Talking All Things Pots Pans & Potjies with Beer Country

Words: Robyn Samuels

If there ever was a South African dream it would be drinking beer, trekking across the country in a 4×4 and making kos in a three-legged potjie pot. While most of us have to stick to braaing in our backyard, this dream is a reality for brothers-in-law, Greg Gilowey and Karl Tessendorf, or Beer Country. Ultimate Braai Master fans may better know them as team ‘Rust n Dust’, who made their debut appearance on the first season of the show. The team have been trailblazing since, and nearly three years after the release of their first cookbook, they release their second, Pots Pans & Potjies – a love letter to cast iron cooking.

Interview with Beer Country’s Karl & Greg

Karl and Greg continue to test the limits of what can be cooked by fire – spoiler, there are none. Pots Pans & Potjies pays homage to the local tradition of potjie and moreover, the beauty of cooking with cast iron or as Karl puts it ‘the tough black stuff’. The bromance duo take the everyday ‘tjop ’n dop’ to the next level, with beer pairing suggestions for each recipe. From French-inspired dishes like cassoulet to Lamb Bobotie with Coconut Pangrattato to Citrus and Chocolate Ganache Dutch Baby, they share international and signature local dishes with South African flare. We catch up with Beer Country about their latest book, reminisce about childhood trips to the Wild Coast, simpler days of eating dombolo and the braaibroodjies that sparked their love for Pots Pans & Potjies.

Can you tell us how Beer Country came about?

Karl: Beer Country started many years ago after we came off The Ultimate Braai Master. We loved being on the TV show, so when it finished up, we thought we’d make our own.  After all, how hard could it be? Turns out it was pretty hard, ha! But we had a blast making Beer Country. We got to travel around the country braaing and drinking beer. Our first book followed the TV show and now, here we are with the launch of the second book.

Greg: Yeah, what he said! Falling just short of winning UBM gets you good and hungry enough to do something about it, so we did. After closing shop on my furniture design business, Karl and I decided to see how far we could take this fire-food journey. A TV show, two recipe books, a good few collaboration beers and many catered events later, we’ve managed to turn our love for beer and braai into something pretty special.

Congrats on your second book, how does it differ from your first book?

Karl: Beer Food Fire was very beer-focused and the cooking was pretty much everything you could do on a braai, plus a little section on smoking. The second book is cast iron focused, and our love letter to cast iron cooking.

What are your top two recipes from your latest book?

Greg: Great question, and a tough one to answer. It changes depending on the weather, the company, which beer I’m holding – you never really know. I suppose that says something about how many great recipes there are in the book. But, if I had to choose, it would be the ones I make the most – either the Irish-ish Oxtail Potjie or the Braaied Cape-ssoulet, and the Chai Rooibos Milk Tart is a hands-down winner.

Did you face any challenges in writing this book?

Karl: Yeah, I always seem to forget how much work it is but the big challenge on this one was Covid. It hit when we were working on the book. The world went crazy and then all of a sudden we were a year behind. Luckily our publisher, the Penguin boss lady, Bev, is awesome and for that we are eternally grateful.

Do you have any fun stories from the shoot?

Greg: We have a few, many of which seem to involve my kids hovering around on the dessert shoot days, ha! Though, my fav story is when we did an interview for the launch and were asked ‘what we hoped to achieve with this book’. The answer was that if this book manages to save even one rusty potjie from being forgotten on a garage shelf, then our job is done and everything else is gravy. And that’s exactly what happened – thanks Bianca!

What was the best part of making Pots Pans & Potjies?

Karl: When it was over? Haha! Even though the shoot days were challenging and stressful, I really enjoyed them because we had an awesome team and we got to braai and potjie for 10 days. Apart from that, I think my favourite part of doing a book is when you finally get it in an envelope from the publisher and you get to see the finished product for the first time.

When did your love for cast iron cooking begin?

Greg: I didn’t know it then, but way back in the 80s we’d go on family holidays to the Wild Coast. A sneaky early morning peek into the kitchen revealed a huge cast iron pot on the wood-fired stove – the ladies gathered around breaking off fistfuls of delicious dombolo. The smell and taste of that steamed bread with a doorstop of butter and far too much honey still takes me straight back there. Now if that ain’t love, I don’t know what is.

Do you ever get tired of slaving in front of the fire?

Karl: It’s not slaving if you’ve got beer, music and you’re having fun.

You have a section on Sexy Serving Additions. What’s your sexiest serving suggestion to elevate any braai or potjie?

Greg: No-one likes tripping on the last hurdle – these little bowls of flavour pack a huge punch and elevate things massively at the finish line. With sexy names like ‘Gremolata’ and ‘Panagrattato’, it’s tough to choose just one but for me, a great Salsa Verde made with the right herbs to complement the dish will always be a winner.

What’s your fondest braai memory?

Karl: The one that always sticks out in my memory from childhood is making toast on the braai for the first time. I remember being so amazed because it was simply toast but it tasted like fire and smoke. To this day, it is still the best piece of toast I have ever eaten.

What convinced you to write an entire book dedicated to the art of making potjie?

Greg: We just love cooking in cast iron pots, pans or potjies! Despite my dodgy eyesight, I can still spot a rusty potjie at one hundred paces at any flea market, and will always want to give that chunky piece of heavy metal a good home. I have a solid hand-me-down collection, and we love putting it to good use. It’s incredible to cook in, it’s built to last, and it’s our local version of low n slow. Also, who doesn’t love the little bit of ceremony that happens between reaching for the potjie and packing it away again. Pure fireside magic!

What’s one thing you wish people would stop doing when making potjie?

Karl: My worst is when you see people ‘browning’ the meat in the potjie. Nine times out of ten, the potjie is not hot enough and they just end up slowly boiling the meat and end up with sad grey meat. If you are going to do it in the potjie, there has to be a decent amount of oil and the pot has to be ripping hot. Our preferred method is to brown the meat on the grid over seriously hot coals. You always get a great result and that extra layer of smoky braai flavour never hurts any potjie’s flavour profile.

If people were to make one recipe from your cookbook book, which would it be?

Greg: Our Monkey Gland Wings are epic and an easy way to get out the gate with cast iron, even though it’s a little unconventional to cook wings in a potjie – trust us, it’s worth it! Another tip would be to pick a potjie recipe that sounds good, and then learn the steps to making a potjie properly. Once you know those, the real fun starts!

Favourite vetkoek filling?

Greg: Much like a slow potjie day, the debate between sweet versus savoury can go on for hours and will never really be over, ha! On a camping trip, I love our Easy-As Wors Chilli – it’s simple and packed with all those local and lekker flavours we love… in a vetkoek. Get in ma belly!

How does one make the perfect potjie dumpling?

Karl: I think as long as your recipe quantities are good and your dumplings are not too sloppy, then you’ll be good. We’ve got a solid recipe in our Karoo Lamb Potjie that hasn’t failed me yet.

What’s the secret to cooking the perfect steak on the coals/the grill?

Greg: There are tons of tips and tricks we use like getting good char and caramelisation, cooking the bone side first for big chunks, and making sure the fat is rendered and heated through. I was always an on-the-coals guy, Karl swears by the skillet – and truth be told, he ain’t wrong. A great skillet steak with herbs, garlic and browned butter is a thing of beauty.

Beer Country

In your book, you recall having eaten ostrich penis with ghost pepper, whilst judging a potjie competition. I have so many questions but I’ll ask – what was that like?

Karl: Yoh, from what I can remember, it was after a long day of judging on The Ultimate Braai Master, when they were still hosting the massive braai competitions. I think it was at the V & A Waterfront in the parking lot and I am pretty sure that we only tasted it because Justin Bonello said that we ‘have to try this potjie, it’s the best one’. Turns out he was talking kak and had a good old laugh at us after we tasted it. It was damn hot and not a good eating experience. Where does one even buy ostrich penis?

What’s your favourite way to repurpose leftover braai vleis?

Greg: Braai leftovers, what are those? If you are lucky enough to have any or smart enough to have planned ahead – our Braaied Cape-ssoulet is the recipe you’re after. It’s our local take on that French comfort food classic, cassoulet. With three or four different meats, samp and beans slowly simmered in delicious gravy, topped with crispy panko bread crumbs – and now I’m hungry.

What’s your preferred brew of choice?

Karl: Ah yes, that’s always a tough question. For a long time, my default answer would have been IPA (India Pale Ale) but these days I tend to drink with the seasons. So, light to medium beers in spring. During summer, I prefer golden ales, lagers, pale ales and IPAs. As the weather turns, I tend to gravitate towards the darker stuff.

From Osso buco to Gochujang potjie, you’ve prepared potjie from almost every cuisine. What’s your favourite style of potjie?

Greg: The one that puts big smiles on faces around the braai. We really did try to show people that a potjie ain’t just for slow-cooking meat in stock, with layers of veggies. Sure, it may ruffle a few of the purists’ feathers, but that’s the point! Your potjie is a playground, so be bold and have fun – the potjie police aren’t gonna haul you off to that jail where the pots are never stirred.

What’s your preferred protein and cut for a classic potjie?

Karl: I am always a sucker for lamb. There’s nothing quite like a lamb potjie or curry. Knuckle or neck are always winners. If you are feeling fancy, you can do whole shanks like we did in our Vindaloo Curry recipe.

Is it better to cook steak in a cast iron or stainless steel pan?

Karl: Both are great cooking tools and both will produce an epic steak, but I think cast iron just has more soul. Sure, it takes a little bit of extra effort to look after, but if you buy a great cast iron pan, it’s a once-in-a-lifetime purchase and they often become hand-me-down family heirlooms, which is pretty cool.

Food is essential to culture; how do you honour your culture through cooking?

Greg: Well, making good food for people is one of life’s greatest gifts, especially cooking for friends and family. As South Africans, sitting around a campfire, staring into the flames and cooking in those three-legged pots is tattooed onto our DNA – and it happens from Tietiesbaai to the Transkei, and everywhere in between. We have grown up making potjie, and many of my pots and pans have been handed down through generations. Looking after them and using them as often as possible is a nod to the past with an eye on the horizon.

Beer Country shares two tasty recipes from Pots Pans & Potjies.

Seaside Bunny Chows

Born out of necessity, Durban’s most famous food export is up there with the finest meals you’ll ever eat. Take a bow, Mr Bunny Chow, you’re a true local food champion.

Feeds: 6–8  •  Prep: 30 minutes  •  Cook: 3 hours

The Braai

2 kg lamb shoulder, deboned
and butterflied
Oil for drizzling
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

The Potjie

¼ C oil
2 large onions, peeled and chopped
4 whole cloves
1 large stick cinnamon
2 star anise
2 cardamom pods, bruised
3 bay leaves
2 Tbsp tomato paste
4 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 large knob of ginger, finely chopped
1 Tbsp ground cumin
1 Tbsp ground coriander
2 tsp ground turmeric
2-3 Tbsp Durban masala
2 Tbsp Kashmiri chilli powder
15 curry leaves
3 whole green chillies, tops cut off
2 C tomato purée
1 Tbsp brown sugar
2 C hot water
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 Tbsp garam masala
4 large potatoes, peeled and halved
2 Tbsp crème fraîche

To Serve

2 loaves of white farm bread,
cut into quarters and hollowed out
Fresh coriander, chopped
Grated carrot, tossed in lemon juice

Slice the lamb shoulder into chunks that, big enough not to fall through a flip grid. Give the lamb a good drizzle of oil and season with salt and pepper. Place the lamb into the flip grid. Give the lamb a good drizzle of oil and season with salt and pepper. Place the lamb into the flip grid and braai it over hot coals for a couple of minutes to caramelise the exterior, then set aside. If you want to cut the lamb into bite-size chunks, now is a good time to do it.

To make the potjie, preheat a number 3 potjie over medium-high-heat coals. Add the oil, then the onions, cloves, cinnamon, star anise, cardamom and bay leaves. Fry for 6–8 minutes, while stirring, until the onions are soft and beginning to brown. Add the tomato paste, garlic, ginger, cumin, coriander, turmeric, masala, chilli powder, curry leaves and chillies and stir-fry for 2 minutes until fragrant. Stir in the tomato purée, sugar and water. Add the lamb to the pot and give it a good stir. Pop on the lid and simmer for 1½ hours.

At the 1½-hour mark, taste the curry for seasoning. Next, sprinkle the garam masala over the top, add the potatoes and continue cooking with the lid open a crack for another 30 minutes. After 30 minutes, gently stir the crème fraîche into the curry. Now build your bunnies, and always remember, never skimp on the gravy! Top each with fresh coriander and grated carrots.

Beer Pairing: West Coast IPA – heavy on the malts and heavy on the hops. You need it all to compete with this local heavy hitter. From spicy and fragrant, to rich, meaty and bready – it’s got it all and you need a beer that ain’t scared to throw a few counter punches.

Black Pepper Beef Short Rib Potjie

This peppery beast is inspired by Karl’s love of pepper steak pies. It’s big, bold and beefy and it’ll have you overeating to the point where you need to pop a button, but it’s worth it.

Feeds: 6–8 • Prep: 30 minutes • Cook: 3½ hours + resting time

The Braai

2 kg thick-cut beef short rib
Oil for drizzling
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

The Potjie

Oil for frying
1 large onion, peeled and chopped
4 cloves garlic, finely chopped
50 g tomato paste
2 heaped Tbsp black peppercorns, crushed in a mortar and pestle
6 sprigs of fresh thyme, picked and chopped
4 sprigs of fresh rosemary, picked and chopped
2 bay leaves
2 C red wine
2 tins (400 g each) chopped tomatoes
1 C good-quality beef stock or homemade (see p. 33)
20 pickling onions, peeled
2 Tbsp fish sauce
1 Tbsp brown sugar
1 Tbsp cornflour, dissolved in 1/3 C water
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

To Serve

Fried rosemary

Drizzle the beef with oil and season well with salt and pepper. Braai the beef over very hot coals to caramelise the exterior, then set aside.

To make the potjie, preheat a number 3 potjie over medium-high-heat coals. Add a splash of oil and fry the onion until it begins to soften and brown. Add the garlic and tomato paste and fry for a minute until fragrant. Add the crushed peppercorns, thyme, rosemary and bay leaves and fry for a couple of minutes until fragrant. Stir in the red wine, bring it to a boil and reduce by half. Add the beef and mix well to combine. Stir in the tins of tomatoes and the stock, pop on the lid and simmer for 2 hours. Give it a gentle stir every now and then to make sure nothing is catching on the bottom.

At the 2-hour mark, check the meat. If it is still a little tough, give it another 30 minutes. After 30 minutes, check the meat again, and if it is fork tender, add the pickling onions, fish sauce and sugar and cook for another 30 minutes with the lid off. After 30 minutes, add the cornflour in water and mix gently to combine. Cook, uncovered, for another 10 minutes to thicken. Allow the pot to rest with the lid on for at least 15 minutes before serving. Season to taste and serve with pap and fried rosemary.

Beer Pairing: Belgian Dubbel – this dish is all about the pepper kick, so it needs a beer with real sweetness to contrast and balance things. Low bitterness doesn’t compete with the spicy kick, while the fruity and toffee flavours complement the rich char of the ribs.

You can purchase Beer Country’s latest book at major book retailers in South Africa or get the digital copy on Amazon Kindle, Snapplify or Google Play.

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