There are certain mainstays of the American summertime grill, including burgers, steaks, and kabobs. But what is a kabob, exactly?
What Is A Kabob?
The word kabob refers to a preparation style of food, precisely one that is skewered onto a sharp metal or wooden stick. Kabobs are usually grilled over an open flame.
What Is A Kabob And Where Did Kabobs Originate
The English word “kabob” comes from the Arabic كباب (kabaab) which refers to a grilled meat dish, typically skewered on metal poles and cooked over an open flame. “Kebab” or “kebap” are both alternate spellings for “kabob.”
The Middle East has a wide variety of different types of kabobs, from Turkish şiş kebap to Persian کباب. Many traditional recipes from the Middle East use cuts of meat like lamb or minced meat in their preparations.
While the Middle East gave us the English word kabob, skewered, and grilled meat dishes are found all over the world.
In China, skewered dishes are known as 串 or chuan. The Chinese Muslim minority, known as the Uygur, call this dish كاۋاپ or kawap. Like their Middle Eastern counterparts, chuan or kwap are typically made from lamb and roasted over an open flame.
The Japanese have 焼き鳥yakitori or grilled chicken skewers, usually flavored with salt or a teriyaki glaze. Southeast Asia has satay (also spelled sate) which are often chicken or beef, typically marinated with Southeast Asian herbs like lemongrass and turmeric.
Europeans also have several types of kebab. Doner kebab is a famous ground meat kebab, originally Turkish in origin, but now widespread in Germany and the United Kingdom. Portugal has espetadas while Spain has pincho moruno, both of which are meat-based skewers.
What is a kabob without the skewer?
While the technical definition of a kabob is grilled meat, the skewer is just as essential to the dish and cooking method as the meat itself.
Besides, everything is much more fun when you can cook and eat it on a stick!
There are two types of skewers that you can readily find in your local grocery store or online: metal and wooden.
Metal skewers are great because they're durable and reusable an almost countless number of times. These skewers also have an additional advantage of conducting heat, so the meat cooks from the inside as well.
The downside is that they're a bit more expensive than their wooden counterparts. However, if you grill kabobs quite often, these are a good investment.
When looking for metal skewers, J. Kenji Lopez-Alt from Serious Eats advises looking for a simple design with a flat blade. Flat blades keep food from rotating on the skewer, allowing you to control the food better.
Wooden skewers are great for parties. They're cheap and come in a variety of sizes, from appetizer friendly skewers to hefty party-sized skewers.
Since most wooden skewers are bamboo, they are eco-friendly and sustainable.
The downside with wooden skewers is that they have the unfortunate tendency to burn on the fire. However, soaking the skewers in water for at least an hour before service can help prevent this.
Another thing to watch out for with bamboo skewers is splintering. That can happen while you are placing your ingredients onto the skewer but can also occur while eating food off of the skewer itself.
What is a kabob? It's a cooking technique!
Whichever skewer you choose, there are a few things you need to know to have a safe and tasty cookout.
While it's a common practice in many recipes to skewer meat and vegetables together, this is not a good idea. It can cause cross-contamination between the foods.
Additionally, different foods cook at different rates. That means that while some ingredients may be undercooked, another part on the same skewer may be overdone.
When possible, skewer different foods on different skewers.
Skewers all have a sharp point to help stab food. Unfortunately, this point can be dangerous if misused.
Never hold up the skewer to place food onto it. You may inadvertently puncture yourself rather than the food.
Instead, when placing hard vegetables or tough pieces of meat onto a skewer, lay the food flat on a surface and poke the skewer through it.
This YouTube video by Fili_Pinay demonstrates how to safely skewer pieces of meat using a cutting board.
Recipes for Types of Kabob Around the World
Now that you know more about "What is a kabob?" and how to safely cook them, let’s take a look at some great kabob recipes to try out on the grill.
Kofta kebab is one of the most popular types of kabob in the Middle East. The word “kofta” means ground meat. You may also see it spelled as “kefta” kabob.
This recipe for Kofta comes from The Mediterranean Dish and is based on a traditional Egyptian preparation.
Soak 10 wooden skewers for at least half an hour while preparing the rest of the recipe.
Mix the onion, garlic, parsley, meat, and seasonings.
Divide the mixture into 10 even pieces and shape around a soaked skewer. Each meat skewer should be approximately one inch in diameter.
Cook over a medium-high flame until done, about four minutes per side.
Serve with pita bread, tomato slices, and onion wedges.
Filipino pork barbecue
Along with crispy lumpia, Filipino pork barbecue skewers are a must try. These skewers are both sweet and savory and make a perfect appetizer for any party.
This recipe is adapted from Kawaling Pinoy. Be sure to use a cut of pork, like pork butt, which has a good amount of fat. Otherwise, your skewers will be dry.
Note that this recipe uses a Filipino ingredient, banana ketchup. If you can't get banana ketchup, you can substitute it with your favorite sweet and sour sauce, Thai sweet chili sauce, or regular tomato ketchup.
Slice your pork butt into slices approximately an inch wide and a quarter of an inch thick.
Combine the lemon-lime soda, soy sauce, vinegar, brown sugar, garlic, and black pepper. Whisk to create a smooth marinade.
Place the meat and marinade in a container, mixing to distribute evenly. Let the meat marinate for at least six hours, ideally overnight.
Prepare two dozen skewers by soaking in water for at least half an hour.
Remove the meat from the marinade, straining the marinade and reserving. Skewer the meat carefully onto pre-soaked skewers.
Mix the banana ketchup and sesame oil into the reserved marinade.
Cook the skewers over medium-high flame, turning and basting with the banana ketchup marinade every minute. Cook until done, around five minutes or so. Serve warm.
For a sweet barbeque sauce, cook the basting mixture on medium for approximately 10 minutes before serving on the side.
While kebobs are traditionally meat-based, they don’t have to be! This fabulous, diet-friendly kabob recipe from Skinny Taste, skewers salmon and lemon for a pescatarian treat.
Soak 16 wooden skewers in water for at least 1 hour. Mix the salt, red pepper flakes, cumin, and oregano.
Cut salmon into 1-inch pieces — season with half of the spice mixture.
Skewer the chunks of seasoned salmon, alternating with slices of lemon. Preheat your grill to medium, spraying the rack liberally with oil to prevent sticking.
Grill the salmon, turning from time to time until done, approximately 10 minutes.
Grilled fruit kabobs
What is a kabob? Most people would say a savory dish, but why should savories have all the fun? This great spin on kabobs is adapted from the Cookie Rookie, who grills fruit for a deliciously different dessert. Feel free to substitute your favorite fruit for the ones listed.
Pre-soak a dozen skewers for at least half an hour. Then thread the fruit onto the skewers. You may choose to do skewers of all the same type of fruit or a combination.
Grill on low heat for a few minutes, basting with the honey and rum mixture until the fruit is slightly softened and caramelized.
Serve warm off the grill. You can serve it plain with a yogurt dip for a healthy dessert. Want to step it up a notch? Take a page from My Life Cookbook and serve your grilled fruit with ice cream for a fresh take on ice cream sundaes!
Ready for Seconds
So what is a kabob? It’s deliciousness on a stick. From the time-honored Middle Eastern kofta kabob to the fusion doner kabob to the non-traditional but still delicious fruit kabob, kabobs are a fun mainstay of grill parties the world over.
What is a kabob recipe you would like to try from this list? Do you have any other kabob recipes that you want to share that we didn't mention here? Let us know in the comments what you think!