Whiskey-Chile Fresh Ham Kebabs

whiskey-pork-kebabsSo, here’s how this works: it’ll be sunny & 70 degrees for a week, I’ll make these fantastic, killer, hella-good whisky & smoked chile-marinated pork kebabs, then on the first grey, drizzly, chilly, raw day, the first day in weeks that you don’t want to grill, I’ll tell you about them. On a Sunday afternoon. When the recipe requires an overnight marinade. Oh, and I’ll include a bunch of ingredients you probably can’t find. Sound good?

All indications to the contrary, I’m not actually trying to piss you off. I had every intention of posting this recipe last week, in the midst of the gorgeous weather and pre-weekend menu planning window. Alas, I was caught up in Very Important Things, like buying a new (to us) car for the husband and designing a birthday party backyard scavenger hunt for ten 9 year-old girls. Life: it often trumps blogging, no?

grillinYou shouldn’t let my poor timing (or this very grey Sunday afternoon) discourage you from making your own attempt at these kebabs, however: they were fantastic. Sweet, spicy, smoky, tender yet crispy and caramelized on the outside (much like I imagine the very best carnitas to be, although I have yet to find such a creature), everything in this recipe worked: the whiskey, the maple syrup, the bright floral Meyer lemon, the fabulous pecan-smoked Hatch-style chiles, even the garlic, fresh ginger and sweet-sour nectarine-ginger vinegar added their notes to the chorus.

Now, I’m not the first person to marinate pork and put it on the grill. Recipes like this sing because of the ingredients you choose and because of the people who take such great care in producing top-quality food: Mike & Jen at Flying Pigs Farm, where I get my fresh ham steaks; Karen at Lemon Ladies who grows the best Meyer lemons in the world; the folks at Tecolote Farm, who smoke Hatch-style red chiles in pecan wood until each chile is like a summer’s worth of campfires distilled into one gloriously spicy package (and Kate, who shares the Texas bounty with her friends!).

I’m grateful to all of these people, and all of the growers & producers in my local foodshed, who help me to eat so very well. And while I know it’s highly unlikely that you can source all of the ingredients to exactly duplicate my recipe, why would you want to? I’m sure you have your own fabulous food producers: use their products and make your own recipe sing.

whiskey-pork-kebabsWhiskey-Chile Fresh Ham Kebabs


  • 2 lbs fresh ham steak, fat trimmed and cut into 2-inch cubes
  • ½ cup whiskey
  • ⅓ cup maple syrup
  • ¼ cup white wine vinegar (I used nectarine-ginger infused vinegar)
  • zest + juice from 1 medium Meyer lemon (or regular lemon)
  • 2 tbsp coarse sea salt
  • 2 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
  • 1 heaped tbsp grated fresh ginger (I used frozen)
  • pecan-smoked red hatch chile (or chipotle pepper), finely chopped, with seeds
  • ½ tsp chipotle flakes
  • large pinch ground cayenne pepper
  • freshly ground black pepper, to taste


  1. Marinate pork. Combine marinade ingredients in a medium bowl. Taste marinade and adjust: acid, sweetness,  spices, etc. Add pork cubes and toss well to coat meat. Cover tightly and refrigerate for at least 8 hours and up to 3 days.
  2. Assemble kebabs. If using bamboo skewers, soak in warm water for at least 30 minutes prior to loading with meat. Push pork cubes onto skewers, leaving about an inch between cubes so the meat browns without steaming. For larger cubes, use two skewers, side-by-side, for ease in turning on the grill. If you like, push some lemon zest, a chile ring or garlic slice onto the skewers as you go.
  3. Prepare grill. Grill heat should be medium-high, such that you can hold your hand above it for a second or two. Wipe or spray grate with oil to prevent sticking. I like to add wood to a natural charcoal fire for maximum smoke-appeal. 
  4. Grill kebabs. Load skewers onto the grill, over direct heat, and, turning frequently, grill until nicely browned on the outside and cooked through (145 degrees F on an instant thermometer), about 5 – 10 minutes, depending upon the heat of your grill. Serve with your choice of vegetable, grain, bread, etc. I served with grilled sweet corn & red onion, tossed with a handful of fresh cilantro. Delicious.

Serves 4.


  1. Please note that the ingredient amounts in the marinade are approximations: I do a lot of tasting, tweaking and tasting again until I land on something I like. Use these amounts as a starting point, then tweak, tweak, tweak to your heart’s content.
  2. If you haven’t had fresh ham before, the meat is similar to a pork chop, although it comes from the rear leg of the pig rather than the loin. Since it is from a leg, the meat can be a bit more tough, as compared to the loin, and works well in applications like this one that call for a long brine to tenderize & infuse with flavor.
  3. If you can’t locate any smoked red Hatch chiles, one or two dried chipotle peppers or a tablespoon or two of chipotle en adobo should do. You might want to add a bit of smoked paprika, and/or choose a smoky whiskey, to amp up the smoked flavor.
  4. I used an inexpensive blended whiskey that someone had given us (Johnnie Walker Red Label, if you’re curious) for the marinade. While I’m sure it would be wonderful with a fabulous Highland single-malt or local favorite, I liken it to making a mimosa with Veuve-Cliquot: I’d rather drink the good stuff.
  5. I made a similar version of this a couple of weeks ago, using beef round instead of pork. The flavor was lovely, but the beef round far too tough for the grill, in my opinion. Nevertheless, this marinade would work nicely with sirloin or ribeye steaks.


Meat kept well, refrigerated in marinade, for 3 days (although it did darken over time). Cooked kabobs will store well, refrigerated, for up to 5 days. I can almost guarantee they won’t last that long.


Grilling season!


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