Kenyan Brown Pilau On Charcoal Jiko

Kenyan Brown Pilau On Charcoal Jiko

Pilau! pilau! Is any Kenyan gathering complete without it on the menu? Especially brown pilau that’s been cooked on a charcoal jiko? I think not!! I have received so many requests for this fantastic recipe and I thought that it was about time I heeded to my readers’ wish.

What I love about this recipe:

  1. First there’s the absolutely awesome, awesome aroma. You know, the one that just announces “it’s me, pilau”  😛 The flavour is normally so intense because I use my homemade pilau masala mix. Extremely potent stuff, store bought cannot hold a candle to my mix. I will be sharing the pilau masala mix in my next post, so please stay tuned.
  2. Second thing I love about my brown Kenyan pilau is, well, its beautiful brown colour. I do not use any artificial food colour to achieve this effect, I will be explaining about all this later on in this post, so keep reading.
  3. The third reason why I love this brown Kenyan pilau cooked on the charcoal jiko is its unique smokey flavour. It’s literally to die for. I think everyone should attempt to make it this way, at least once in their lifetime.Kenyan Brown Pilau On Charcoal Jiko

So what’s the secret to having brown pilau?

Onions, lots of them. Slice them into medium sizes. Then, sautee them over medium heat in vegetable oil until they attain a very deep brown colour. The only caution that you have to exercise is to ensure that they do not burn. Burnt onions are the worst! The pilau will have an extremely bitter taste.

For medium coloured pilau let the onions cook to a medium  shade of brown.

Some people fry their onions together with grated carrots in order to intensify the final brown colour. Personally, I don’t do it, although I have seen it done with very successful outcomes. I just mentioned it because it might help someone out.

How to prevent the pilau from forming a very thick burnt layer:

Most important; always cook the pilau over medium heat, do not let the charcoal flame up. Let this be your take away from all this.

I used to struggle with “pilau ugali” when I started learning how to make pilau, many years ago. After many ups and downs, a friend of mine gave me a solution that worked like magic and has continued to work until today. I stand by this method 100%.

So this is what I do to avoid burnt “pilau ugali”. Once I finish mixing the rice and the pilau sauce I allow it to come to a gentle simmer and then leave it to simmer uncovered until almost all the liquid has evaporated. At this point I cover and remove the sufuria from the jiko.Kenyan Brown Pilau On Charcoal Jiko

Scoop out almost all the charcoal and place it on the sufuria lid. The few pieces left behind will be enough to help dry out the pilau without burning the bottom too much.

Return the sufuria back on the jiko and let the pilau cook for ten to fifteen minutes undisturbed. Afterwards, I remove the sufuria from the jiko and leave it to rest (still undisturbed) for about ten – fifteen minutes. Please note that the charcoal is still on top of the sufuria lid.Kenyan Brown Pilau On Charcoal Jiko

The rice to water ratio is very important. The rice is always measured in volume not weight. So for each glass or cup of rice measure twice the amount of water using same cup.

After all these steps, lift the sufuria lid carefully and fluff up your pilau. Best results ever!! The pilau will not be “ugali”, that is clumped together.

Detailed pilau video:

I have demonstrated all what I’ve spoken about so far in this video, so please watch it, or you could just jump right to the printable recipe below.


Kenyan Brown Pilau On Charcoal Jiko
Kenyan Brown Pilau Cooked on Charcoal Jiko
Prep Time
10 mins
Cook Time
1 hr
Total Time
1 hr 10 mins

The secret to Kenyan brown pilau, which, is a very popular dish in any gathering is in how far you are willing to brown your onions without burning, as you sautee them. The darker the onions the darker your pilau. Pilau is an aromatic rice dish that is cooked in fragrant spices of  cumin, cardamon, cloves, cinnamon, star anise, fenugreek seeds, black pepper, etc as well as fried onions, garlic, ginger.

Course: Main Course
Cuisine: Kenyan
Serves: 6 people
Author: Kalyonge Agnes
  • 1/3 Cup (80 ml) Sunflower oil - or any oil of your choice
  • 1 Large onion - finely sliced
  • 3 tsp Desiccated coconut - heap the teaspoons
  • 1 tsp Homemade pilau masala mix - you can use store bought
  • 1 tsp Ginger paste
  • 1 tsp Garlic paste
  • 1/2 Kg Boiled beef - you can use any meat of your choice
  • 1/2 tsp Turmeric powder
  • Salt to taste
  • 1 tsp Tomato paste
  • 2.5 Glasses basmati rice
  • 5 Glasses beef stock - you could use water / chicken stock / vegetable stock
  • 2 Beef cubes - optional
  • 1/2 tsp Cardamom powder - optional
  1. Heat oil in a sufuria then add onions along with some salt and desiccated coconut, then, sautee until onions turn a very deep shade of brown without burning.

  2. Add ginger and garlic paste and cook for a minute.

  3. Pour in the puree of two large tomatoes along with the beef, turmeric powder and salt to taste. Mix and cover the sufuria for the contents to simmer for about five minutes.

  4. Clear some space in the sufuria, add 1 tsp tomato paste, leave it to cook for three minutes and then mix it into the meat.

  5. Add the rice, mix it in before pouring in the beef stock. Stir to ensure everything is well mixed together.

  6. Add the beef cubes and cardamom powder.

  7. Leave the pilau to simmer uncovered until almost all the liquid has evaporated and then cover.

  8. Remove sufuria from charcoal jiko, scoop out almost all the charcoal and place it on sufuria lid. 

  9. Return the sufuria back on the jiko and leave the pilau to cook for ten minutes undisturbed, then, remove it from the jiko and set it aside.

  10. Allow the pilau to stand undisturbed while the charcoal is still on the lid for about fifteen minutes. 

  11. Uncover and fluff up pilau with a fork.

  12. Serve with kachumbari or any condiment of your choice.

Recipe Notes
  1. Please note that the amount of rice given is in volume and not weight. Regardless of the cup or glass used for measuring, add twice the amount of liquid to the rice. If you find yourself draining off some of the liquid then you've used too much water and vice versa.
  2. It's important to wash your rice to get rid of the starch which will cause the pilau to stick together.
  3. Basmati rice will produce the best flavour, although, other long grain types of rice will do.
  4. If you want a vegetarian option then you could use boiled beans, chick peas, etc.


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