How to Grill Perfect Kebabs Every Time
Stick to these tips to make foolproof grilled skewers every single time.
If you're unsure of what to make for dinner in the summer, follow our simple mantra: When in doubt, get your skewers out. Utilizing the grill is an easy way to not heat up your kitchen and cook things quickly, and threading meat and vegetables onto skewers for kebabs is our ultimate quick meal.
Even though they seem easy, there is a science to making sure everything cooks evenly so meat is juicy and vegetables are tender-crisp. It starts with selecting the right ingredients that will grill up nicely, cutting them into the same-sized pieces, and choosing the right marinade for dynamic flavor. Follow our tips below to ensure you make truly spectacular skewers every time.
1. Partner Up Ingredients That Cook at the Same Rate
Combining meat and vegetables on a single skewer looks nice, but if you aren't careful, you'll have raw chicken and burnt asparagus. When you're building a skewer, make sure that the ingredients have similar cooking times, or you stagger the size you cut them so it balances out the kebab.
As a general rule of thumb, meat like chicken, pork, and steak usually takes about 10 to 12 minutes total (less for steak if you like it more rare). Thin vegetables or ones that only need a kiss of heat — such as green beans, cherry tomatoes, green onions, and sliced or small mushrooms — take only about 3 to 4 minutes. Sturdier vegetables such as potatoes, bell peppers, onions, zucchini, eggplant, portobello mushrooms, thicker asparagus stalks, and carrots can take 6 to 8 minutes.
So if you're making sirloin kebabs with bell peppers, mushrooms, cherry tomatoes, and pineapple, cut the meat smaller than the peppers since it will take longer to cook, and that will all balance with the quicker-cooking tomatoes and pineapple.
If your ingredients have wildly different cooking times, just make skewers of single items, like shrimp on one and chunks of eggplant, onion, and zucchini on another. Vegetable-only skewers can be a great side dish for whole grilled steaks or chicken breasts, too.
2. Use Dry Spices or Marinate for Extra Flavor
There are two options for making flavorful kebabs: tossing them with a bit of neutral oil and sprinkling with salt, pepper, and other dry spices for a quick dinner on the fly, or marinating in advance for more dynamic flavors that aren't just on the outside. Both can be tasty, but there is more room for creativity with different marinades (which can be used for basting, glazing, and even saucing if you hold some back that doesn't touch raw meat).
Pro tip: Make sure to shake off or dab off excess marinade with a paper towel so it doesn't immediately burn on the grill. Some recipe ideas we love are sweet-and-sticky BBQ teriyaki pork, Thai-inspired chicken satay with peanut sauce, Indian-style lamb sheesh kabab, tequila-lime shrimp, and Greek chicken souvlaki with creamy and refreshing tzatziki sauce. Don't be afraid to get creative and change up your combinations, both with the meat and vegetables and the marinades.
3. Watch Your Flame and Turn Often
Clean your grill grates and oil them if you did not oil the meat. (More great grilling tips here!) Then preheat your grill to medium-high heat so skewers can cook quickly. They key here is to babysit them a bit, turning them every two minutes or so with tongs — less if the ingredients are more fragile. Especially when your marinade has sugar in it, you'll want to keep an eye out for burning or scorching, and with fattier cuts of meat, watch out for flare-ups and move them to the cooler part of the grill if you see the flames rising. The same goes if you are basting or saucing on the grill — after you brush on sauce, give it a flip immediately, let it caramelize, then flip again before you add more. This way the sauce-side-down is never lingering too long and shouldn't burn.
4. Let Those Kebabs Rest Before You Dive In
Just like if you were cooking a steak or a pork chop on its own, pieces of meat also need time to rest after they come off the grill. Be patient — just a few minutes will do to make sure those juices don't run out right after you worked so hard to make a beautiful meal.
If you reserved any marinade or sauce that hasn't touched raw meat, you can brush that onto cooked meat or serve it as a dip on the side. If you used metal skewers, they will be extremely hot, so it's best to handle them with an oven mitt for yourself and your kids.
As fun as it can be to eat meat on a stick, wooden skewers are the ones that will cool down a bit faster to eat directly off of them. If using metal, take a fork or use tongs to slide the meat and vegetables off onto a plate and enjoy! Then start dreaming up what your next kebab night combination will be.