Grillaholics, as amazing as burgers and hotdogs are, the world of grilling is just too exciting to stick to the basics. From time to time, we like to spice things up, and one of the best ways that we at Grillaholics know to do that is with kebabs.
Kebabs are great because the combinations of skewered, bite-sized ingredients is as close to infinite as food can possibly get, meaning that as Grillaholics, our experience is different and exciting every time. From meats to vegetables to fruit, almost nothing is off the table.
However, making kebabs is not as much a walk in the park as some of our simpler grilling pleasures. Making the perfect kebabs doesn’t have to be impossible though! Check out some of our our best tips for grilling kebabs below to step up your skewer game.
Tip: Know What Kebabs Well
Though we Grillaholics take pride in our ability to throw just about anything on the grill and make it taste amazing, the rules change completely when it comes to kebabs. Because the meats must be diced (Bonus Tip: 1 inch cubes grill the best!) and the vegetables must be chopped, not every cuts of meat and nor every type of vegetable kebabs well.
When choosing meats for kebabs, it’s important to choose a cut that is tender, juicy, and most importantly, flavorful. For beef, sirloin works the best, with tenderloin being a great (though more expensive) second choice. For chicken, thighs tend to work much better than breasts. For pork, we prefer to use pork shoulder, though it is a bit more time-consuming to prepare than pork chops, which also work just fine. For seafood, it’s tricky to find fish meat with the integrity to withstand being cubed and skewered without falling apart, but luckily, you have a perfectly pre-packaged option: seafood.
When choosing vegetables for kebabs, you want to look for options that are sturdy enough to remain skewered, while also complimenting whatever meat you are going to be pairing them with. Some of our personal favorite vegetables for kebabs are zucchini, bell peppers, onions, grape tomatoes, mushrooms, squash, and pineapple. Okay the last one’s a fruit, sue me.
Tip: Grill Meat Kebabs Separately From Vegetable Kebabs
This tip is perhaps the most shocking to people, but it is without a doubt one of the biggest determining factors in preparing the perfect kebab. For most of my life, I cooked my diced meat and vegetables on the same skewer, because it was how I had always seen prepared kebabs presented. But while patterns of different meats, fruits, and vegetables threaded on the same skewer may look great in pictures, it actually makes grilling your kebabs much more difficult.
This should come as no surprise to any of you, but cooking times on the grill can vary dramatically for different foods. For example, shrimp require only 5 or so minutes on the grill, while onions can take up to 20 minutes to achieve maximum flavor! What this means is that if you’ve assembled a kebab with both shrimp and onions together, you have made it impossible to perfectly cook all of the individual pieces. You are guaranteed to end up with either scorched shrimp and perfectly cooked onions, or perfectly cooked shrimp and chewy, undercooked onions.
Rather than dooming your kebabs to this half-assed perfection, prepare each skewer with only a single type of food to guarantee everything cooks to perfection. Have one skewer dedicated to shrimp and one dedicated to onions, and then cook each skewer individually for the required amount of time. Have another for tomatoes, another for pineapples, another for chicken, another for peppers, etc. This guarantees that each skewer, and its contents, will be grilled exactly as they should be.
If presentation is important to you, and you still want your kebabs looking like all of the professional pictures, you can always disassemble the perfectly cooked individual skewers, and reassemble them to your liking. In our opinion, the food is all going to the same place, but it’s completely up to you.
If you aren’t a fan of this separation, you can still put different pieces onto the same skewer, you just have to make sure that the cooking times for pieces on the same skewers are roughly similar. For example, you may put fast cooking foods (like shrimp and tomatoes) on one skewer, and slow cooking foods (like chicken and onions) on another.
Tip: Leave Sufficient Space Between Pieces On The Skewer
This tip is pretty self explanatory. Once again, the professional pictures that we see have as many pieces as possible crammed on a single skewer as possible, but to ensure that all of your food cooks properly, it helps to leave a bit of space (about a quarter of an inch) between each piece of food on the skewer. This allows the heat to circulate and hit the complete surface area of each piece of food, cooking them evenly.
Tip: Do Not Grill Kebabs Parallel To Grill Grates
This is probably one of the biggest mistakes that people everywhere make when preparing kebabs, and it’s completely understandable. I mean, it almost looks like the rod-shaped design of the kebab was created to nestle itself perfectly in between the grill grates, safely secured with no chance of rolling. A match made in heaven right?
While it may seem like this pair was made for one another, it is actually one of the biggest sins in the preparation of kebabs. Placing a kebab parallel between two grill grates causes it to cook unevenly, and also RUINS grill marks (AKA where the best flavor comes from).
Instead, in order to ensure even cooking and perfect grill marks, place your kebabs on the grill diagonally. After cooking for a bit (long enough to start getting grill marks) rotate the kebab 180 degrees to create crossed grill marks. (Think of the grill marks on a perfectly grilled steak. That’s what you want for your kebabs!). Repeat on the other side of the kebab.
Tip: Metal Skewers > Wooden Skewers
While many will argue that grilling kebabs with wooden skewers makes clean-up a breeze (all you have to do is throw them away when you’re done), we personally don’t think this one benefit outweighs the multitude of drawbacks of using wooden skewers.
The first drawback is probably the most obvious. Wood is a fuel for grilling, not a tool for grilling! Because of the temperatures required for proper grilling, wooden skewers are almost guaranteed to burn. Sure, you can soak them in water beforehand as many recommend, but in my experience, that doesn’t eliminate the problem, it just postpones it. As your kebabs cook, the water within the wooden skewers will evaporate, they will become dry once again, and they will burn as always.
A majority of wooden skewers are also designed poorly. Most wooden skewers are round and cylindrical, which causes food pieces to rotate during cooking. At this point, it just becomes a confusing mess (sometimes literally, as food falls off of round skewers pretty easily). Most wooden skewers also lack handles, which gives you much less control over your food.
Instead of cheap wooden skewers, we recommend using stainless steel metal skewers. Skewers like this are designed to withstand extremely high temperatures, and hold your food much more securely than their wooden counterparts. Sure, you’ll have to do a bit more cleanup at the end, but barbecue is a labor of love, and trust us, this labor will be worth it.
We hope these tips help you perfect the art of kebab creation! We'd love to hear some of your tips in the comments below, and if you use any of these tips, show us on our Facebook page! And as always, cheers to being a Grillaholic!