The Art Of Cooking The Best Kabobs
Kabobs are a backyard grilling favorite worldwide. They're easy-to-prepare, straightforward and ridiculously tasty. Or at least they should be. "Easy-to-prepare" doesn't mean kabobs are foolproof. They're not always as delicious, juicy and evenly cooked as they ought to be. You've probably cooked and eaten your fair share of nightmare kabobs: Tasteless, dry, super-charred, laden with overcooked or underdone veggies. Total buzz-killer.
When prepared like a pro, kabobs are a crowd-pleasing appetizer, side, or entree. But how do you prepare kabobs like a pro? How do you ensure the meat and veggies cook evenly? What meats are best to use for kabobs? Are there veggies that work better than others? What tools and techniques simplify the process? We answer these questions, offer pro tips to help you strengthen your overall grilling talents and churn out championship kabobs at your next backyard shindig.
What You Need to Make the Best Kabobs
The type of skewers you use depends on your lifestyle habits. Metal skewers are reusable, so they pay for themselves eventually, and you always have skewers on hand for kabobs, brats, or large cuts of meat you wish to skewer and grill. Bamboo skewers are great for isolated occasions; they're disposable, and you don't have to wash them. However, they tend to brown quickly, burn, or even catch fire, even if you soak them beforehand.
Step 1: Select and Cut the Meat
Leg of lamb is the traditional choice for kabobs. There are other meats and seafood that work just as well, such as beef, pork, shrimp, tuna, and swordfish. For beef, go with bottom sirloin. For pork, consider center cut boneless chops, boneless lower leg (shank end) or shoulder.
Boneless, skinless chicken thighs are another scrumptious choice. Leg of lamb and pork shoulder may require removal of fat, silver skin, and connective tissue before use. Ask your butcher to do this, or you can do it yourself.
Pro Tip: When prepping the meat, tuna, or swordfish yourself, be sure to dice everything into uniformly sized pieces, such as 1 1/2-inch cubes or chunks. Shrimp you can leave whole, but be sure to buy it peeled and deveined.
Step 2: Select and Dice the Veggies and Fruit
Fruit in your kabob? By all means. The sweetness intensifies the spiciness and the saltiness in the marinade. Think tropical-inspired spicy lime-flavored tuna and mango kabobs, for example. Dice your fruit or veggies into roughly the same size and thickness as your meat or seafood. This increases the likelihood that your fruit and veggies cook at the same speed as your meat seafood.
What fruits and veggies should you use? Two pieces of advice: Opt for quick-cooking fruits and veggies like zucchini, yellow squash, grape tomatoes, mushrooms, mango, pineapple and peaches. You also may select fruits and veggies that are just as toothsome when eaten raw, semi-cooked, or fully grilled, such as bell peppers, onions, and apples.
If you want to use veggies that don't cook quickly, such as carrots and potatoes, blanch them first until they're fork tender. Then marinate and grill them.
Step 3. Prepare the Marinade
Bold, spicy flavors seem to bring out the best that kabobs offer your palate. Big, sharp flavors are also practical. Since the optimal cooking time for kabobs is short, they need to have tons of flavor before they even go on the grill.
There are no hard and fast rules about the best marinades for kabobs. A marinade is essentially a glorified vinaigrette, containing an acid, a fat, and spices/aromatics. Turkish, Greek, Persian, Indian and Southwestern marinades taste heavenly on kabobs. All-purpose marinades yield results that are just as pleasing.
Step 4. Marinate the Meat/Seafood
Add the marinade, meat/seafood, fruits or veggies to a nonreactive bowl or resealable freezer bag. Mix gently to coat each cube or chunk with marinade. Cover the bowl with plastic (or seal the freezer bag). Transfer the bowl/bag to the fridge. Let the marinade impart flavor for up to (but no more than) 3 hours. For seafood, keep it under 30 to 45 minutes.
Step 5. Preheat Your Grill
Kabobs cook best on medium-high or high heat. To achieve this with charcoal, spread two layers of coals for a thick, single-level fire. If you have a gas grill, turn the heat up high and keep it there. Let the grill get extra hot before you begin to cook. This is a good time to soak your bamboo skewers (if you're using bamboo). Let them sit in water, completely submerged, for at least 30 minutes.
Pro Tip: Bamboo skewers are prone to premature browning and burning even if you pre-soak them. To avoid this, create an indirect heat spot on your grill. With charcoal grills, pile all of the coals to one side of the charcoal grate. On a gas grill, heat the grill to high, then turn off the center burners and lower the other burners to medium-high. If your bamboo skewers or food begin to cook too quickly, transfer the kabob to indirect heat to slow the cooking process.
Step 6. Assemble Your Kabobs
Thread the meat/seafood, fruit and veggies on your skewers, alternating the layers of each type of food chunk. Thread the skewers so that they're fully packed and each layer touches, but not so that each skewer is overloaded. With cubes of food abutting, each loaded skewer takes a little longer to cook. This tends to yield juicier results. Lay the threaded skewers on a small rack or baking sheet.
Pro Tip: Load each food chunk onto two parallel skewers spaced about 1/4- to 1/2-inch apart or onto metal double-prong skewers. This prevents the food chunks from spinning when you try to turn the kabob over on the grill.
Step 7. Grill the Kabobs
Although the marinade contains oil, brush your hot grill grate with oil just the same. A light layer of oil seasons your grill grate and prevents the kabobs from sticking. Grill each kabob roughly 1½ to 4 minutes on each side, transferring any kabobs that brown too quickly to indirect heat. To achieve medium rare to medium results, shoot for an internal temperature of 150 to 165 degrees Fahrenheit for meat and 145 to 150 degrees Fahrenheit for seafood.
Transfer the kabobs to a serving plate, and cover with foil until ready to serve.
Pro Tip: During cooking, keep the lid off on a charcoal grill. On a gas grill, close the lid between turning the kabobs. Each method results in quick cooking that creates a great sear, seals in flavor, and locks in juices.
We hope you enjoyed this post! We hope it revs up your passion to make kabobs ASAP. When you consider how many options you have for meat, seafood, veggies, fruits, and marinades, the list of kabobs you can whip up in no time is endless. We love to serve kabobs every chance we get. We dish them out at casual and formal parties, including corporate occasions. Whenever we serve kabobs, our guests are consistently amazed at how juicy and flavorful they are. Here’s another easy recipe for Skewered Pork and Peppers in a Spanish Marinade:
You can achieve similar results, restaurant-quality results, at home. Like all cooking, the more you practice, the stronger and more confident you become with your skills. Best of all, practicing in the kitchen not only makes perfect, it makes for good eats. Having the best ingredients, the right tools, great techniques and pro tips makes all the difference between kabobs that are just okay and kabobs that are award-winning.
Of course, sharing your knowledge with others (and vice versa) also makes you a stronger cook. Do you have a kabob cooking tip we didn't cover? Maybe you make a to-die-for marinade? Are you an experienced grill master? Feel free to share. We'd love to hear your thoughts on this article, any shortcuts you know of, recipe ideas or grilling knowledge. Great ideas and wisdom are rather like food: Nourishing and best enjoyed with company.
Frequently Asked Questions
Should You Use Wooden or Skewers to Make Kabobs?
Your choice of skewers is up to you. Some people like the disposable nature of a wooden skewer, whereas others like the sustainability of a reusable metal skewer. When it comes to flavor, a regular wooden skewer won’t add much to your kabob. You do have to soak wooden skewers, though, so you will need to plan ahead when using that method.
How Long Do You Soak Wooden Skewers?
Wooden skewers should be fully submerged in water and soaked for 30 minutes, or as long as overnight. This prevents them from burning on the hot grill.
What is the Benefit of Using a Kabob Rack?
Kabob racks hold your skewers in place, making it quick and easy to turn them around. Most racks have notches to place the skewers, as well as a small lever that lets you lock the kabob in place. You can turn them 360 degrees easily, without risking burning your fingers. Most kabob racks can be used on the grill and in the oven over a baking sheet.
How Long Do You Cook Kabobs?
The cooking time for kabobs depends entirely on your ingredients. Chicken skewers need to cook until the meat reaches an internal temperature of 165 degrees F, whereas lamb or beef skewers can be cooked to lower temperatures (like 145 degrees F). If you are only cooking vegetables, you should cook the kabob until the contents are softened and cooked through.
Can You Cook Kabobs in the Oven?
We love grilled kabobs best because the flame and the charcoal create an extra layer of flavor through the char and smoke. If you don’t have a grill or the weather is less than ideal, you can cook your kabobs in a 375 degree F oven. For best results, cook the kabobs on an ovenproof rack set over a baking tray and flip the kabobs halfway through cooking.