Whether you call them shish kabobs or kebabs, these flavor-packed skewers are a fun way to make a memorable meal. Knowing what types of ingredients to pair together is just one of several preparation tips that can elevate your kabobs from good to great. Once you have the basics down, start experimenting with different ingredients, marinades and seasonings to create your own spin on this dish.
Selecting a Skewer
No matter what you're building, it all starts with a sturdy foundation. In this case, the foundation of any good kabob is the skewer. Kabobs typically are assembled on one of the following types of skewers:
Metal skewers: These washable, reusable skewers withstand the high heat of the grill. You may be able to find flat skewers similar to those Middle Eastern kabob grillers prefer because of the skewers' increased stability. One word of caution when using metal skewers: They tend to retain heat, making them difficult to handle when they're fresh off the grill.
Use two skewers for each kabob to help keep the ingredients flat on the cooking surface while making it easier to flip the kabobs without the food spinning on the skewers.
Wooden or bamboo skewers: These relatively inexpensive, disposable skewers are a good option when you're serving people with kabobs that come right off the grill since the wood won't burn your fingertips. Whether you soak the skewers before assembling the kabobs or not, expect the skewers to char on the ends after being exposed to the heat of the grill.
Selecting the Ingredients
In theory, you could put just about any meat, vegetable or fruit on a skewer and call it a kabob. But to make a truly flavorful kabob that maximizes the optimal texture of ingredients, you need to select the right ones to thread onto that skewer.
Kabobs cook fairly quickly so stick with meats that remain tender and flavorful when they're exposed to high heat. For example, while beef tenderloin has the succulent texture you crave, it tends to be pricey and lacks flavor. Beef chuck has tons of flavor but tends to be tough unless it's cooked slowly. Food blog serious eats recommends the following cuts of meat for well-balanced flavor and tender texture:
- Beef sirloin or sirloin tip
- Pork shoulder or boneless pork chops
- Boneless chicken thighs
- Leg of lamb, trimmed free of connective tissue and silver skin
Fish cooks quickly, making it a good choice for this fast, high-heat cooking method. However, delicate fish typically falls apart on the skewer. For optimal results, select the following types of seafood:
- Firm-fleshed fish such as tuna, halibut or swordfish
The hearty texture of tempeh holds up well to being skewered and benefits from the flavor boost the grill provides. Tofu is another protein-packed meatless option, but it's important to select extra-firm tofu so it doesn't fall apart on the grill.
Drain tofu and press it on a towel-lined plate to remove as much moisture as possible, which helps the tofu absorb a marinade more efficiently and gives it a firmer texture.
When you're choosing vegetables to include, keep in mind the amount of time the veggies need to cook and the overall flavor profile. Pair quick-cooking vegetables such as asparagus and cherry tomatoes with other quick-cooking ingredients such as fish or shellfish. Some heartier veggies such as potatoes and corn may need to be partially cooked in the microwave or by boiling them ahead of time to make sure they're fully cooked by the time the rest of the kabob ingredients are done. Some commonly used veggies include:
- Bell peppers
- Yellow squash
Other Ingredient Ideas
Other flavor-enhancing ingredients that can be threaded onto your skewers include fruits such as pineapple and peaches, pickled vegetables such as giardiniera or peperoncini, and herbs such as kaffir lime and basil.
Prepping the Kabobs
Cut all of the kabob ingredients into uniform-sized pieces to encourage everything to cook at a similar rate. Marinate the meat for at least one hour or overnight in the refrigerator. Make a flavorful marinade by combining aromatics such as garlic and onion along with some olive oil, vinegar or citrus juice, fresh herbs and salt and pepper. Toss the veggies with a little oil to help prevent sticking before assembling the skewers. Alternate ingredients as desired.
Cooking Shish Kabobs
Fire up the grill to medium-high and clean the grates before adding a light coating of oil or cooking spray. Place the kabobs on the grill and cook them for approximately two to six minutes per side until the vegetables are tender and the meat or seafood is fully cooked.
Alternatively, you can roast your kabobs in the oven for approximately 30 minutes at 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Another way to cook them is under the broiler with the broiler pan placed approximately 6 inches from the heating element.