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How to grill tasty ‘nyama choma’: A beginner’s guide

Wednesday October 8 2014

Roast meat, or nyama choma as we Kenyans fondly call it, is our official feel-good food.

Roast meat, or nyama choma as we Kenyans fondly call it, is our official feel-good food. PHOTO| FILE 

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Roast meat, or nyama choma as we Kenyans fondly call it, is our official feel-good food.

A party is not a party without our beloved nyama choma.

The other day, I was chatting with my father, who runs a restaurant, and he told me that even after introducing new delicacies, nyama choma is still the number one choice for most patrons at his joint.

Since ‘nyam chom’ is here to stay, I might as well tell you what to do to grill tasty nyama choma.

Whether you will be using charcoal or a gas grill, the following dos and don’ts apply.

 1. Preheat the jiko/grill:


If your grilling mesh is not hot enough, the meat will stick on it.  More importantly, you will never get the beautiful grill-marks or crusty browning that are the trademarks of successful grilling. The grill temperature should be close to 260ºC.

 2. Wear an apron:

Yes, even you, tough guy. Grilling is a messy affair — it will stain or burn your clothes. Also, have a clean cloth on standby to wipe your greasy hands.

 3. Clean the mesh:

A dirty cooking mesh is a beginner’s mistake. The charred meat bits can alter the taste of the meat you are grilling. Second, you will not get the attractive grill marks you hope for. 

 4. Gather the ingredients:

Have everything you need at hand before you get started. You risk overcooking or burning if you leave your meat unattended.

 5. Use two heat zones:

It may sound like a lot of work, but multiple heat zones are worth the effort. First, all grills have hot spots and unpredictable areas, so you can be sure that at some point, something will flare up or cook too fast.

Heat zones are also useful when cooking more than one type of meat at the same time.

They are also important when using indirect heat. To control the heat, I use ash to completely cover the red hot charcoal. This prevents flare-ups during cooking.

 6. Make use of the air vent:

You need the air vent to keep the grill hot (especially the mesh). If using a charcoal grill, keep the grill vent open at least halfway.

 7. Give it space:

We all like our space, and so does your meat. The golden rule is to avoid crowding the grill with meat. Leave at least one quarter of the cooking grates clear and leave plenty of space between the meat. This allows it to cook evenly, and also gives you room to manoeuvre with your tongs or spatula.

 8. Give it time:

Grilled meat should have a deep brown colour and lots of beautifully charred bits.

The challenge is to avoid the temptation to prod, roll, check, and flip the meat. Ideally, the meat should be flipped only once or twice.

For faster cooking, cut your meat into slices that will cook fast, as opposed to whole chunks of meat. This is especially important when grilling mbuzi choma, which needs to cook well.

Do not make the same mistake twice: Take note of what works and what does not, so that you can do a better job next time.


Pineapple marinade for chicken/pork:


  •   1 cup crushed pineapple

  •   1/3 cup soy sauce

  •   1/3 cup honey

  •   1/4 cup cider vinegar

  •   2 cloves garlic, minced

  •   1 teaspoon ginger powder

  •   1/4 teaspoon powdered cloves


Mix all the ingredients and marinate the meat immediately, or store in airtight container for not more than seven days.