What Are the Spices in Shish Kebab?


A shish kebab is simply marinated meat and/or vegetables cooked on a skewer. No cuisine can claim kebabs -- you'll find them with Greek, Middle Eastern, Asian and American spices.

Middle Eastern Flavors

You'll commonly find kebabs on Middle Eastern menus.

  • Moroccan kebabs, called kefta, composed of ground beef or lamb are seasoned with cumin, cinnamon, parsley and garlic.
  • Lemon juice, garlic and allspice, along with a few threads of saffron and olive oil, make a Middle Eastern-flavored marinade for chunks of lamb. 
  • Coriander, paprika and cayenne also infuse kebabs of lamb or chicken with a Middle Eastern flair. 

Asian Kebabs

The robust flavors of Thai, Korean and Indonesian cuisine, as well as the more subtle flavors of Japanese cooking, work well with grilled chicken, pork and beef.

  • Make kebabs with Thai-flavored pork meatballs. Mix ground pork with chopped mint, cilantro and basil as well as crushed hot chilies, fish sauce and lime juice. 
  • Korean barbecue can be an inspiration for kebab seasoning; use sugar, rice wine vinegar, sesame oil, soy sauce and garlic cloves for the marinade.
  • Bottled teriyaki sauce makes for a quick marinade for yakitori, classically made from chicken, but you can also use pork, beef, or shrimp.
  • Satay, which hails from Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand, involves grilling meat on skewers and topping them with a peanut sauce, composed primarily of peanut butter, coconut milk and kecap manis, a sweet soy sauce. Chicken is commonly used, but beef, pork and shrimp are also possible meats to use. The meat is often marinated first in a mixture of lemon grass, coriander seeds, ginger, garlic, soy sauce and kaffir lime leaves. 

Tex-Mex Spice

Kebabs made of chicken or beef take on a Latin flavor when spiced with cumin, chili powder and garlic powder. Grill with poblano peppers and cherry tomatoes. Barbecue sauce blended with a splash of orange juice and minced chipotles in adobo spice chicken, pork or beef.

True American

American flavors on chicken, steak or salmon include dried herbs such as thyme and rosemary.

  • Fresh dill complements salmon, with its more delicate flavors.  
  • Dust chicken or pork cubes with Cajun seasoning before grilling. 
  • A combination of Worcestershire sauce, soy sauce, olive oil fresh parsley and thyme seasons steak kebabs. 

Veggie Only

A simple marinade of dried thyme, rosemary and oregano with olive oil, red wine vinegar and minced garlic brings out the flavor of hearty, grill-able vegetables, such as summer squash, eggplant and mushrooms. Curry powder, olive oil and salt is a tasty combination for cauliflower or eggplant.

Greek Style

Greek flavors are a natural for grilled lamb and seafood.

  • Make lamb kebabs with Greek seasonings, such as fresh or dried rosemary with lemon juice, garlic and olive oil. 
  • Shrimp, marinated with olive oil, marjoram, dill and garlic marries with cherry tomatoes; top the cooked kebabs with crumbled feta more Mediterranean taste. 
  • Swordfish, another meaty fish that will hold up to the grill, can be made into kebabs seasoned with lemon juice, parsley, salt and pepper.

Making Kebabs

All shish kebabs, no matter how they're seasoned, are prepared essentially the same way.

Step 1

Cut the meat and vegetables into pieces of relatively uniform size. This ensures they will all cook at close to the same rate. Marinate meat and chicken for several hours, fish for 30 minutes or simply season the items to skewer. Alternatively, form ground meat into about 2-inch diameter meatballs.

Step 2

Thread the ingredients onto skewers -- metal or wooden. Alternate meat and vegetables randomly or in a pattern.


  • Soak wooden skewers in water for at least 20 minutes before using, otherwise they'll catch fire.

Step 3

Heat the grill or a broiler to high heat.

Step 4

Cook the meat for 5 to 15 minutes, depending on whether you're using beef, chicken, pork, lamb, ground meat or fish. Fish and chicken take less time to cook than red meats.

Step 5

Remove from the heat and let red meat rest for 3 to 5 minutes to allow the juices to settle. Serve along with a creamy sauce, side salad or rice.

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