Barbequed meat is certainly one of the key features of Kenya’s culinary culture, easily evidenced by the thousands of establishments that serve the highly popular delicacy.
With the ever stiffening competition, many of the best chefs are always working to improve their servings to attract more patrons. But for some, like Tony Onyango, meat preparation comes almost like second nature.
The 42-year-old banker, often referred to by his fans as the “grill father”, has in just three years made a name for himself as one of the best in the country.
Tony is the reigning champion of the Jack Daniels Brothers of the Grill contest held in 2015 and 2016, both of which he was declared the winner.
“The Brothers of the Grill contest was against guys like Carnivore, Road House, Coco Jambo, Monikos, Havana and several other big names. So I’m proud of my achievement. That I can go up against the big guns and beat them twice. It feels good that your brand can compete with the big guns,” he says.
For Tony, the proprietor of Mbukaki Bar and Grill on Kiambu Road, the trick to conquering the industry is throwing out the rule book and getting creative with meat preparation techniques. Mbukaki Bar and Restaurant is behind the famous Y-Not Bbq brand that has a fanatical following online.
A Sunday afternoon chat with the self-taught grill master and self-confessed rule breaker tore down several myths about cooking meat that have seen many people follow religiously and in the process stop themselves from preparing an unbeatable serving.
Much like most processes, the pre-cooking stage is one of the points that people unknowingly make small mistakes that end up ruining what would otherwise be a perfectly cooked cut of meat.
While the cut of meat does determine how tender the final cooked product will be, how you slice it before involving any heat also matters.
“At times you eat at a restaurant and the meat is tender. The next time you’re there you find yourself asking the waiter why it’s not as tender as it was on your last visit.
Basically, it’s about how you cut it. Try and figure out how the muscle fibres run, then cut across them instead of along.”
“The brisket for instance was a challenge for me at first. It’s one of the toughest cuts of meat. It has got the toughest muscles and is the hardest to cook. Then I realised that it was not how I cooked it, it was how I cut it,” Tony says. For marinated meat , aluminum foil and cling film will probably need to be close by.
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The “grill father” holds that aluminum foil helps to keep all flavours in the meat, and while grilling or roasting it helps in stopping charring of the edges.
“Most Kenyans will go out for nyama choma and get served medium rare, then they’ll complain that it’s not ready. That is actually the best meat. Guys like to burn their meat. I don’t know if that’s what they mean by nyama choma,” he jokes.
“It is fine but the best thing to do is towards the end of the process, just before it turns black, foil it. That way you don’t get the charred bits and the meat still retains all flavours that you threw in,” Tony adds.
Before taking our team through a session on how to infuse stout in ham, the “grill father” leaves us with one more marinating tip—how best to use onions and garlic.
“What many people do not know is that the easiest but best marination ingredients are onions and garlic. The flavour is amazing when done right. Just get some onions and garlic, blend them and right before you wrap the meat in cling film, throw in the onions and let them sit together. The result will definitely be great,” Tony says.
But Tony does not believe in following recipes to the letter, which he says stops one from enjoying the flavours and ingredients they love the most.