David Masters ripped through Kent for 107 with a season's-best haul of 6-41 that enabled Essex to enforce the follow-on during an action-packed second day in Canterbury.
The hosts, responding to the battling Essex first innings total of 276 in this LV= County Championship Division Two clash, succumbed inside 209 minutes to concede a first-innings lead of 169.
Batting again by 6pm, Kent at least survived the remaining 10 overs through to stumps to go into the third day on eight without loss for a match deficit of 161.
With heavy cloud cover throughout the day and on a pitch offering a modicum of assistance to the seamers, Chatham-born Masters returned to his old stomping ground to give a virtuoso display of medium-paced bowling.
The 35-year-old, who found first-team opportunities few and far between during his two-year stint with Kent through to 2002, bowled tight line and length to land his third five-wicket haul of the summer.
He had opener Sam Northeast (11) caught in the cordon and then nipped one back through the gate of Rob Key (25) to rearrange his stumps and make it 26-2.
Daniel Bell-Drummond (one) suffered a similar fate then Masters trapped Darren Stevens (nine) leg before to send back four of Kent's top six.
The bustling Graham Napier got in on the act by having Kent's leading scorer this season Brendan Nash (one) caught behind, snaring Geraint Jones (16) leg before and then ripping out the leg stump of Calum Haggett (six) with a nigh-on unplayable in-swinging yorker.
Mark Davies (one) attempted to hit one out of the park against Reece Topley only to lose his middle stump then Masters returned at the Pavilion End to polish off the innings with two wickets in successive balls.
Adam Riley (two) edged behind then last man Charlie Shreck (nought) was pocketed at short leg to leave Kent top-scorer Ben Harmison unbeaten on 30.
Essex had started the day batting on their workmanlike first day total of 186-4 but, in testing conditions, could add only another 90 runs for their last six wickets before finally being dismissed soon after lunch
Having added only a single in 26 minutes to his overnight score Owais Shah walked across his stumps to go leg before to Davies, the pick of Kent's attack with four for 67.
Shah's demise for a season's-best 84 ended a fifth-wicket partnership with Ben Foakes worth 81 in 28.4 overs, but Kent went on to boss the opening session by taking three more wickets.
Foakes worked off his hip against Davies to post a 110-ball 50 with seven fours for his third half-century of this championship season and bring up the Essex 200.
The England Lions right-hander fell soon after, driving hard at a Shreck leg-cutter and edging to second slip to go for 58.
Napier (nine) drove a Stevens slower ball into the hands of substitute fielder Adam Ball at cover and, just before lunch, Masters drove outside one from off-spinner Riley to be bowled.
James Foster guided Essex to a second batting bonus point soon after the interval, but Monty Panesar (six) spooned a catch to cover for Kent's third bowling bonus point then Davies bowled Foster to end the innings for a creditable 276.