If there’s a cooking method more ancient than this one, I’m not aware of it. Roasting meat on sticks over fires evokes mental imagery of Neanderthal hunters cooking their quarry on spears over a blazing bonfire. Fortunately, you won’t have to do any hunting to prepare delicious kabobs for your tribe. Kabobs have been around for thousands of years, and many cultures have traditions of eating meat cooked on skewers:

Satay is popular all through Southeast Asia, especially in Malaysia, Singapore, and Thailand. The unifying ingredient for satay is the use of turmeric in the marinade, giving the finished product a yellow hue. 

The name Tandoori comes from the tandoor, a round clay oven popular in India. The marinade for tandoori uses yogurt and heavy spices. 

The history of Yakitori goes back to the Edo period in Japan. In recent days, Yakitori has become a popular bar food, with entire establishments being dedicated to it. Traditional Yakitori is made with chicken parts, ranging from meat to hearts to cartilage, all grilled over charcoal. 

While I tend to think of them as Israeli, versions of Kufta are known all through the Middle East and Asia. There are many similar words for the same dish, but the Persian word kofta is the origin for all of them. It simply means “ground.” Classic Israeli kabobs consist of kufta (ground meat), lamb, or chicken, very lightly seasoned with cumin, paprika, and other seasonings. 

The best kabobs are made with the best ingredients, be that chicken, beef, fish or veggies.  They are best fresh off the grill, but they can be made in a broiler in the oven or on a grill pan.  

These kabobs utilize Middle Eastern classic flavors, like preserved lemon, cumin, and hot pepper paste, and are fused with American classics, like honey mustard, to create the best kabobs you’re likely to make. 

What do you put on your kabob?  Anything that can fit on a stick goes, check out these 13 different Israeli-style kabob recipes. 

Build Your Own Kabob

These recipes are our twists on tradition, but there’s no reason you can’t start a new tradition! Here are a few guidelines: 

THE MEAT 

Choose a cut of meat that benefits from dry heat. All poultry works. Meats that require long braising, such as brisket, would do poorly. 

THE MARINADE 

To keep your kabobs juicy, use a wet marinade to infuse flavor and moisture. The basic formula is ACID + FAT + FLAVOR. Acids like citrus juice or vinegar break down muscle fibers and make the finished product more tender. Flavorings include herbs, spices, and strongly flavored ingredients like soy sauce or Worcestershire sauce, and a fat or oil helps them be absorbed. 

THE SKEWERS 

There are many choices for how to cook your kabobs. Thin, steel skewers work well for small ingredients but may spin freely for larger pieces, making turning difficult. Wide, flat skewers are necessary for ground meat kabobs. Wooden and bamboo skewers are good choices, but be sure to soak them for a few hours before use so that they won’t burst into flames from the high heat. Flexible wire skewers are a fun way to cook kabobs, usually much longer than the others—they let you coil your kabobs around the entire grill. 

THE HEAT SOURCE 

If the protein is cut into small enough chunks, your kabobs should be cooked over high heat, and they will cook through before they start to burn. To help the kabobs cook evenly, without them sticking to the grill, I like to build an elevated rack. This is the best way to make ground meat kabobs, avoiding any chance of meat sticking and falling off the skewer. Take a few bricks and wrap them well in heavy-duty aluminum foil. Place them on your grill grate in a layout that supports the handle and end of your skewers while the meat roasts in the middle. 

VEGETABLES 

If grilled vegetables are your thing, then by all means kabob them, but I prepare meats and produce on separate skewers because vegetables don’t cook at the same speed as meats.