The Ultimate Guide to Mastering Shawarma On the Grill
Shawarma is a Middle-Eastern dish traditionally prepared by slowly grilling marinated meats on a vertical spit. The juicy, flavorful meat is then thinly sliced and served either in wraps or over rice. With the right tools and recipes, you can easily master the art of making shawarma on your very own grill.
Choose the Right Cut of Meat.
The first step to creating a memorable shawarma dinner is choosing the right cut of meat. For best results, opt for boneless, skinless cuts of chicken that have been skinned and trimmed of fat. Alternatively, you can use a combination or leg and shoulder meat for more flavor. Marinating the chicken for at least 8 hours will ensure it absorbs all the delicious spices and herbs before grilling – making it truly “melt in your mouth”!
When it comes to the grill, use medium-hot heat and keep the lid closed to maintain moisture. Avoid charring as this will affect the flavor. When turning chicken on a shawarma grill, use long tongs or titanium skewers, to facilitate flipping and minimize loss of juices. Cook evenly for about 6 minutes (timing depends on thickness), until lightly browned and cooked through. Serve with freshly cooked flatbreads and garnish with pickles and chopped vegetables. Bon appétit!
The most important factor when it comes to preparing shawarma is choosing the right cut of meat. While any type of poultry or beef can work in a shawarma, using the correct cut will ensure the meat is tender and juicy. One commonly used cut for shawarma grilling is the chicken thigh, which has plenty of fat and can withstand high heat. When grilling, for maximum flavor, choose an organic or grass-fed option if possible. If using beef, you may prefer to use top round cut because it offers similar qualities that pork shoulder does but with less fat content.
Once you have chosen the right cut of meat, you will need to prepare it for grilling. To begin, place the desired amount of chicken or beef in a shallow dish or shallow bowl and season with your favorite shawarma seasoning. A common blend includes garam masala, coriander seeds, cumin, oregano, cinnamon, etc. If using a marinade, allow the meat to chill in the refrigerator overnight. Once cooled and marinated (or salted and spiced), the meat is ready to be placed on skewers and grilled over high heat until it reaches your desired doneness.
It is important to select the right cut of meat for a shawarma. Traditional cuts like leg of lamb, shoulder steak, or brisket are commonly used but chicken and beef are popular choices as well. When selecting your meats remember that tougher meats will result in more tender shawarmas after cooking. Since shawarmas cook over high heat and great speed, it is important to remember to use thicker cuts of meat so they don’t dry out or burn too quickly on the grill. Thicker cuts can also be easier to handle on a skewer when grilling as they won't fall apart too easily while you turn them over.
Marinade for Maximum Flavor.
Once you’ve selected and prepped the meat, it’s time to get to work on your marinade. You can always purchase a pre-made shawarma mix, or create your own using fresh or dried herbs like garlic, bay leaves, paprika and oregano in combination with Greek yogurt or olive oil. Whisk together until all ingredients are well incorporated, then let the chicken sit in the marinade for 8 hours or overnight before grilling. This will ensure maximum flavor when it comes time to cook!
When you’re ready to start cooking, begin by preheating your grill. Heat it until the temperature reaches 250°F, then brush the grates with oil. Place the marinated chicken pieces onto the hot grate and let them cook for 10 minutes on each side, or until they are cooked through and golden-brown on both sides. As the shawarma cooks, you can prepare a traditional accompaniment of pita bread, hummus and warmed pickled vegetables. Serve along with a cooling Greek yogurt sauce for extra creaminess!
Before you start to cook the shawarma, it’s critical to give the chicken plenty of time to marinate. This helps infuse flavor and ensures that the meat is tender and juicy. Slice up chicken breasts into thin strips and mix them with olive oil, garlic, lemon juice, cumin, salt, paprika & turmeric (or use a store-bought shawarma seasoning mix). Place the chicken pieces in a bowl or shallow dish and place it in your fridge for 24 hours before grilling.
The marinating process is essential to a flavorful shawarma that tastes like it came from a restaurant. Once the chicken has been marinated, all you need to do is heat the shawarma grill, put the strips on a skewer and cook for 3-4 minutes until lightly charred and cooked through. Finally, you can enjoy your homemade shawarma with yogurt garlic sauce or hummus and warm pita bread.
A marinade with a mix of spices and oily liquid is what gives shawarma its flavor. The key ingredients to use are garlic, smoked paprika, cumin, coriander, black pepper and lemon juice. Together they create an equal balance of savory and acidic flavors. To maximize the absorption of the marinade all throughout the chicken strips, make sure to let them sit together in the fridge for a minimum of 4 hours or up to 24 hours. Once it’s done marinating you'll be able to get that juicy and tender shawarma with more flavor than you can ever imagine!
To assemble the marinade start by adding 6 cloves of garlic, 3 tbsp paprika, 1.5 tablespoons pepper and cumin each, 1 teaspoon coriander, 2 tsp salt, 2 tablespoon lemon juice and half a cup of oil into a blender. Blend all of these ingredients until they fully combine together and create a thick paste-like texture. Then add your chicken strips to a bowl or shalow dish in a single layer before pouring over the marinade. Ensure that all the pieces are coated with marinade evenly before covering it and letting them rest in the fridge for 4-24 hours. Once your chicken is done marinating it’s time to get cooking!
Get the Fire Ready.
Now that you’ve marinated and prepped your shawarma, it’s time to fire up the grill. Keep in mind that shawarma is meant to be cooked on a rotating spit over an open flame, which is why direct heat works best. Preheat your grille or barbecue to medium-high heat before adding your chicken and vegetables. Rotate everything every few minutes while basting with the remaining marinade until the meat is cooked through and vegetables are lightly charred. Enjoy!
To get the restaurant-style flavor of a good shawarma, you’ll need to season your proteins and vegetables with a variety of herbs and spices. Think cumin, coriander, garlic powder, turmeric, paprika and cayenne pepper for starters. Combined, these spices help bring out the natural sweetness in the vegetables while balancing out the savoriness of the chicken or beef. Once marinated for 1-2 hours or even overnight, everything is ready for pit roasting on a small fire.
Building a little fire for grilling shawarma is actually quite simple. You will need a grill, charcoal and some newspaper or kindling to start the grill. If you have a smaller fire starter, that helps even more. Set your shawarma spits over the hot coals evenly spaced and Grill each side for 15-20 minutes until the proteins and vegetables are cooked through, rotating them once during cooking. Keep an eye on the coals as they can flare up fast due to the fat in chicken or beef dripping down so make sure you add additional coal as needed throughout cooking time.
For best grilling results, make sure the coals are not too hot. If they get too hot, they will burn any fat that drips off of your shawarma quickly and add a bitter flavor to the end product. To regulate the temperature of your grill, adjust the distance between your charcoal and meat as needed by moving it further away or adding more coal. Achieving an even heat is essential for evenly cooked proteins and vegetables so pay attention throughout the cooking process.
As you prepare your shawarma grill, start with a dry hardwood such as oak, mesquite or hickory to ensure that your coals burn evenly. Aim for charcoal pieces around the size of large marbles and spread them out in a single layer like you would spread chips on top of nachos. When ready, light the fire and wait until all of the pieces are glowing red-hot. To test the heat, hold your hand near the fire and mentally note how long you can last before the heat forces it away. Move coals closer or further away from your meats according to how fast they require cooking.
Make sure to build a larger fire if you're going to require extended cooking times, otherwise the fire could die out quickly especially with large amounts of meat. As your meats cook, stir these coals together for uniform heat distribution. For the best results, use a long handled utensil like a poker to continually rotate these coals as your grill over them. Additionally, always keep an eye on the fire safety whenever using any open flame and watch out for potential flare-ups around punctured fatty pieces of meat.
Achieving Perfect Rotation and Consistency on the Skewer.
If you want juicy, evenly-cooked shawarma, make sure that the pieces are cut relatively close in size and evenly distributed on the skewer. It helps to use two skewers or a grilling basket, so that nothing falls off into the flames. As you rotate, have someone helping turn regularly to keep your shawarma levels even. This will also prevent heat from building up too quickly and burning your meal before all pieces are cooked through.
You'll also want to ensure that the layer of meat closest to the heat source is rotated on top often. This allows shawarma pieces that were close to the fire to cool off, ensuring an even cook and juicy cuts. To get a perfectly cooked meal with an ideal outer crunch, we recommend rotating your skewers or baskets every two minutes. While continual rotation isn't strictly necessary, it will help deliver flavorful and evenly-cooked shawarma.
Along with consistently rotating your skewers, you also want to aim for an even layer of meat on the shawarma. This ensures that each slice is evenly cooked and moist rather than some being overdone or burnt. If there’s too much chicken all stacked on one end of the skewer, put pieces from the other end closer to the grill, thus keeping a more consistent layer on the skewer. Take care to maintain this even level of meat on the skewer at all times so it can get perfectly grilled.
Rotating your shawarma skewers is key to achieving an evenly cooked layer of chicken. Every few minutes, turn the skewer around the grill, moving a quarter of the distance each time. This is so that each side gets grilled over and over again, which helps achieve crispy outside layers with moist insides. Doing this lets you evenly cook all parts of your shawarma so that no one slice goes out dry or burns. Pay attention to the internal temperature and make sure that every piece on the skewer has reached at least 165 before pulling it off the grill.
Resting your shawarma for about 10 minutes before serving is also preferred. Carve the pieces in thin strips so that you can season each slice evenly and incorporate those flavors. This rule is not only exclusive to shawarma, but to any and all food that you place on a skewer and grill. The end result should be juicy and fragrant shawarma that looks as interesting as it smells!
To achieve this consistency, the key factor is rotation. It's important to rotate each spigot equal parts of a turn every 2-3 minutes so each side can receive an equal amount of heat and be cooked evenly. After 10 minutes,
it’s important to check the doneness of meat, or any ingredients you are using. At this point, it is essential that heat be evenly distributed throughout the skewer as well as across each piece. Remember not to rotate more than necessary as over-rotating can cause undercooked meat. After checking and ensuring the ingredients are cooked thoroughly then remove from heat and serve your deliciously consistent meal!
How to Serve Shawarma Off The Grill.
Serving shawarma off the grill is easy! All you need to do is place some pieces in a whole pita bread, or shred over crunchy veggies. Top with your favorite tahini sauce and any other condiments you’d like. If you don’t have a pita wrap handy, no worries! Shred it onto a salad or simply on its own as an appetizer. No matter how you enjoy it, there’s certainly no better way than eating shawarma right off the grill!
Whether you’re making it in the comfort of your home kitchen or buying it from a local restaurant, shawarma is always best served fresh off the grill. It’s savory flavor combined with its aroma is difficult to resist. If you make homemade shawarma, it can be served in a variety of ways to compliment whatever main entree you plan on preparing. You can shred pieces right into a warm pita wrap and enjoy as street food, or simply plate it next to a hearty salad bowl. You could even incorporate it into other grain bowls or sandwiches if you'd like! The possibilities are endless.
To properly serve shawarma off the grill, first make sure that your pita wraps are warm and fully toasted. Next add in a generous portion of thinly-shaved, grilled shawarma pieces. Alternatively, if you’re making street-style shawarma wrap, you can opt to include hummus or tzatziki sauce on either side of your wrap before rolling it up. You can also top with marinated vegetables and other garnishes like feta cheese or fresh parsley at this time. Serve with za’atar fries or a delicious Greek salad for a complete meal!
When grilling the shawarma, check that it’s cooked through before serving it. Use a digital thermometer and make sure the internal temperature reached at least 165°F (74°C) in order to be sure that any potential bacteria that may be present has been destroyed. Cut shawarma into thin slices, place in your pita wrap, and then add any desired garnishes or sauces. Serve and enjoy!
Begin by heating your grill to 375°F (190°C). Start by cutting your shawarma into manageable pieces. You can even ask your local butcher to help you. Grill the shawarma over an area of direct heat, flipping every couple of minutes and basting with oil or butter. Make sure that any parts that are thinner than others are cooked all the way through so they don’t turn out overly dry. Continue cooking until the outside is golden brown and crispy, and then remove the shawarma from the heat. Let it sit for a few minutes in order for the juices to redistribute within the meat before serving.
When it’s time to serve the shawarma, carve the slices off a cutting board. If you want to get fancy, you can use a knife and serrated spoon to form mini shawarma bowls and present it with rolled pita, tomatoes, olives, hummus, yogurt sauce and even sprinkled with diced veggies. For a more authentic presentation and texture, guests can enjoy the smoky taste of the tender sliced meat simply by eating it directly from the grill. Finish with fresh lemon juice for an extra zing!
To serve shawarma off the grill, make sure to preheat it on high heat for about 10-15 minutes. Start slicing the marinated shawarma and place them onto a metal skewer, leaving enough space in between each sliced piece. Put the skewers directly on top of the preheated grill and cook over medium to high heat until they become slightly charred. Turn each piece frequently while grilling and do a few test bites during cooking to get the right “doneness.” When ready, remove from the grill and carve into thin slices with a sharp knife or serrated spoon using a cutting board.
To build the perfect shawarma wrap, start with a piece of warm flatbread topped with tahini sauce or hummus, add your freshly carved grilled shawarma pieces, lettuce, tomatoes and pickles. For added flavor and texture, you can also add some garlic yogurt sauce or labneh (thick strained Greek yogurt), along with freshly chopped parsley or other herbs - it’s all up to personal preference. Finally, finish off by rolling the wrap up tight and serve hot. Enjoy!