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Learn Grilling 101 from the barbecue master.

Tips for successful skewers.

Plus, recipes for Basil Grilled Shrimp Kebabs and Chicken Spedini on Rosemary Skewers.



Cooking Class

by Steven Raichlen

Italians call them spedini. The French call them brochettes. Russians call them shashlik and Turks call them shish kebabs. I call them delicious and indispensable to a summer cookout. Fun to make, colorful to look at, and quick and easy to cook, kebabs are probably the most popular grilled food in the world. Our term kebab comes from an ancient Persian word for "meat," but kebabs can be made with poultry, seafood, vegetables, and even fruit.

How To:

Nothing could be easier than making a kebab. You cut meat, fish, poultry, and or vegetables into bite size pieces and stick them on a skewer. Well, actually, it's a little more complicated than that. The meats taste best when marinated or rubbed with spices before hand. (Good marinade combinations include lemon juice and olive oil, yogurt and saffron, wine and onions, and soy sauce and sesame oil.)

You can also put flavorings between the chunks of meat. When I make shrimp kebabs, for example, I like to put basil leaves between the individual shrimp. Bay leaves go great on beef kebabs, while poultry tastes great with fresh sage.

Stuck On Skewers

The backbone of the kebab is the skewer. In the West, we use metal skewers; Asians use slender bamboo skewers. When choosing metal skewers, look for flat skewers — the food is less likely to roll when you turn the kebab. New to the market are double prong skewers, manufactured by several grill companies, including Weber and Grilling Companion. These ingenious skewers come with two needle-like prongs, which are guaranteed to keep the ingredients from slipping or sliding.   


Another Way To Add Flavor

Speaking of skewers, there's an even better way to add flavor: use an herb stalk for a skewer. Strip the leaves off the bottom of a sprig of rosemary with your fingers, for example, and use it to skewer shrimp. The Vietnamese grill fish mousse on thick skewers cut from sugarcane. Indonesians use fragrant lemongrass stalks as skewers. But don't stop there, because you can skewer diced fruit on cinnamon sticks to make exotic fruit kebabs for dessert.

Putting It All Together

Use an artist's eye when assembling a kebab, because you want to vary the shapes and colors of the ingredients to please the eye as well as the palate. Squares of red, yellow, and green bell pepper look great on kebabs; so do whole mushrooms, pearl onions, and even circular rounds of corn (slice the ears crosswise). There's an added health advantage to loading up your kebabs with these ingredients-you increase the proportion of vegetables to meat.

Divide and Conquer

But sometimes, it's better to divide and conquer. When Turks make a vegetable mixed grill, they thread the onions on one skewer, the plum tomatoes on another, the horn peppers on a third. The reason is simple: each vegetable cooks at a different rate, so by keeping them separate you can guarantee that each is grilled to perfection.

Try Steven Raichlen's Recipes:

Basil Grilled Shrimp Kebabs
Chicken Spedini on Rosemary Skewers

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  • When you grill kebabs on a metal skewer, be sure to unskewer the ingredients before serving. Never eat a kebab off a hot metal skewer, you'll burn your lip.
  • When using bamboo skewers, soak them in cold water for 1 hour before hand-this helps keep the skewers from burning. If a bamboo skewer does start to burn, slip a folded piece of foil under it to protect it from the fire.
  • Many grill jockeys like to place pieces of bacon between cubes of meat or seafood on a kebab. (The bacon gives the kebab a smoke flavor.) You can achieve the same effect using a lot less fat with squares of lean Canadian bacon.


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