Where there is smoke, there is Fat Freaky
Story and photos by Robin Elisabeth Kilmer
The smoke signals start early in the morning.
The message reads: Meat. Here. Now.
The hungry come from Connecticut, upstate New York, Brooklyn, and New Jersey.
They all make their way to 237th Street and Bronx Boulevard, otherwise known as Fat Freaky’s corner.
Fat Freaky’s given name is Kassiem Robinson, but Fat Freaky is more fitting in light of Robinson’s trade as a purveyor of tender meat, sizzled and smoked right on the street.
The job blurs the line between work and play.
“I’m out in the sunshine, being with the people,” he said as he sprinkled seasoning on a batch of chicken legs that were headed into the smoker. “Every day is different.”
But many of the faces are the same—regulars who greet each other by name and stop by for a chat.
His smoker is the size of a miniature submarine.
And among regulars at Fat Freaky’s corner, who call themselves the Chicken Groupies, there are murmurs that the thing may have been used in exotic waters.
But it is, actually, merely a refurbished propane tank.
Robinson, whose family is from Maryland, took six weeks to customize the tank, also from Maryland, into a smoker that looks large enough to fit a horse.
Tending it is like tending a dragon, and Robinson is constantly enshrouded in smoke—and sometimes his apron is touched by a bit of gristle.
All of it helps build his legend as Fat Freaky.
“One of the first things I do every morning is decide which clothes I want to mess up,” said Robinson, which a chuckle.
Robinson, who caters, used the smoker primarily for catering clients, until two years ago. The smoker needed repairs, so Robinson took it to a local chop shop.
“The guy said he couldn’t do anything until he returned from his lunch break. So I said, ‘Alright, I’ll make you lunch.’”
Robinson made the man and his workers lunch on the corner of 237th and Bronx Boulevard, where his smoker was then parked. Envious passerby also wanted to be fed, and an entrepreneurial light bulb went off in Robinson’s head.
“I thought, well, I might as well sell some chicken,” recalled Robinson. And so he did.
Robinson swears at least 70 people dropped by that first impromptu barbecue.
His biggest sellers are the jerk chicken and pulled pork, but Robinson will also prepare jerk ribs, turkey wings and beef. Other food groups find their way into the mix as well, and green beans, rice, and mixed vegetables are popular menu items. Sometimes Robinson attaches propane burners to the back of the smoker, and he boils and fries mussels, clams and crabs.
But his mainstay dishes are pork and chicken.
Robinson estimates that he goes through 130 chickens and 30 pork shoulders a week.
He is on the corner Tuesday through Friday, starting at 8 a.m. until the chicken runs out, usually around 8 p.m.
Familiar faces drive by the Fat Freaky’s corner for their dinner. They lean out their car window, and many speak in Jamaican lilts.
Robinson says his jerk chicken comes with an American twist. In his rub he uses sugar and cinnamon, two ingredients not normally used in a Jamaican jerk chicken. This variation seems to have been met with approval.
“I have quite a following,” said Robinson. “People wonder how I’m not Jamaican.”
Allison de la Rosa and Annette Pollack, two of Fat Freaky’s faithful, sat arranged on giant coolers as they ate their jerk chicken. De la Rosa lives nearby, and eats at Fat Freaky’s corner at least three times a week. Pollack was visiting from Harlem.
“We like the atmosphere; it’s very easy-going. I mean, who doesn’t like a good barbeque? And you don’t have to wait or an invite,” she said as she finished off her chicken and green beans.
A man who went by Gee G. came all the way from Elmira, New York.
“It is bite-your-lips good,” he said, sucking each finger for emphasis.
Fat Freaky is on the corner of 237th Street and Bronx Boulevard, from Tuesday to Friday, starting at 8 a.m.
Robinson regularly posts the daily fare on Instagram, under Cookmaster. He can also be reached for catering services at firstname.lastname@example.org.