Wow, now this is a topic that I'm really passionate about, and could go on at length.
As per B5S's advice, buy solid firelighters. Blitz and Charka are good, well known brands but just about any will do. I usually use and prefer the 'white block' type but the 'brown cardboard-y' type will work fine.
I prefer compressed charcoal, either briquettes or triquettes. If you can get only uncompressed its not a train smash, it just doesn't burn as long so its harder to manage.
I start by arranging a floor of charcoal for my block or two of firelighter to rest on. I then build a 'tower' of charcoal around the firelighter, trying to stay as vertical as possible. Don't pack it too tightly as B5S mentioned, it needs to breathe. Charcoal needs to be in contact with the flame to 'catch', so the more charcoal (surface area) in contact with the firelighter flame, the better. Flames go upward, that's why I build a tower.
The charcoal should have caught within 15-30 minutes. I usually leave the tower for a while, til the coals have started to catch over most of their surfaces. If you want to speed up the process, fan the coals with a magazine/piece of cardboard/piece of styrofoam from your meat/hair dryer (works best).
The amount of coal you need depends on what you're cooking (chicken takes a lot longer) and how much meat there is. You will get better at estimating the amount and adding if necessary as you braai more. If you do need to add more coal, try add it earlier rather than later and let it catch properly as per the instructions below.
A lot of people will put the braai grid on top of the coals while there are still flames. This is to clean the grid. You can do this even after the flames have subsided, there should be enough heat.
Don't start cooking until each coal is coated in a thin layer of grey ash. The heat at this point will be the best. Proper compressed charcoal will last you for at least 2-3 hours, so you don't have to hurry.
Depending on your braai type, and what you're cooking, you may want to arrange your coals differently. For example with Weber kettle braais, they recommend that for chicken you don't cook directly over the coals. For read meat, and if you're using a 'normal Sanparks braai', just place the meat directly over the coals.
Knowing when and how often to turn the meat is a bit of an art in my opinion. Just don't turn it too often, and don't let it burn
If you're using wood, the process can change a little. Start off with smaller pieces, let them catch but remain flaming before you add bigger pieces. Continue adding progressively bigger pieces, waiting for it all to catch before you add more, until you have added one or two of your biggest pieces.
Usually when I braai with wood, it is off a big campfire/bonfire, which means I have a nice feeder fire from which to get coals. This makes it a lot easier (thats why I use charcoal if no feeder fire). Wait until the coals drop off the block of wood before you cook on them.
I've left out gas braais, since I personally don't consider using gas a proper braai
I should take a photo series to illustrate these steps! (a good excuse for a braai)
Any more questions, just ask.
The 'mite formerly known as joshilewis
FGASA Level 1 GuideGlen Reenen TR
15-18 June: Berg-en-dal