What are Kabobs?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

In Western culture, a kabob is made by skewering pieces of meat and or vegetables and then pan frying or grilling them. Kabobs are a flexible and popular food item, and they often appear at barbecues and other outdoor events. Kabobs are also sometimes called brochettes, in a reference to the French word for “skewer.” Brochettes are often offered as appetizers, and they may be served hot or cold.

Pita bread, which is often served with kabobs.
Pita bread, which is often served with kabobs.

In the Middle East, it is important to distinguish between kabob or kebab and shish kebab. In Turkish, kebab merely means “roasted meat,” and there are a number of variations of roasted meat served in Turkish society, including Döner kebab. When meat is roasted on a skewer or shish, it is known as shish kebab. In the West, the “shish” is usually dropped, although some people may refer to making shish kebabs.

Kabobs are eaten in many parts of the Middle East.
Kabobs are eaten in many parts of the Middle East.

The base of a traditional kabob is meat, which is marinated in salt, pepper, garlic, oil, and sometimes other spices as well. Lamb is a popular choice in the Middle East, as is beef. Pork is never used, because of dietary restrictions. Some cooks may also marinate vegetables, especially onions and peppers, along with the meat. To make shish kabob, the meat and vegetables are cut as evenly as possible so that they will cook evenly, and then they are carefully skewered.

A traditional kabob is marinated in salt and pepper.
A traditional kabob is marinated in salt and pepper.

Many cooks make kebabs on a grill, which is an ideal cooking surface. As the food cooks, the fat renders away into the fire, and the kabob acquires a smoky flavor which some people find quite enjoyable. It is also possible to make kabobs in a frying pan, typically with a thin layer of oil to lubricate the food while it cooks. More health-conscious cooks sometimes bake their kabobs.

Vegetarian kabobs can be made with tofu.
Vegetarian kabobs can be made with tofu.

Vegetarian kabobs can be made with all vegetables, or ingredients like seitan and tofu. Some vegetarians are sensitive about contact with meat products while their food is being cooked, so if you are making kabobs for a mixed group, you may want to cook the vegetarian food first, or cook it on a separate part of the grill. When making meat kabobs, make sure that the meat cooks to a safe internal texture; lamb and beef kabobs can be eaten rare, while chicken and pork should be cooked until they yield only clear fluid when cut, or when they reach an internal temperature of at least 145 degrees Fahrenheit (63 degrees Celsius).

Shish kebabs are often made with herb-roasted chicken.
Shish kebabs are often made with herb-roasted chicken.

Once the food has cooked, it can be served plain or with an assortment of sauces. A classic choice of sauce is tsatsiki, a dipping sauce made from yogurt, dill, lemon, and cucumber. Hot or heavily spiced sauces may be used as well, and some people like to serve kabobs with breads such as pita to help absorb the juices and sauce.

Some kabobs can be prepared using only vegetables.
Some kabobs can be prepared using only vegetables.
Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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