At Laser Wolf in Williamsburg, Brooklyn — a Philly import from renowned chef Michael Solomonov — executive chef Andrew Henshaw and his team often talk about the “secret ingredient” that makes their smokey brisket kebabs, creamy baba ganoush, and crispy whole branzino stand out.
“I tell people all of the time, the charcoal is our secret ingredient,” Henshaw says. “Everything that it touches, it just gives it that beautiful, smoky, grilled flavor.”
Henshaw and his team use Marabu charcoal: once an invasive species of wood in Cuba, it’s now an integral part of their kitchen. The burning charcoal sits extremely close to kebabs, eggplants, whole fish, and other meats and vegetables, in order to keep the smoke and the heat insulated.
In the video, executive sous chef Sam Levenfeld demonstrates how the restaurant’s brisket kebab absorbs all of the flavor from the charcoal, while its exterior caramelizes and the interior stays moist and tender. After the meat for the kebab is mixed with spices and aromatic, and shaped onto a metal skewer, Levenfeld places it directly over the coals. As it cooks, the fat from the meat drips down onto the hot coals, creating a plume of gray smoke that gives the kebabs flavor and aroma. “Just blasting these on a gas grill, you’re not going to get the same effect as if you’re just suspending it over the heat and gently cooking it,” says Levenfeld.
Several times in the video, Henshaw acknowledges that cooking meat over fire is an extremely primitive process, and sometimes thought to be harder to do than, say, cooking over controllable temperatures or flame sizes on a modern-day grill. But the menu and the prep work is engineered very intentionally, he says, in order to achieve the flavors and textures of the food Israeli cooks have been creating for thousands of years, in a restaurant setting.
“It’s basically just managing those coals and managing the fire, and as long as it’s a good temperature, your food is going to be amazing.”
Watch the full video to see more smoky dishes being prepped, tested, and completed over burning charcoal at Laser Wolf.