Are you looking for something simple, easy, and endlessly customizable to make for dinner, a party, or a backyard cookout? Because the core of the kebab is just meat on a stick, you might be tempted to overlook this simple grilling staple, but it's perfect for anything from breakfast to dessert and deserves more recognition for its versatility and global ubiquity.
Kebabs as we know them come originally from the Middle East, but have become popular across the globe, from China to Brazil to the USA, and regional variants of this simple dish abound. The most common version is made with lamb, but you can kebab just about anything, including fruits and vegetables.
Anything grilled on a skewer can be considered a kebab, but there are a few main types of kebab that are most common around the world.
Shish kebabs are the most common type in North America and are typically made with lamb or beef, but can also use other meats such as chicken or pork. This version of kebab comes from the Turkish word şiş (meaning skewer) and the Persian word kebab (meaning grill).
Doner kebabs are more common in Turkey and in English-speaking countries outside of North America. They are Turkish in origin and they are grilled on a larger scale, wrapping many layers of meat around a large spit and rotating while roasting. As the outside layers finish roasting, they are trimmed off and served, often inside a pita much like a gyro or souvlaki.
Other common variants include jujeh kebabs, which are Iranian in origin and made with chicken marinated in lemon juice and spices, and gyros, which are a Greek variant made in the donor kebab style and served in a pita with tomato, onion, and tzatziki sauce. Kofta kebabs are also quite common—originally from Turkey, these are made of minced lamb or beef, often mixed with herbs like parsley and mint.
With much of the USA on a collective health kick these days, many are wondering just how healthy kebabs are. The answer is that they are exactly as healthy as you want to make them (duh).
While street vendors may sell doner kebabs that are not very healthy, this has more to do with the fats, carbs, and sugars from the pita bread and sauces, not to mention the huge portion sizes they often come in.
But making kebabs at home can be quite healthy—they typically call for meat with the fat trimmed off and grilled without much or even any added fat. It's also a great way to eat your veggies, either grilled on a skewer or tucked fresh into a pita alongside the meat. Or forget the meat and just make grilled vegetable kabobs. Squashes, bell peppers, onions, and tomatoes all make particularly good kebabs.
Not a lot! All you need is stuff to grill, good wooden or metal skewers, and a grill of some kind, whether it's gas, electric, or countertop.
As for skewers, you'll just need to make sure they fit on your grill, though generally if you're looking to serve on the skewers, 8 to 12 inches is best for fitting enough food odd while keeping the kebabs from being too unweildy. If, on the other hand, you want to grill on skewers but remove from the skewers before serving, longer skewers may be more useful.
If you're using wooden skewers, you'll also need to make sure they're not so cheaply made that they split apart as you slide your food on (dangerous!). If using metal skewers you will not have this issue (if you did, something would have to be terribly, terribly wrong).
Here are a couple of our favorite wooden and metal kebab skewers (they also double as marshmallow skewers).
Need more kebab inspiration? Here are a few more delicious kebab recipes we love. We've got everything from breakfast to dessert, all on convenient little skewers.