All Fired Up
Q’s Pit master Jeff Kohn dishes on tricks of the trade; shares favorite recipes.
To Kohn, “nothing epitomizes Jamaica like those guys on the side of the road cooking jerk over split drums, all burning charcoal. Just that smell…” he says, dreamily. “And, to me, nothing gives jerk authenticity like charcoal.”
Charcoal? That’s right. At Kohn’s Rye Brook home, which he shares with his wife and business partner, Jennifer, and their two kids, the man known for Q’s massive Southern Pride woodsmoker uses plain ol’ natural lump charcoal. He tucks the coals to the side of his Weber kettle grill and uses only on-the-bone chicken. “It takes longer to cook, but the bones give the chicken flavor and if you pile the coals to one side, with the chicken on the other, you can cook the dark meat until it's perfect without charring the skin,” he says.
And, as a nod to Jamaica’s large Chinese community, he’s including an Asian-spiced skirt steak recipe that blends Jamaican green onions with ginger and soy sauce. To exploit the coal’s remaining heat, Kohn grills up a few fresh pineapple slices, which he whizzes into a black-flecked vinaigrette, destined to pair later with anything from pork to fish. And finally, uncharacteristically stern, Kohn lectures that anyone attempting the recipes, “must drink Red Stripe only.”
Jerk Chicken Serves 6
◆ 3 scallions, roughly chopped
◆ ½ green pepper, roughly chopped
◆ ½ red onion, roughly chopped
◆ 1 small piece of Scotch bonnet pepper (depending on desired amount of heat)s
◆ 6 sprigs fresh thyme
◆ 1 clove garlic
◆ 1 sliver ginger
◆ ¼ cup cane vinegar (available at Caribbean markets)
◆ ½ cup water
◆ salt to taste
◆ 1½ whole chickens (one 3.5-lb chicken, cut into quarters, plus an additional, double, on-the-bone breast. This yields about 5 lbs of chicken)
◆ 2 tablespoons of prepared, store-bought jerk seasoning (Kohn uses Walker’s, Busha Browne’s, or Eaton’s).
Place all the ingredients, except chicken, into a food processor and process until relatively smooth. Wash chicken and pat dry, and place in a non-reactive container (ceramic, glass, plastic, or stainless steel works best). Pour the marinade evenly over chicken, cover with plastic wrap, and refrigerate overnight.
Remove chicken from refrigerator. One hour prior to cooking, add jerk seasoning to the marinade and massage into the chicken.
For Grilling Kohn advises using all-natural lump charcoal, rather than briquettes (or worse, chemically-treated, self-lighting options). He uses a chimney starter and waits until the coals are very hot. He empties the chimney starter onto one side of his Weber kettle grill and, at first, cooks the chicken, skin side down, directly over the heat. When the pieces are well browned (and no jiggly, yellow skin is visible), he moves the pieces to the cool side of the grill. He partially covers the grill, though, and constantly repositions the chicken to promote cooking and prevent scorches. The entire cooking process should take about 40 minutes. The faint of heart can check for doneness with an instant-read thermometer; the USDA advises that internal temperatures should read 165°F for safety.
Just before serving, Kohn cuts the chicken quarters into 10 serving pieces, with each breast (including the additional breasts) split into two.
Asian Spiced Skirt Steak Serves 6
◆ 3 cloves garlic
◆ 2 scallions
◆ 1 piece ginger
◆ ½ cup honey
◆ ½ cup soy sauce
◆ 1 tsp sesame oil
◆ 3 lbs skirt steak
Kohn sources his steaks from Village Prime Meats in Armonk ("I'm a butcher guy! I'm trying to get people away from those evil big box clubs!") He cuts the long, belt-like steaks into square sections, each section’s length determined by the steak’s existing width. What he winds up with are a few 4” x 4” (or 5” x 5”) square steaks.
For Marinade Smash the garlic with the side of knife and finely slice the scallions. Add ginger, honey, soy sauce, and sesame oil, and pour the mixture over the steaks. Allow steaks to marinate, refrigerated overnight.
To Grill Lay hot, ashed-over coals in an even layer in the bottom of a kettle grill. Grill steaks about three minutes per side for medium-rare. When done, remove from heat, and allow steaks to rest under foil for 8-10 minutes. Determine each steak’s grain, then slice ¼-inch slices directly across the grain. Serve warm.
Charred Pineapple Vinaigrette (Yields 2 cups)
◆ ¾ lb fresh pineapple
◆ ½ cup rice wine vinegar
◆ 1 tsp pure vanilla extract
◆ Splash of soy sauce
◆ ½ cup olive oil
◆ Salt and pepper, to taste
Slice the pineapple into rounds, and remove their woody center cores. Brush with olive oil and place over coals until soft and nicely browned (a few charred black spots add “honesty”). Remove from the grill, and set aside. When the pineapple is cool, process until smooth in a food processor with wine vinegar, vanilla extract, and soy sauce. Then, still processing, slowly add olive oil. Add salt and pepper to taste, and reserve. Serve with grilled pork, steak, or fish.
Julia Sexton, a Westchester-based food writer whose work has appeared in the New York Times and The Boston Globe (and whose CRMA Award-winning Eater blog appears at westchestermagazine.com), is a rain or shine grill enthusiast. She uses her humble Weber kettle grill for everything from pizza to woodsmoked pulled pork—much to the dismay of her coughing, teary-eyed neighbors.
Photography by Traci Byers