It's said that long ago horsemen rode west from the plains of central Asia. When night fell they would climb down from their horses, light large fires and skewer meat onto the ends of their swords to cook. Over time, this simple form of cooking grew into the Shish Kebab. If the thought of marinated lamb, skewered with vegetables and roasted over an open fire doesn't make your mouth water, then you just haven't had it right.
Building a Better Kebab
Traditionally, Shish Kebab is made with lamb, a spicy marinade or basting sauce and intermixed with various vegetables. Of course, we get into that age-old problem, namely selecting vegetables that will cook at the same rate as the meat, or at least, are palatable by the time the meat is done. Your best bet is to stick with vegetables that won't overcook quickly. Better yet is a selection that cooks slowly and is just as good slightly cooked as it is completely cooked. For this reason, I prefer onions and bell peppers. Both are edible if undercooked, compliment the lamb flavor and if you use a red onion and multicolored peppers, add to the presentation of the dish.
Choosing the Meat
As for the lamb, you can invest a lot of money by getting loin or rib chops that are more tender and easy to work with. However, the shank end of a boneless leg of lamb (talk to your butcher) is less expensive and just as easy to trim and cut into cubes.
If you want to go with the least expensive cut, sirloin or shoulder chops, you will have more work to do cutting the right pieces, but it will save you money. Either way you go, trim off the excess fat and cut the meat into 1-inch cubes. The marinating and grilling will help make all these cuts equal by the time they hit the plate.
Marinating the lamb is the most important part. Though you can use a wide variety of marinades, look for something with an acidic base, like a vinegar or citrus juice, and with enough flavor to add something to the lamb, but not overpower it. The best marinades for Shish Kebabs are those that rely on flavors of Greek, Turkish, Middle Eastern or Indian origin.
From here the process is easy. With the lamb cut into 1-inch cubes, marinate it for at least 2 hours, but no more than 24 hours. The longer you marinate the more tender the meat will become, but after about 24 hours the flavors of the marinade will overpower the meat and the acids will begin to dissolve the meat. Take the meat from the marinade and thread it onto skewers. For Shish Kebabs, metal skewers are easier to work with and will hold more weight than bamboo. Start and end each kebab with meat and use the vegetables to space the meat apart. This helps the meat cook evenly.
Shish Kebabs are best grilled over a high heat. On a charcoal grill build a single level fire with two layers of coals. On a gas grill keep the burner on high the whole time. At this heat, it will take about 1 1/2 to 2 minutes per side (there are four sides on a kebab) or a total cooking time of just under 8 minutes.
All equipment works differently, so use a meat thermometer to check for doneness at about 150 to 165 degrees F. (65 to 75 degrees C.) for medium rare to medium. Be careful not to overcook them. The one difference between grilling Shish Kebabs on a charcoal or gas grill is the use of the lid. Keep the lid off on a charcoal grill and cook only with the direct heat. On a gas grill, you will need to put the lid down between turning to hold in enough heat to cook them fast enough. The secret with grilling the perfect Shish Kebab is to get it done quickly. This will hold in moisture and make the meat tender.