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What is a Shish Kebab?

By Caroline Cloutier
Updated May 16, 2024
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A shish kebab is a favorite meal or appetizer among many in the world. Its origins, however, lie around the Mediterranean and Middle East. While the dish's exact origin is not known, the word shish kebab seems to have originated from the Turkish word siskebabiu. Sis means skewer, and the word kebab means meat. The term also seems to have some roots in the Arabic and Persian word kebab.

Often, a shish kebab is prepared using any of a variety of meats and vegetables. Often lamb or pork, along with mushrooms, onions, tomatoes and peppers are skewered onto a thin stick. It's then roasted over an open fire, or in in some parts of the world, a barbeque or grill.

While there are suggestions as to which meat and vegetables should be included, the overall creation of a shish kebab is really up to individual imagination. One might choose chicken or beef and eggplant or mushrooms for their meal, for example. Many people choose to marinate or otherwise season the meat before adding on to a skewer.

Typically, only one type of meat is used on a kebab. That can be lamb, beef, chicken, pork, fish, or shellfish. All meat shish kebabs are common. Chicken satay, for example, is a popular Thai dish containing only skewered chicken. Kebabs with alternating meat and vegetables is also common. For the vegan or vegetarian, all veggie kebabs are a great option with vegetable options ranging from onions to tomatoes to squash to eggplant.

Making shish kebabs can be fun and, quite often, they're a terrific way to entertain guests. All guests, in fact, can be involved with the preparation, and the amount of time to create and cook them is minimal.

Stainless steel or wooden skewers are often the best choice when making the perfect shish kebab. When using wooden skewers, soaking the sticks in water before skewering on the meats and vegetables is a good idea to help prevent the stick from burning over the open flame.

When cooking kebabs, some recommend spraying the skewer with cooking oil to prevent the food, especially the meat, from sticking to the skewer. When it is time to serve your dish, you may opt to serve the meats and veggies still on the skewer and over a bed of rice or you might remove the food from the stick as doing so at the dinner table can get a bit hairy. You may also choose to serve a dipping sauce to add extra flavoring. Possible sauces are endless but can range from tahini to tsatziki to barbeque to peanut sauce.

If you are not the imaginative type and wish to follow a recipe, finding shish kebab recipes online is very easy.

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Discussion Comments

By fify — On Mar 16, 2011

I realize that this doesn't fit the traditional shish kebab recipe, but I like having tofu, pepper and pineapple kabobs. I'm a vegetarian but that doesn't mean I can't have kabobs, right?

Plus, vegetarian shish kabob ha become quite common. Restaurants are starting to have 5-6 different types of kabobs available, including vegetarian.

Shish kabobs with firm tofu dipped in teriyaki or soy sauce is the best!!!

By burcinc — On Mar 15, 2011

I prefer food a little on the spicy side so I make chicken curry kebab rather than regular shish kebab. It's basically the same process of threading chicken on skewers but I start preparing the chicken the night before.

I make a marinade with yogurt, curry and chili powder, garlic, ginger and cilantro. I only use a quarter teaspoon of each spice and a teaspoon of garlic for a half cup of plain yogurt. Just mix these together and add the chicken that you have cut into pieces suitable for your skewer. I leave this in the fridge overnight for the chicken to absorb the marinade nicely.

The next day, it's just a matter of threading the chicken and cooking it on the grill. I like this recipe because chicken shish kebabs can turn out kind of dry when they are grilled. When you marinate them like this though, they remain soft and moist and have a lot more flavor.

By burcidi — On Mar 13, 2011

I have seen pork or fish kabobs in Asian cuisines but Middle Eastern shish kebabs are often made with beef, chicken and lamb. The reason is that many countries in the Middle East are majority Muslim and Muslims are not allowed to eat pork.

I think that shish kabob is one of the easiest foods to cook. If you like to barbecue, which I know most men do, you can buy some wooden barbecue skewers and line up meats, green peppers, onions and tomatoes in large cubes and throw it on the grill.

My brother makes barbecue shish kabobs several times a month along with some white rice and salad, it's a complete meal. It's also good if you have guests over or for a picnic. I think I'm getting hungry just talking about it!

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