Thank you for smoking…

Posted on 8 October 2020

Nothing excites South Africans more than the smell of a braai, and while we love a chop on the coals, Louzel Lombard Steyn expands our repertoire by cooking with smoke.

Mother and I once smoked a hole in her kitchen table. We wanted to make pea soup with smoky pork bits but only had a fresh ham hock on hand. 
We had to make do; dusted off 
my brother’s old science project 
– a cased smoker – and googled ‘home smoking’. How difficult could it be?

Tannie Poppie’s roosterkoek on the grill 
(Photo Stan Engelbrecht)

Turns out, quite difficult.
Smoking food is similar to smoking cigarettes. It takes years of practice to get it right and look cool while doing. Some people never master the art.

South Africans, however, are master smokers. Smoking food is in our DNA, forged around those prehistoric campfires in the Cradle of Humankind a million years ago. I bet Mrs Ples, Little Foot and 
the gang enjoyed a good old braai as much as any Krugersdorper these days.

Today, South Africa’s children are weaned on smoke. From the first bowl of umphokoqo made on the morning fire to the celebratory spitbraai honouring a coming-of-age or wedding. We like to distinguish between cuisines in our many different cultures, but a taste for hot smoked food, especially meat, converges all demographics; our collective national palate has a taste for smoke.

The science is fascinating. Apart from embedding flavour, smoking is a preservative. The 
drying action of the smoke preserves the meat (think biltong) and many of the chemicals present in hardwood smoke, like formaldehyde, are natural preservatives as well.

Smoking in the global food realm, for some reason, is different from our perception. I am 
always fascinated by those little smoking guns they use on the fancy cooking shows. It’s 
usually a big process involving Glad wrap, wood shavings (hamster bedding?) and a fire extinguisher on standby.

Roosterkoek on the fire

This is not a rule South Africans need to abide by, yet we often fall for it. Trying to smoke a ham hock in a small stainless-steel cage on a kitchen table when there’s a big braai built from a halved diesel drum in the backyard, being case-in-point.

Mom and I were initially quite impressed to smell fragrant smoke puffing out of the little smoker when we first lit it up… until we realised that it was the oak kitchen table catching fire. The necessity of a fire extinguisher for such 
foreign smoking endeavours became clear.

We hauled the hock outside, flung it on the side of the braai fuelled with dry doringhout and closed the lid. Three hours later, an Eisbein emerged, glistening with golden smoked fat and cooked to the bone.

The pea soup was a hit. But our kitchen table still has a black hole; a reminder that our South African braai culture is a jealous wife, intolerant of any new mistress.

Thankfully, there are institutions across the country dedicated to celebrating her elusive beauty and intoxicating aroma.

Bread Winner

Tannie Poppie’s 

Rosaleen aka Tannie Poppie van As is perhaps the most authentic representation of South African cuisine to have ever graced the Italian food scene. She made headlines when a fund-raising campaign helped her travel abroad to showcase traditional South African roosterkoek (dough smoked and cooked on the fire.) Tannie Poppie rightfully holds the title of the Roosterbrood Queen from the Karoo. Her roosterkoek are made to order, fresh-from-the-fire at a 
roadside stall alongside the N1.
073 828 2488

Where: Outside Granaat Coffee Shop, 
Laingsburg, Western Cape

Smoking Gun

The Hickory Shack

The smokepit, Hickory Shack

South African meets Texan-American at this outdoor smoking shack outside Elgin. Wood-fires and blue smoke set the perfect mood for 
a laid-back food fest including whole smoked chicken, South African sausages and, of course, their famous smoked ribs. Cold craft beers pulled from the keg complete the picture. 
Pitmasters Dries and Dan – aka The Two Bald Chefs – make use of local wood and meat, 
carefully selected for heritage, texture and taste. 079 986 8684

Where: On the N2 – after Paul Cluver, 
Elgin, Western Cape

Where there’s smoke, there’s facts

1. Not all wood smokes the same.
Different woods 
produce non-identical flavour and, according to the experts, hardwoods produce the best-tasting smoke. Kameeldoring, sekelbos and rooikrans are local favourites. The wood of citrus and other fruit trees is also used to 
infuse the meat with fruity flavours.

2. Smoking is not just for carnivores.
Would you believe you can smoke lemons, olives, garlic, butter, cheese, salt, sugar 
and more.

3. You can introduce that smoky feel to a meal without having 
to get your Blitz out.
Bacon, paprika, chipotle chillies and Scotch whiskey all add a punch of good smoky flavour to a dish.

Get your own:
SA BBQ Smokers make a range of smokers for home use.
 079 496 7355

Smoke & Mirrors & Marble


Head barman, George Hunter prepares 
a Smoked Cocktail at Marble

‘Meat & Flame Enthusiasts’ is a refined way of saying, Ons gaan nou braai. Marble in 
Rosebank manages the perfect balance between fine dining and damn-fine food. 
Acclaimed chef and TV personality David Higgs is behind this distinguished establishment, serving up authentic South African 
classics in a world-class way.

The restaurant also has an in-house butchery, where local meats are cured to perfection. Find classics like the Karoo lamb roll (served with chakalaka) and the beloved braaibroodjie on the high-profile menu. 010 594 5550

Where: Trumpet on Keyes, Corner Keyes & 
Jellicoe Avenue, Rosebank, Johannesburg, Gauteng

Veld to Fork

Charcuterie courses in the Karoo

Smoked beef by 
Gordon Wright

As Karoo chef and author Gordon Wright would tell you, the best restaurant in the Karoo is a braai in the veld… which is why his hands-on smoking and charcuterie classes take place outdoors. Gordon hosts exclusive masterclasses focused on home smoking on select dates in his home town Graaff-Reinet. 
Availability is limited, and highly sought-after. Classes range from how to smoke your own Christmas ham, to making your own smoked sausages and prosciutto – SA style. 
[email protected]

Where: Graaff Reinet, Eastern Cape

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