Memorial Day, the nationally recognized gateway to grilling season, is still a few weeks away—but any warm day's a good one to fire up the barbecue as far as we're concerned. We'll be sharing lots and lots of grilling recipes with you over the coming months, believe you me, but skewers or kebabs are a fine place to start. They're easy to make, 100% customizable, and conveniently pre-portioned for guests. For general tips on skewer technique, look over our handy guide; once you feel confident enough to start cooking, turn to this collection of 18 of our favorite grilled skewer recipes, including Middle Eastern kebabs, Chinese-spiced pork, and halloumi vegetable skewers.
Grilled Curry Chicken Kebabs
The breast may be more commonly used for grilled chicken skewers, but thighs win out in both flavor and juiciness. To build up the flavor even more, we marinate cubed thighs in a simple curry mixture of coconut milk, fish sauce, curry powder, garlic, shallot, and red pepper. The fish sauce gives the chicken an umami boost without adding any overt fishiness.
Crispy Caramel Chicken Skewers
These Vietnamese-inspired chicken skewers are marinated in orange juice and fish sauce before grilling, then glazed with a ginger-spiced brown sugar mixture while they cook. Brush on the glaze multiple times to create a sweet caramel crust, then, after applying the last layer, roll the skewers in sesame seeds and sliced almonds for a nice crunchy coating.
Turmeric gives these ground-chicken kebabs their striking yellow color on the grill, while garlic, ginger, garam masala, cilantro, and fiery Thai chilies give them a wicked level of spice. Throw the skewers into the freezer for 20 minutes or so before cooking—they'll firm up just enough to keep them from falling apart on the grill.
Bacon-Wrapped Chicken Skewers With Pineapple and Teriyaki Sauce
When grilling chicken breasts, it's best to take out a little insurance to keep them from drying out. In this recipe, that comes in the form of brining the chicken chunks in soy sauce, then wrapping them in bacon: The brine helps the meat retain moisture, while the bacon protects it from the heat. Alternating the chicken with juicy pineapple cubes provides a good sweet counterpoint to the meat.
Chicken Spiedies (Lemon- and Herb-Marinated Grilled Chicken Sandwiches)
Chicken spiedies are a regional treat from Binghamton, New York, which has a sizable Italian-American population; the roots of the dish are evident in the marinade, made of oil, vinegar, and lemon juice flavored with fresh Mediterranean herbs. After letting the meat soak in the marinade for up to three days, grill it and serve it in a soft hoagie roll.
Kofte Kebabs With Spicy Harissa Yogurt Sauce and Grilled Flatbread (Minced Lamb Kebabs)
My Middle Eastern family is physically incapable of firing up the grill without cooking lamb, whether it's rack of lamb or kebabs. One of our favorite versions is kofte, skewered ground lamb that's heavily seasoned with cumin, coriander, garlic, onion, and more. This recipe adds a little spicy harissa and serves the kebabs with a harissa-spiked yogurt sauce.
Adana Kebabs (Ground Lamb Kebabs)
Adana, another kebab made with ground lamb, is a Turkish specialty defined by a couple of somewhat obscure spices: smoky Urfa pepper flakes and tart sumac. You could try to swap in other ingredients, but honestly, nothing can replicate the lemony flavor of sumac—so do yourself a favor and order the spices online if you can't find them in your local stores. We use them to season the meat both before and during grilling to maximize their impact.
Spicy Cumin Lamb Skewers (Yang Rou Chuan)
Lamb is more popular in China than most Westerners realize; these skewers, for instance, hail not from Tehran or Istanbul but from Beijing. A beloved street-food dish, yang rou chuan consists of cubed lamb shoulder chop, grilled and coated in a mixture of cumin and chili flakes. Our version adds granulated garlic (not to be confused with garlic powder), fennel seeds, and Shaoxing wine. Pulverize the spices by hand in a mortar and pestle to avoid over-grinding; too fine a grind can leave them pasty when wet.
Yogurt- and Mint-Marinated Lamb Skewers
Cooling mint is a traditional complement to fatty, gamy lamb. Here, we work it into a marinade of yogurt (which helps the mint adhere to the lamb and keeps the meat tender), cilantro, lemon juice, garlic, and paprika. Adding sweet slices of zucchini and pungent red onion to the skewers does a good job of balancing out the meat.
Sweet and Spicy Apricot-Glazed Pork and Pineapple Kebabs
Layering flavors is a key secret to making great kebabs. We first brine the pork chops for these kebabs in a salt-and-sugar mixture, then coat them in a barbecue-style dry rub that's heavy on the paprika and cayenne pepper. Once they're cooking, we brush them with a sweet, smoky, and hot glaze of apricot preserves, Dijon, soy sauce, chipotle chilies, and rice vinegar. Cubes of pineapple lend a little extra sweetness to cut through the rich pork.
Mojo-Marinated Pork Kebabs With Mango
These skewers get tons of Caribbean flavor from a marinade in mojo, the hot and tangy Cuban sauce made with sour-orange juice and garlic. Cubes of mango threaded onto the skewers maintain the tropical theme and effectively counter the acidic sauce. You'll want to use slightly firm, underripe mangoes—perfectly ripe ones will fall off the skewers.
Grilled Pork Belly Kebabs With Sweet-and-Spicy Gochujang Marinade
Yes, Sriracha was once the hot Asian sauce du jour (and we still think it's pretty great), but there are a lot of other Asian condiments out there worth trying. Gochujang is a Korean chili paste that's thick, spicy, and funky; it has the heat of Sriracha, but fuller savory flavor. Here, we blend it with sake, soy sauce, honey, and oil to make a marinade for rich cubes of skinless pork belly.
Cambodian Grilled Lemongrass Beef Skewers
Khmer cuisine is not nearly as well known as that of Vietnam or Thailand, but that doesn't mean Cambodian cooking doesn't have a lot to offer. The country's dishes tend to be based on the aromatic flavor pastes called kroueng. To make our own version of kroueng using ingredients that are easy to find in the West, we combine aromatics like lemongrass, bay leaves, thyme, lemon and lime zests, ginger, garlic, and cinnamon—using a mortar and pestle for the most robust flavor. It's wonderful on strips of grilled sirloin or flank, mixed with a little fish sauce and oil.
With the flavors of a classic steakhouse dinner—mushrooms, onions, Worcestershire sauce, and all—but in a backyard-appropriate and scalable form, these hearty sirloin-tip kebabs are just the ticket for serious meat lovers. We first marinate the steak in a blend of umami boosters like Worcestershire, Dijon mustard, and soy sauce (plus garlic, lemon juice, and black pepper), then thread them on skewers with halved cremini mushrooms and cubes of red onion. Don't let the beef soak for longer than five hours, or the acid will begin to "cook" the meat and spoil its texture.
Ginger-Teriyaki Beef Kebabs
Using the same savory-sweet sauce for both the marinade and the glaze keeps these kebabs relatively simple. It's essentially a teriyaki sauce, amped up with ginger, garlic, red pepper flakes, pineapple juice, and soy sauce. To complement the charred flavors of the meat, we grill it with chunks of pineapple, red onion, and bell pepper.
Shrimp Boil Skewers
This recipe re-creates the flavors of a Cajun Country shrimp boil by grilling skewers of shrimp, corn, andouille sausage, and potatoes. They're seasoned with typical Cajun herbs and spices—paprika, garlic powder, onion powder, thyme, oregano, cumin, and cayenne. Parboil the potatoes before threading them so they'll finish cooking at the same time as everything else.
Halloumi and Vegetable Skewers
Sweet summer zucchini, red onion, and grape tomatoes are a delicious start on meatless skewers, but the main attraction here is the firm, white, squeaky Cypriot cheese called halloumi. It's one of several cheeses we've found to be particularly well suited to grilling—it softens as you heat it, but keeps its shape and won't fall off the skewer.
Balsamic Vegetable Skewers
For purely vegetarian kebabs, we load up our skewers with zucchini, yellow squash, red onion, bell pepper, and grape tomatoes—vegetables that are both appropriate for grilling season and sturdy enough to remain in place while skewered. (Skip the eggplant, which will tend to disintegrate on a stick.) To make them a little more interesting, add a simple balsamic vinaigrette, both before and after grilling. You'll end up with a wonderful intermingling of sweet and fresh, charred, and tangy flavors.