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What are Kebabs?

Mary McMahon
Updated May 16, 2024
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Kebabs are a popular Middle Eastern food made by mounting pieces of meat and/or vegetables on a skewer and mounting the skewer on a grill. This food can be found in places like Greece, Turkey, Egypt, Israel, Iraq, and numerous other nations in the Middle East, going by a variety of names. It is also popular in areas with a big Middle Eastern population, such as parts of Britain and the United States.

The word “kebab” is Turkish for “grilled meat.” The most familiar form of kebab for many people is the shish kebab, made with meat which is cut into chunks and lightly seasoned before being skewered. Many people also like to add vegetable chunks to their shish kebabs, such as onions, peppers, squash, and mushrooms. It is also possible to find kebabs made with long strips of meat, along with doner kebabs, made by grinding meat, forming it into a cylinder around a skewer, and slow-roasting it. In India, people eat kathi kebab, a form of kebab cooked in a tandoor oven.

Lamb is one of the most common meats for kebab in the Middle East, although chicken and beef are not unheard of. Pork kebabs can be difficult to find, as both Jews and Muslims avoid pork for religious reasons, and in India, beef can be rare, due to the large Hindu population. The seasoning for kebabs is typically kept simple; sometimes only salt, pepper, and olive oil are used, allowing the natural flavor of the meat to develop during the grilling.

Kebabs can be eaten as street food, often paired with a flatbread, and they may also be served over rice, lentils, and other foods. An assortment of sauces can be used to dress kebabs, depending on regional tastes. Tangy yogurt sauces, tahini-based sauces, savory chutneys, and spicy pepper sauces are all fairly common in the Middle East, and some cooks get more adventurous with things like peanut sauce, coriander chutney, or even slightly sweet sauces such as fruit chutneys.

Many Middle Eastern restaurants offer kebabs as part of their menu, since this food is so well-known. Kebabs are also very easy to make at home. If you have a grill, you can make kebabs in the traditional style, but you can also roast kebabs in the oven or fry them in a pan. Kebabs can make an excellent casual party food, and they can be served chilled as well as hot. If you have picky eaters in your household, an assemble-your-own kebab night can be one way to get them more involved in the cooking process.

DelightedCooking is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a DelightedCooking researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments

By fify — On Mar 18, 2011

I think that there is a silent war among different countries over kebab.

Has anyone noticed that the Turkish doner, Arabic shwarma and Greek gyros are the same thing?! But they have different names and you cannot dare call one as the other. I know that sauces and spices differ but the main ingredient- the meat and the method of cooking it is exactly the same.

So which name should you refer to it by? That depends on which restaurant or whose house you are at. Be careful because it can be a matter of national pride!

By ysmina — On Mar 14, 2011

My favorite kebabs are the ones made with minced meat. I like beef and chicken kebabs too but they seem a little dry for my taste.

Minced meat kebabs, on the other hand, are mixed with onions and spices so they come out much more moist and flavor-full after cooking. Also, if the selection of the meat is not good, the kebabs might not come out good, but I have not had any problems with minced meat. It's always moist and easy to chew. Plus, you can add whichever spices you like into it.

By bear78 — On Mar 13, 2011

I know that kebabs seem to have originated in the Middle East and this may be true. But I also think that kebab is more of a descriptive word about how the meat is being cooked rather than a specific dish.

I heard that kebab, in Persian, means "water" and "less." Probably referring to the meat being cooked without water.

Who knows since when humans have been cooking meat over fire for their meals, ever since humans and fire existed, I suppose. I think that there is no requirement to arrange meat with vegetables for something to be called kebab. I think we can call any meat cooked over a grill kebab really.

Mary McMahon

Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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