Kudos to Kebabs
Meat grilled on a stick, sometimes supported on the rails of a grateless grill called a mangal, was the first great technological leap forward in the evolution of the art of grilling. Today, the popularity of kebabs around Planet Barbecue attests to their universal appeal.
After all, they’re economical, versatile, infinitely customizable, and quick-cooking, making them ideal for frugal winter grillers who want to limit their exposure to frigid weather and high prices. Kebabs are also perfect for small intimate get-togethers in the era of Covid and social distancing; each guest can cook their own food according to taste. If weather permits, you could even move the party outdoors. My wife and I like to set up a hibachi on a heatproof surface so each guest can cook their own food. A variety of meats and vegetables give them the ability to assemble their own combination of ingredients.
13 Skewer and Kebabs from Around the World
Below is a guide to many of the world’s skewered foods as well as tips for enjoying “stick meat.”
No visit to Lima would be complete without sampling a kebab that’s both an everyday snack and a Peruvian national obsession—anticuchos. The traditional meat is beef heart. But feel free to use rib eye or sirloin. Don’t skip the fiery yellow chile sauce.
A French kebab, a brochette can feature beef, pork, chicken, seafood, or vegetables. The term is also used in former French colonies such as Morocco and Mauritius Island.
Literally “sword meat,” these kebabs—typically beef—are grilled on bay leaf branches and are a specialty of the Portuguese island of Madeira.
Ground lamb kebabs popular in the Middle East.
5. Lula or Lyulya
The ground lamb kebabs of the Caucasus Mountain region and the central Asian republics of the Soviet Union.
Small Spanish kebabs, often made with pork, served in tapas bars. Pinchos is also a general term for tapas.
Tiny kebabs of chicken, pork, beef, or other meats grilled on bamboo skewers over a charcoal fire and commonly served with a peanut sauce.
The Russian and Baltic version of shish kebab, commonly made with pork, beef, or lamb and marinated in breath-wilting doses of onion.
9. Shish Kebab
The most famous of the world’s kebabs and a specialty of Turkey. Lamb is the most common meat, sometimes cut into chunks or minced and molded onto a flat skewer.
A traditional Greek dish featuring lamb and often served on pita with a yogurt and cucumber sauce called tzatziki.
Italian kebabs made with everything from pork to sausage to exotic game birds. Often pre-skewered and pre-marinated at Italian butcher shops.
West African kebabs flavored with ground peanuts and hot peppers. Usually made with beef, but other meats are used, too.
Very small chicken kebabs, glazed with a sweet soy dipping sauce, are popular in Japan, my birthplace. Japanese grill masters use every imaginable cut of chicken, from white and dark meat, wings, and skin, to liver, gizzard, and even embryonic eggs.
The Best Skewers for BBQ and Grilling
My favorite skewers are flat metal ones. The metal conducts heat to the center of the meat or vegetables, and the flat shape keeps the ingredients from spinning as they are turned. (Never eat from a hot metal skewer.) To protect their hands from the heat, some cultures use flatbreads to remove the foods from the skewers—think of the bread as an edible potholder. In the absence of flat skewers, thread each kebab on two parallel bamboo skewers. (Some recipes—including some of mine—call for soaking the skewers first. I no longer bother. I do, however, position a foil grill shield under the exposed handles of the skewers. Make one by folding a large sheet of heavy duty foil into thirds, like a business letter.)
I also like to use sugarcane as a skewer (see my recipe for Shrimp on Sugarcane with a Dark Rum Glaze here), sprigs of fresh rosemary, long cinnamon sticks, or fresh lemongrass.
Though many people thread meat and vegetables on the same skewers (mushrooms with cherry tomatoes and/or cubes of beef, for example), I prefer to give them separate skewers to accommodate different grilling times. Also make sure the food is cut to a uniform size.
For more kebab recipes, check out my book Planet Barbecue.