e’ve all fallen victim to the check-out line impulse buy, that thing we didn’t know we needed until it was staring us in the face: Mounds bar, Us Weekly, mini eyeglass repair kit. As I was leaving the Charleston Wine + Food Festival, I spied chef Kevin Gillespie of Gunshow slinging hash over sizzling coals. He was dishing up thick slices of pork roll, but what stopped me in my tracks was the sharpest-looking grill I’ve ever laid eyes on. Sleek legs, three levels of powder-coated steel, and open fire: Gillespie’s own KUDU Safari Braai. Fifteen minutes later (and $700 dollars lighter), I was loading one into my car.
I won’t lie—a hint of buyer’s remorse hit as I cruised back home along I-95. But then I fired up the grill. Look, I’m no pitmaster, but I’ve read Steven Raichlen’s Barbecue Bible, manned the spit at Lambstock, ladled pozole out of a Cowboy Cauldron, shadowed American Grilled’s David Guas, and logged flight time on a pair of Big Green Eggs. But nothing has made me stop, drop and coallike the KUDU.
The KUDU’s three cooking surfaces give you all the temperature control a grillmaster could ever want. Each surface is adjustable horizontally and vertically; toast buns up top while cheese melts on burgers down below, or rotate one surface away from heat entirely and turn it into a mini prep station. I’ve made crisp-on-the-bottom paella in the KUDU’s cast iron pan while simmering a pot of stock directly on the coals. I’ve also cooked two pizzas at once, using that same pan plus a pizza stone. And while vertical grill grates might be narrow enough for hot dogs, but spell doom for asparagus, the diamond pattern grate cooks veggies without sacrificing a single Brussels sprout to gravity.
It grills, sautées, sears, fries, boils, smokes, and steams (often doing several at the same time). This versatility is highly intentional—Gillespie was set to pursue a degree in nuclear engineering at MIT before becoming a chef, and it shows. He and KUDU founder Stebin Horne have staked out a sweet spot between culinary smarts and lifestyle design. Sure, there are other major league grilling systems–check out the Iron Chef-worthy Sean Brock line from Grills by Demant–but my backyard isn’t exactly an al fresco kitchen arena. Can’t I be a charcoal hero without a Rube Goldberg machine?
Inspired by the South African braai tradition of gathering around fire to cook meat together, the KUDU’s nickname is “the African TV,” said Horne. “Once you turn it on, everyone watches the fire and food for hours.” When the Georgia-raised Horne courted his South African wife, he traveled there and fell in love with the culture of communal braais. While most companies devote R&D dollars solely to hotter/faster/longer, KUDU sweats over the ethos of grilling: the people. “KUDU is on a mission to destroy the term: ‘manning the grill,’” said Horne. “Why should anyone be relegated to corner by while the party is taking place elsewhere?”
A few weeks ago, I did the guy thing and hunted and gathered some serious goodies from the farmer’s market. My money-smart wife was a little concerned about $40 pork chops on my $700 grill—and then she tasted that properly-charred flesh and buttery rendered fat. By my count, there’s at least two months of prime grilling time left. Don’t let them go to waste.