Hidden Gems: Manchester’s best jerk is coming out of a nursery kitchen in Hulme (sort of)

Knights BBQ is fast becoming the stuff of legend...

By Ben Arnold | 4 June 2024

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“Growing up, we were the house on the estate where you knew, even if you weren’t part of the household, you’d be getting a plate of food,” says Rakeem Knight, owner and founder of Knights BBQ in Hulme. “You were guaranteed. No one got left out.”

He was the very last baby to be born in the Bullring, part of the famous – at times infamous – Hulme Crescents estate. Rakeem’s mum cooked, just like his grandparents did before that. Part of the Windrush generation, they arrived in the UK from Jamaica in the years after World War II.

“That was their passion, cooking,” he says. “My dad’s dad, George, he had a taxi business, but there was also a food shop in the taxi base.”

Running a taxi business in Moss Side was a strange contradiction in the late 80s and 90s, because, due to the area’s reputation, most taxi drivers would neither pick up nor drop off anywhere near it.

“If I told you some of the stories of the taxi men, and what they went through in Moss Side, you be like ‘no wonder no one was driving taxis there’!” laughs Rakeem. Though it was probably no laughing matter at the time.

As well as a passion for food, George, who now lives back in Jamaica, also taught Rakeem to weld, and it’s thanks to him that he mnow has his own custom barbecue drum that he uses at Knights, the business he started three years ago, and which some claim to be serving up the best Caribbean food in Manchester.

It’s no normal drum. It’s enormous. When it’s full, it can be cooking 600 pieces of chicken at once. The curry goat he makes now is actually Yvette Rose, his grandma’s curry goat.

“The secret to a great curry goat is making sure your meat is well marinated, and I mean hours before,” Rakeem says. “I go for 12 to 16 hours, marinating the night before for the next day. Once you start cooking it off, it can lose the flavour. When you know it’s properly marinated, you know it’s not going to lose the flavour.

“It ties it in. Locks it inside. We make our own curry seasoning. It’s not a secret as such, just more about what you use more or less of. Allspice pimento, cloves, nutmeg. You should always have a pinch of nutmeg with goat. Onions, peppers, scallions, add in a couple of potatoes to thicken it.”

Knights opened up with a bit of a false start. Signing his lease just as the country went into lockdown, he couldn’t even buy supplies for the first few months. It wasn’t until catering businesses were allowed to start opening up again that he could get going. 

Rakeem left school with the intention of joining the fire service (his dad had also trained to be a fireman) but after completing his qualifications he found that recruiting had dropped significantly. So he had to think again, taking up the catering training he’d learned as a secondary subject in college alongside fire and rescue instead.

It was catering jobs first and hotel kitchens before eventually moving into childcare catering, cooking for nurseries.

In fact, he still cooks for the Bright Eyes Nursery next door to Knights BBQ in Hulme, so along with the usual fair you might expect, the toddlers are also getting some proper West Indian home cooking too, and some of the best in the city too.

“Oh yeah, the kids get the jerk chicken, Caribbean lentil stews, bits and bobs like cauliflower wings, plantain, dumplings…”

The secret is that Rakeem takes his time. “People sometimes say, ‘why does it take so long for your food?’ I low cook. I could cook it fast, but you won’t get the flavour, the smoke. Cooking at low temperatures allows all the smoke, the flavours to sink into the meat, and become one.”

Now he’s got loads of signatures. The calalloo dumplings, the ‘cook down’ chicken stew, pulled BBQ beef and their famous chicken splits. It’s a fried dumpling stuffed with fried chicken and salad cream, the stuff of cardiologist’s nightmares, but the dreams of others.

“It’s been my dream since I left school to open my own place,” Rakeem says. Well, now we dream about it too.

Knights BBQ, open 12pm-8pm, Thurs-Sat, 12.30pm-6.30pm Sunday
Clarendon St, Manchester M15 5LA