taste of the food.

It is also important to avoid any wood that is treated or poisonous, as the fumes can be hazardous to health when inhaled.

Maximising the Braai Experience

Selecting the best wood for a braai is essential to maximise flavour, manage heat, and ensure the longevity of the fire.

Whether cooking for family or friends, understanding the nuance of different woods can elevate the occasion into a memorable experience.

Choosing Wood for Different Meats

When braaing meats like pork and steak, the type of wood can influence the taste and quality of your cook.

Hardwoods like oak are ideal for steak, offering a steady high heat output while imparting a subtle smoky flavour.

For pork, a fruit tree wood such as apple provides a slightly sweet smoke that complements the meat well.

Creating the Ideal Heat for Cooking

The right wood should create a consistent and intense heat that’s necessary for effective cooking.

Hardwoods generally have a higher heat output and maintain steady temperatures, perfect for creating those well-seared exteriors without undercooking the inside.

Slow-burning woods such as mopani ensure longer fires, essential for extended braais with friends.

Wood Longevity and Burn Rate

Different woods have varied burn rates, affecting how long they sustain the fire.

Woods like kameeldoring are famed for their low moisture content and their ability to burn slowly, making them perfect for longer braais or when you wish to maintain a steady heat for slow cooking.

Achieving the Desired Flavour Profile

The choice of wood plays a significant role in the flavour profile of your food.

For a smoky flavour, woods like hickory or mesquite are ideal but should be used sparingly to avoid overpowering the food.

Mopani, with its musky aroma, can add a nostalgic braai smoke smell, enhancing the overall enjoyment and sensory appeal of the meal.

Alternative Fuels for Braai

While wood is a traditional choice for braai, alternative fuels such as coal and charcoal offer their own distinct advantages and cater to different braai experiences, from the kettle braai to large bonfires.

Using Coal and Charcoal

Coal and charcoal are common alternatives to wood for braai, particularly useful for kettle braais and camp fires.

Charcoal heats up quickly and maintains a consistent temperature, making it a good option for those seeking convenience.

Coal, on the other hand, is notable for burning at much higher temperatures, which can be suitable for larger scale braais such as bonfires.

Notable Characteristics:

  • Charcoal: Easy to light, relatively clean burning, suitable for quick cooking.
  • Coal: Higher burning temperatures, longer-lasting, ideal for extensive cooking sessions.

Pros and Cons of Braai Briquettes

Briquettes, often made from compressed charcoal, bear several advantages.

They are designed to light easily and maintain a steady burn, thus providing a uniform cooking temperature which is particularly beneficial for a controlled grilling experience.


  • Ease of Use: Briquettes ignite readily and burn evenly, simplifying the grilling process.
  • Consistency: Provide a predictable heat source for extended periods, optimising fuel efficiency.


  • Time to Ignite: They can take longer to light when compared to lump charcoal.
  • Ash Production: Higher ash content can necessitate more frequent cleaning.

The Role of Fire Starters and Lighters

Fire starters and lighters are essential accessories for igniting braai fuels, especially when dealing with harder-to-light options like briquettes.

They are designed to provide an effective and prompt ignition, helping to reduce the overall time spent preparing the braai.

  • Fire Starters: Typically made from combustible materials that ignite quickly, aiding in lighting charcoal and briquettes efficiently.
  • Lighters: Can range from simple mechanical devices to elaborate electric models, offering convenience and efficacy.

Regional Preferences and Wood Availability

When selecting wood for a braai, regional preferences play a significant role, as does the availability of specific wood types.

Each region in South Africa has certain types that are preferred due to their burning characteristics and local supply.

Popular Wood Types in Different Regions

In South Africa, the choice of wood for a braai can vary greatly depending on the region. For instance, Rooikrans is a prevalent choice among Capetonians due to its abundance in the Western Cape. This wood is known for its long burning time and consistent heat.

Moving north, Sekelbos wood is a favourite in areas where it is naturally found. It provides a delightful aroma and burns very hot, an ideal combination for a perfect braai experience.

In the arid regions of South Africa, Kameeldoring wood is highly sought after. It’s a dense hardwood that produces minimal smoke and a significant amount of heat, qualities that make it excellent for cooking meat slowly and thoroughly.

Sourcing Local Wood Varieties

Sourcing local wood varieties not only supports the regional economy but also tends to be more eco-friendly due to reduced transportation.

In the Western Cape, Rooikrans wood is readily available and often sourced from local invasive species, benefitting the environment by controlling their spread.

Similarly, in regions where Bluegum trees are prevalent, this wood type is commonly used for braai. It ignites easily and burns at high temperatures, making it another good option for those located near these trees.

For braai enthusiasts in areas where Kameeldoring wood and Sekelbos wood naturally occur, these are often the top choices. They offer high heat and a pleasant scent, enhancing the braai experience while utilising resources that are locally available.

Environmental Considerations and Sustainable Braai Practice

When selecting wood for a braai, it is essential to consider the environmental impact of wood harvesting and the importance of making sustainable and eco-friendly choices.

Impact of Wood Harvesting on Ecosystems

Wood harvesting for braai can have significant effects on ecosystems.

In South Africa, unsustainable wood collection contributes to deforestation and habitat loss.

Harvesting methods that fail to consider the regrowth of local flora can lead to soil erosion, reduced biodiversity, and disruption of ecosystems.

Such environmental impacts are particularly pronounced in outdoor, natural settings where ecosystems are more vulnerable.

Sustainable Sourcing and Eco-Friendly Choices

Choosing sustainable braai wood involves opting for sources that prioritise ecological balance.

Certified eco-friendly woods or those harvested from designated plantations help preserve natural habitats.

In South Africa, local communities depend on the braai tradition, and sustainable wood sourcing aids in mitigating the environmental footprint of this practice.

Consumers may look into using wood from species that grow rapidly or from scrap wood sources, which are by-products of other processes and reduce waste.

Further Reading and Braai Resources

For enthusiasts looking to deepen their understanding of the best woods to use for braai, there are valuable resources that offer insights into the type, characteristics, and availability of braai woods:

  • Selecting the Right Wood: Understanding the differences in wood types is crucial.

  • Dense woods such as sekelbos and kameeldoring are often prized for their slow burning properties, making them excellent for leisurely braais.

  • Wood Characteristics: Learning about the qualities of various woods can enhance the braai experience.

  • For example, mopani and rooikrans are known for their persistent heat and are favoured for their longer burn time.

  • Articles like What is the best wood to braai with? delve into the specifics of these woods.

  • Availability: It’s practical to know what’s readily available in one’s region.

  • Some resources, like Stanley Park’s guide, provide insights on popular local woods.

  • Hardwood vs Softwood: The debate between using hardwood and softwood for braai is ongoing.

  • Hardwoods tend to be denser and provide a consistent cooking heat, which is preferable for extended cooking periods.

Wood TypePropertiesIdeal Use
SekelbosVery dry, dense, offers a slow burnSlow, relaxed braai
KameeldoringHeavy, produces less smoke, good for flavouringFlavourful meats
MopaniHardwood, burns hot and longExtended braai sessions
RooikransOffers consistent heat, readily available in some regionsGeneral braai purposes

Readers should consider the type of braai they are planning, as different woods suit different occasions.

Whether for a quick midweek meal or a weekend gathering, choosing the right wood can make all the difference.

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