Find your recipes and restaurants here

7 Ways to an epic shisa nyama

In partnership with City Press.

12 Feb 2017

The Soweto Wine and Lifestyle festival takes place from March 3 to 5 at the Soweto Theatre. It’s about much more than wine, though, and food is becoming a central element of the festivities. City Press’ resident chef, Lesego Semenya, will be cooking

A few years ago, the concept of commercialising a braai and turning it into a daily meal option and not just a weekend gathering around a flame saw the mushrooming of the township shisa nyama. The term literally means to “burn meat”.

Now, you’d think something as common as what makes a good braai would be second nature to South Africans, but it’s a divisive subject. Everyone’s an expert. And there are many debates to be had... to marinate or not to marinate, high heat or medium heat, red meat first or chicken, dry spices or wet basting sauce...

Here are some fool-proof tips below...

1. Always use wood

Instead of using gas or charcoal, I always recommend that people use wood. A wood flame adds smoky character to the meat, making it taste a whole lot better ... and meaning you need fewer spices and flavourings.

2. Always use juicy and fatty cuts

Your meat is always dry? That’s because you’re using the wrong cut or the meat has been sliced wrongly. For a shisa nyama, always go for juicy and fatty cuts. That’s because the fat in the steak melts off as the meat is grilled, resulting in a more succulent steak. Rib-eye steak is my favourite cut for this. Make sure it’s cut at a thickness of about two fingers. The thickness of the steak is important to getting a juicy steak. Too thin means it will dry out.

3. Don't marinate red meat

Oh, and you shouldn’t marinate red meat! It removes all the natural juices and actually dries it out. The salts in marinades draw out the natural moisture.

4. Work the fire's heat

When your fire is at its hottest, grill the red meat until it is well browned and then remove it and allow it to rest on the side until the heat of the fire has decreased. Then return it to the flame to finish cooking. Only season it after this process. For the kids, pork ribs are always popular. Just make sure you have extra sauce with which to keep basting the meat.

5. Remember seafood

Don’t shy away from seafood on the grill. Prawns and crayfish are awesome on a shisa nyama and quick to do. Just marinate them in garlic, butter and lemon juice. They need a medium-heat fire, though. Whole fish is best wrapped in foil. Be generous with the butter and season it well, sprinkle with lemon juice and wrap it tightly in foil. Fish only needs about 15 minutes. I stick it right into the hot coals.

6. What about chicken?

Some people boil chicken first and then baste it to braai on the fire. But rather marinate your chicken overnight in a marinade with acid (lemon juice or vinegar), oil and spices. The secret to juicy braaied chicken? An oven! You use the flame just to grill the outside of the chicken and brown it and then you place the chicken in the oven to finish it off. If you don’t have an oven nearby, you can achieve the same result by covering your chicken in thick foil and putting it on the grid for a few minutes.

7. Pap is not the only side dish option

You don’t always have to eat shisa nyama with pap. A couscous salad is quick, healthier and won’t leave you feeling heavy. You can also put sweet potato and sweet corn on the grill. Rub your sweet corn with butter afterwards or, if you’re really trying to be fancy, you can even try blue cheese.

For more food tips without the snobbery, visit

Read more on: braai  |  shisa nyama  |  meat

NEXT ON FOOD24X publishes all comments posted on articles provided that they adhere to our Comments Policy. Should you wish to report a comment for editorial review, please do so by clicking the 'Report Comment' button to the right of each comment.

Comment on this story
Add your comment
Comment 0 characters remaining
There are new stories on the homepage. Click here to see them.