The story behind the Kudu Grill is as interesting as the grill is versatile. The product of a love affair between a man from Georgia and a woman from South Africa, the Kudu is at once multi-cultural and universal.
Kudu refers to itself as “The Open Fire Company.” This name reflects the cooking system’s versatility—it can grill, sear, fry, boil, roast, saute and smoke over the same open fire.
The system can also be used as a fire pit. It’s also fully portable and can be packed into its carrying case that can fit in your car.
While you might not be surprised by the Kudu finding its way into hunting camps and onto fishing docks, but how about setting it up in a river—cooking burgers six inches above flowing water. How about in the kitchens of chefs who appear on Top Chef and win best restaurant in America from USA Today?
In a world where the term “grill” is increasingly used to describe things that cook with propane or tablets of particle board, the Kudu is something different. The draw of being around—and cooking things on top of—fire appeals to everyone from super high-end chefs (like Top Chef’s Chef Jamie Lynch or James Beard Award winner Chef Ashley Christiansen) to fishermen, hunters and lots of other people too.
How The Kudu Came to Be
Stebin Horne is an interesting, down to earth guy. Born and raised in Macon, Georgia, Horne grew up hunting, fishing and grilling out.
Upon graduating from the University of Georgia, Horne attended Mercer Law School. After practicing real estate law for a period of time, Horne began working in medical acquisitions in Atlanta.
It was there that Horne met Roos-Maryn—an Afrikaans woman from South Africa who he would one day marry. At the time, Roos-Maryn was planning to return to South Africa to spend time with her family.
As any good participant in a love story would, Stebin claims to have “chased her to South Africa.” Horne wound up living there for six months—getting to know Roos-Maryn’s family and culture in the process.
While any immersion in another country is likely to broaden one’s perspective, Horne’s experience in South Africa would prove particularly fateful. The Kudu is a direct result of the experience.
The Braai: African TV
Roos-Maryn’s brother, Danie Opperman, owns a farm near South Africa’s Indian Ocean. On a visit to the farm, Opperman brought out an old, rusted plow disc equipped with a metal ring inside of it.
As he was loading it with charcoal, Horne asked, “What is that?” Danie replied, “It’s the African TV. I’m going to light it and we’re going to watch it for hours…”
“And that’s exactly what happened. We cooked on it for hours. All of the kids came to check it out. It was great… you didn’t have to bend down to cook. The pit was shallow and you could watch all of the food cook,” Horne recalls.
This was Stebin Horne’s first introduction to the South African Braai (the term for the nation’s tradition of barbecue). In terms of perspective and career trajectory, it would prove transformative. As it turns out, the braai not only brought Roos-Maryn, Horne and company together that night, but is a force for unity in South Africa.
Grilling Over Fire: A Force for Good
“South Africa has a unique heritage. In many ways, it has a divisive history. The nation has 11 official languages,” Horne explains. South Africa’s tumultuous history sometimes manifests itself in division between groups of its people.
“South Africa has a National Heritage Day. It’s a way to bring people together… It’s also referred to as Braai Day. People from all different backgrounds come together to barbecue and enjoy food together,” Horne explains. “Nothing brings people together quite like fire and food. The braai showcases commonality among people.”
During Horne’s time in South Africa he experienced the culture’s hospitality, openness and zest for life. Not only was the braai an integral component of all of this, South African barbecue tradition encapsulates it better than perhaps anything else.
“I wanted to bring this back to the States,” Horne recalls. This was the inspiration for the Kudu Grilling System. He launched the brand in 2015.
The Resonance of Universal, Historic Truth
Describing cooking food over fire as a piece of the human experience is not just marketing talk. It rings true far beyond the boundaries of present-day South Africa. It also resonates historically.
Don’t believe it? Consider the following:
- There are piles of Biblical references to killing a fat calf when honored guests come to town. Once the calf was butchered, they didn’t bake the thing… and nobody cooked it with sawdust pills either.
- Texan barbecue traditions evolved from cooking large pieces of beef to feed family and friends. Smoking briskets takes many hours—long enough to drink six or seven Shiner Beers and catch up with all of the people you care about.
- Carolina barbecue involves cooking whole hogs over coals. The benefits of a pig picking in this part of the world go waaaaay beyond the wonderful food that results.
Many places in the world have similar barbecue traditions—Brazil, Argentina, Mexico… Kansas City… hunting and fishing camps. The story is always the same.
Fire exists not only as a focal point for cooking but as an affirmation of culture. The food is just a part of what makes the experience. This bears true for people from a variety of cultural backgrounds, across age and time.
It’s certainly true around my house. My little girls have been chewing in ribs since before they could walk; why? Because their Old Man is from Texas.
The Kudu from a Chef’s Perspective
It’s not just fishermen and outdoorsmen who enjoy the Kudu either.
Chef Jamie Lynch
“What I love most about the Kudu is that you can control the food—instead of controlling the fire. The system gives you the ability to position the food around the fire, depending on what you are cooking,” says Chef Jamie Lynch. “That’s what makes it top of the line for open fire cooking systems.”
What’s your favorite thing to cook on the Kudu?
“What’s my favorite thing to cook on the Kudu? That’s a great question… I cook everything on it,” he says. “I really like vegetables. I’ll use the grate attachment—placed really high over rocking hot coals—and cover them with the smoker lid. I cook all kinds of vegetables this way… onions, sweet potatoes—all of them. I whole roast cauliflower—with garlic oil, salt and pepper… Cabbages are amazing. It also makes amazing broccoli.”
Chef Lynch also likes using the cast iron attachment to make Indian dishes. “I’ll sear chicken over flames and create Indian stews that are almost like chicken masala. The Kudu gives imparts an almost tandoori oven effect.”
Oh, and by the way, Jamie Lynch is no ordinary chef. He is something of a titan in the culinary world.
Chef/Partner in the 5th Street Group, Lynch’s holdings include 5Church Restaurants in Charlotte and Charleston, Sophia’s Lounge (Charlotte), and Tempest. Tempest, a culinary concept that features local, sustainable South Atlantic seafood prepared in a charcoal oven, was awarded the Best New Restaurant in the US by USA Today in 2020. Lynch was also featured on season 14 of Top Chef and season 17, Top Chef All Stars.
Chef Ashley Christensen
Chef Ashley Christensen is a titan of the culinary world who is passionate about grilling over fire. An award-winning chef and restaurateur, Christensen’s holdings include five restaurants in Raleigh, North Carolina.
“I’m an avid griller. One of our restaurants, Death and Taxes, features wood fired grills. At home I have several grills– a wood fired pizza oven, a couple of ceramic cookers and a Kudu,” Christensen begins. “What’s unique about the Kudu is its mobility and it’s flexibility. For something that is so lightweight and easy to move, it is a fierce set up. You can do all kinds of things with it—the rotisserie set up is amazing.”
“I have always loved to grill. I went to Uruguay with a group of chefs 10 years ago and fell in love with cooking over embers and coals on the ground. What struck me about it was the ability to adjust the placement of the food with tools while holding it over the fire,” Chef Ashley relates. “With the Kudu, the neat thing is that you can do the same thing—using custom tools, wherever you go. You can set it up in a field. The Kudu is an accessible and dynamic system that can cook anywhere.”
“The Kudu is more about keeping the coals alive than about maintaining the thermal environment. You can set it up quickly and pack it up quickly too. That is really good for the events that I work,” she explains.
For more on Chef Ashley Christensen, you can pick up her second cook book—coming this spring, or check out her website—AC-restaurants.com. Christensen won the James Beard Award for the Best Chef in the Southeast in 2014, has appeared on Iron Chef America and been in featured in such publications as Bon Appétit, Gourmet, The New York Times, Southern Living, Wall Street Journal, and Garden & Gun.
What Makes the Kudu Grill Such a Cool Deal
For hunters and fishermen, part of what makes the Kudu such a fascinating system is the connection between two common patterns of thought.
Thought 1 occurs when you see the creature you are after: “Let’s catch it…”
Thought 2 occurs as soon as you are successful: “Let’s grill it & eat it…”
Grilling things over fire seems to be the logical culmination to a series of events that has been part of humanity since we lived in caves.
The other part of what makes the Kudu so fascinating is that you can bring it with you and set it up wherever you go. This is not the case with most grills these days—many of which cost more than I paid for my first truck—and weigh a whole lot.
“My wife is quite the adventurer. She said that she’ll travel with me anywhere in the world, but she needs good food and good wine,” says Stebin Horne with a bit of a laugh. “The Kudu is perfect for that.”
Packable, portable and easy to set up, these are just a few of the reasons you’re likely to see more and more Kudus not only on the docks and in hunting camps, but in backyards and yes, at food and wine festivals and in the kitchens of some of the brightest stars in the culinary universe.