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What Is a Chicken Shish Kabob?

By Cynde Gregory
Updated May 17, 2024
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To most home cooks, a chicken shish kabob is a simple, grilled summertime meal. Chunks of marinated chicken are run onto metal skewers, interspersed with marinated onions, mushrooms, peppers, and other vegetables, and cooked over charcoal, wood, or gas. A typical shish kabob meal is usually accompanied by pita bread, into which the meat and veggies are tucked sandwich style, or is served on top of steamed rice.

In some parts of the world, however, asking for a chicken shish kabob in a restaurant means something a little different. In Turkey, a doner kebab is a large cut a meat that is cooked on a rotating rod. The meat is most often lamb, but chicken and beef are also common. The meat is sliced rather than in chunks and presented wrapped in a pita with salad.

The Turks claim fame for the first shish kabobs. Nomadic wanderers, they needed a cooking method that would allow them to prepare the meat while traveling from one place to another and cook it efficiently once they’d arrived. As a big part of shish kabobs is the marinating, it fit the bill. Marinating helps calm strong-flavored meat like goat and some cuts of lamb as well as breaking down tough meat and collagen so cooking time can be less.

Turks stuck with lamb for the most part because it was readily available, but as other cultures adopted the idea of cooking meat on wooden or metal sticks that could be rotated, they substituted their own meat favorites. Chicken shish kabob cousins are especially popular in Asia as satay, which is chicken grilled on a small, wooden skewer and served with peanut sauce and Japanese yakitori.

Home cooks with young children have discovered a bonus to a chicken shish kabob grill out. Kids are usually eager to help the big cooks stab pieces of red, yellow, or green bell pepper, onion, and tomato onto skewers between chunks of chicken, and because the skewers are small enough for little hands, under a watchful eye, youngsters can also help turn the skewer to make sure the chicken and veggies get roasted on all sides. It’s a small step from being a proud cook to being an enthusiastic eater, and kids who otherwise shun vegetables or even meat will eagerly devour shish kabobs they’ve helped create. A child with a plate full of chicken shish kabob might even be willing to widen his or her culinary experience by trying a range of sauces as well.

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