Shish kebabs are often considered a Middle Eastern restaurant dish. But making them at home is so easy, it's a wonder they're not a mainstay. The versatile beauty of a kebab allows you to use any combination of meat, seafood, fruit, and vegetables to please any palate. Plus, combining vegetables and meat, or seafood on a stick, gives you a protein-packed Paleo meal (for those who are watching their carbs). Prepare them ahead of time for your next barbeque so you can stay out of the kitchen and enjoy your guests instead. And incorporate different combinations of food and marinades for the perfect signature crowd-pleaser.
An International Food
In Turkey, the words "shish kebab," "kebab," or "kebap" refer to "meat threaded on a skewer, and then grilled." This delectable barbeque favorite originated when Turkish soldiers had to cook over an open fire while in the field. Stateside, "kebab" almost always refers to meat and vegetables on a stick. (In Turkey, though, they don't kebab veggies.) And to Europeans, a "kebab," or "doner," consists of shaved meat in a pita-like pocket or tortilla.
Selecting and Preparing Your Fixings
Steak and chicken work best for meat kebabs and pair well with a variety of marinades. Choose a firm-textured fish, like salmon, tuna, mahi-mahi, or swordfish, as they hold up well on a stick. You can also grill whole shrimp but do so on their own since they cook in mere minutes.
Wash all meat and seafood thoroughly, and then pat them dry before marinating and skewering. Next, cut your meat in 1- to 2-inch cubes, taking care to keep proportions similar for quick and even cooking. You can certainly alternate your meat with vegetables on a shish kebab. But true purists like to keep the meat, seafood, and produce separate to assure that each is cooked to perfection. For example, veggies cook fast, whereas steak takes much longer. For tubers like beets and new potatoes, parboil them first, before skewering, to achieve a roasted and crunchy outer layer and a soft and flavorful middle.
Grilled meats benefit—in both the flavor and tenderness department—from a marinade. Anything mildly acidic, like a vinaigrette, orange juice, or alcohol, will help infiltrate the meat, adding both taste and tenderness to your dish. To dress your kebabs, add both your marinade and your cubed meat to a plastic Ziploc bag. Be sure to remove most of the air before sealing so that the contents are covered completely. Marinate for at least 30 minutes in the refrigerator, turning the bag often. Marinating your meat overnight yields an even better, more tender, result. Once you're ready to grill, just remove your meat and skewer it onto a kebab.
Kebabs can be grilled, broiled, or baked, but grilling provides the easiest cleanup and also gives you those nice grill marks that help seal in flavor. Before grilling, spray your grill grates with an olive oil spray or brush on a high-temperature oil of your choice. Place your kebabs on the grill thoughtfully, maintaining enough room in between each skewer to allow the heat to circulate around them. Remember, fatty meats should be cooked at a higher temperature, whereas leaner meats need a longer cook time on a lower flame. Prepare for this ahead of time if you're cooking a plethora of different items and plan accordingly. Turn the kebabs often for even cooking and make sure to pull seafood when it's just done and not falling off the stick.