The 5 Secrets to Perfect Shish Kebabs Every Time
Summer has us all grilling up a storm, and once we get a couple of weeks into the usual burgers, dogs, steaks, and chops, inevitably someone broaches the idea of shish kebab. Kebabs are great fun, fast, and easy to assemble and cook, with a terrific variety in flavors and combinations: meat, seafood, poultry, vegetables, plus different marinades, seasonings, and dipping sauces. You can eat them straight off the skewer or slide into sandwiches. Serve over rice or on top of lavash bread. Make ahead to serve room temp, or hot off the grill.
But kebabs can also pose some complications. Getting meats just right so that you don't end up with charred on the outside, raw on the inside. Or cooked meat but crunchy raw vegetables. Or perfect vegetables with overcooked dry proteins. So how do you set yourself up for skewer success? Here are the top five secrets to perfect kebabs every time.
1. Sort and skewer ingredients by cooking time
The key to perfect cooks on all your skewers is to ensure that everything on each skewer cooks at the same rate. The easiest way to ensure that is to do skewers of single ingredients: all meat on one, all tomatoes on another, etc. That way you can pull skewers off the grill once they are cooked and adjust your timing appropriately. If you do want to mix and match various ingredients on your skewers, just be sure they are all things that cook at the same rate and are cut to similar sizes.
2. Use the indirect heat method
Skewers can overcook quickly. They can also burn, especially if you have used a marinade. The best way to get juicy kebabs is to create a cool zone of your grill and cook your skewers there until they are just shy of finished then shift over the hot zone to char a little bit and finish the cooking process.
3. Let rest for at least 10 minutes before removing skewers
Resting any protein that comes off your grill is essential to retain juices, but is even more important for kebabs, which have a hole poked through the middle creating a place where juice wants to escape. By leaving the skewers set aside for the full resting time, you help to keep those juices inside where they belong and not on your platter.
4. Try a post-grill marinade
Marinades can provide some nice flavor, but they are also the best way to burn your kebabs before they are fully cooked. To get that flavor, make your favorite marinade and put in a shallow dish. When you remove your cooked kebabs from the grill, give them an immediate twirl in the marinade, and let them hang out in the sauce as they rest. The hot meats and vegetables will absorb the flavors and their juices will mingle and warm the marinade, creating an instant sauce to serve on the side.
5. Use metal skewers for meat, soaked bamboo for vegetables
Kebabs originated as meat cooked on swords or spears over live fire. They cook quickly because the metal transfers heat into the center of the meat, helping to cook from the inside at the same time as the outside. Using a metal skewer for all your proteins will help them cook evenly and fast. As meats cook they contract, which means they will grip the skewer, which in turns helps prevent them falling off.
Vegetables, on the other hand, because of their moisture content, expand and slump as they cook, which means they tend to slide off of metal skewers. Using a well-soaked bamboo skewer will not transfer heat to the middle of the vegetables, and the rough natural texture will help them grip and stay secure.