Tips for Cooking Great Shish Kebabs

Grilling Is Great, But You've Gotta Marinate

Shish Kebobs
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Shish kebabs are special enough for guests but easy enough for family meals. The versatile beauty of shish kebabs allows you to use any combination of meats, seafood, fruits and/or vegetables to please any palate. 

Kebabs can be prepared in advance, making them a perfect crowd-pleaser that keeps you out of the kitchen so you can enjoy your guests. You can even make dessert kebabs. Let your creativity flow with different combinations and marinades.

Kebab History

Whether it's kebab, kebap, kabob  or kabab, the word comes from Turkish and refers to meat threaded on a skewer and grilled. Kebab literally means "skewer." In the United States, "kebab" almost always refers to shish kebab, while to Europeans, the generic kebab is "doner," or what in the States is referred to as a "gyro." Mentioned by Homer and other chroniclers in antiquity, the kebab was the preferred snack of Asian soldiers, who roasted meats on their sword blades.

Shish Kebab Cooking Tips

While kebabs are often thought of as a dish at an ethnic restaurant, making them at home is so easy that it's a wonder they're not more of a mainstay. If you combine vegetables and fruits along with your choice of meat, you literally have a meal on a stick. Kids get a big kick out of helping to make kebabs and choosing their own combinations, so let them help. Here are a few tips and hints to keep in mind.

Start With a Marinade

  • Grilled meats benefit from a marinade for both flavor and tenderness. Anything mildly acidic will do, from a vinaigrette to yogurt to orange juice or bourbon.
  • When using a marinade, a large heavy-duty plastic zip or cooking bag works great for prepared skewers. Be sure to get most of the air out of the bag before sealing so the contents are covered with the marinade; turn the bag often while marinating.
  • Marinate at least 30 minutes before cooking. Overnight is even better if you have time to prepare ahead. Discard the marinade and don't reuse it. Prepare a separate batch if you need a dipping sauce.
  • Marinate in the refrigerator to avoid food-borne bacteria.
  • No time to marinate? You can also season with your favorite herbs and spices and salt liberally.

Prepare Your Meats and Vegetables

  • Wash all meats and seafood thoroughly and pat dry before skewering and adding to the marinade.
  • Meats should optimally be cut in uniformly sized 1- to 2-inch cubes for quick and even cooking.
  • Fatty meats can be cooked at a higher temperature. Lean meats will need a longer time at a lower heat.
  • Choose firm-textured fish, like salmon, tuna, mahi-mahi, swordfish and shark, and shellfish.
  • Parboil vegetables such as bell peppers, zucchini, carrots and other dense foods before skewering if you like them fully cooked. Baby new potatoes can be scrubbed and parboiled in their skins or use canned whole potatoes.
  • Alternate meat with vegetables and fruit on the skewers. Be creative.
  • Space your kebab items with enough room between them on the skewer so that heat circulates around each morsel. A crammed kebab is an underdone kebab.

Cooking Tips

  • Kebabs can be grilled, broiled or baked. If you don't have an outdoor smoker or grill, you might want to look into an electric table-top indoor grill.
  • A light spray of cooking oil helps to keep the kebabs from sticking. Turn the kebabs often for even cooking.