I love putting kebabs on the menu when I'm planning a cookout—they're infinitely variable, easy to prep ahead of time, quick to cook, and pre-portioned for easy serving. For this Labor Day, we've got plenty of recipes to make sure all your guests are happy, from Thai- and Balinese-style chicken satay to pork kebabs marinated with Cuban mojo and vegetarian skewers marinated with balsamic vinaigrette. That's just the start, though—check out our guide to grilled skewers and you'll be coming up with your own recipes in no time.
A note on equipment: Not all skewers (the sticks themselves) are created equal, so check out our favorites before you settle for whatever's on sale. (And here's a tip for how to assemble your kebabs without pricking yourself.)
Grilled Lemon-Garlic Chicken and Tomato Kebabs With Basil Chimichurri
Chicken skewers often rely on long marinades to build flavor, but this intense lemon-garlic marinade only needs a few minutes to do its thing. We pair the chicken with tomatoes, which we grill on separate skewers since they cook up a lot quicker. For a hit of freshness, serve the kebabs with a basil chimichurri.
Japanese Chicken Skewers With Scallion (Negima Yakitori)
If you've never tried making yakitori, negima is the easiest way to start. The simple dish is nothing more than skewers of chicken thigh and scallion that are grilled and brushed with homemade teriyaki sauce. Want something slightly more involved? Check out our recipe for tsukune, or Japanese chicken meatballs.
Sweet-and-Sour Grilled Chicken Skewers (Yakitori Nanbansu)
These skewers also draw inspiration from Japan, but instead of teriyaki sauce they get marinated in a tangy mixture of soy sauce, vinegar, mirin, and sugar known as nanbansu, which is often used as a sauce for fried chicken. You can use either breast meat or thigh meat, or both. Just remember to reserve some of the nanbansu to serve as a dip alongside.
Grilled Curry Chicken Kebabs
In case you hadn't noticed, we're big fans of using chicken thigh for kebabs—it's juicier and more flavorful than chicken breast. Here we give the chicken even more flavor by marinating it with coconut milk, fish sauce (to up the umami), curry powder, garlic, shallot, and red pepper.
Crispy Caramel Chicken Skewers
These sweet and savory Vietnamese-inspired chicken skewers are marinated in orange juice and fish sauce and brushed with a caramel glaze made of light brown sugar, rice vinegar, garlic, ginger, shallots, honey, and more orange juice and fish sauce. For texture we roll the skewers in crunchy sesame seeds and sliced almonds after the final coat of the glaze.
Thai-Style Chicken Satay With Peanut-Tamarind Dipping Sauce
Our version of classic Thai satay is made with pieces of chicken thigh marinated in a mixture of coconut milk, fish sauce, palm sugar, and a variety of aromatics and spices. The most time-consuming part of the recipe is making the dipping sauce—if you want to cheat you can make a quick version with just chunky peanut butter, store-bought curry paste, lime juice, soy sauce, garlic, and sugar.
Grilled Chicken and Peach Saltimbocca Skewers
These skewers are a riff on chicken saltimbocca, but to balance out the saltiness of the prosciutto, we thread a few chunks of semifirm peaches on for a bit of sweetness. We also double up on the sage; sage leaves go on the skewer, but chopped sage is included in the light white wine marinade, which flavors the chicken and helps it stay juicy while on the grill.
Balinese Pork Satay (Sate Babi) With Sweet Soy Glaze and Peanut Sauce
There's more to satay than the Thai chicken version. To expand your horizons, check out this Balinese pork shoulder satay. The marinade, dipping sauce, and glaze are all made with a spice paste made from lemongrass, dried chilies, garlic, shallots, coriander, white pepper, and sugar. We make the paste with both a mortar and pestle (for the best flavor extraction) and a food processor (to save time and energy).
Grilled Pork Belly Kebabs With Sweet-and-Spicy Gochujang Marinade
Thick, sweet, funky gochujang is a great alternative to more ubiquitous chili condiments like Sriracha and chili-garlic sauce. Here we mix it with honey, sake, and soy sauce to make a marinade for pork belly and vegetables. Gochujang is fairly tame in terms of heat—this dish isn't as scary as the color might make you think.
Mojo-Marinated Pork Kebabs With Mango
These pork kebabs are marinated with Cuban mojo, a tangy sauce made with sour-orange juice and garlic—if you don't have access to sour oranges, a mix of orange juice and lime juice will work. Sweet mangos are perfect for balancing the acidic sauce, but make sure to use firmer, slightly underripe ones so that they don't fall off the skewers.
Cambodian Grilled Lemongrass Beef Skewers
While not as well known as the food of Thailand or Vietnam, Cambodian cooking is well worth exploring. Much of the country's cuisine is based on kroeung, aromatic flavor pastes that form the foudnation for all sorts of dishes. In this recipe that means aromatics like lemongrass, bay leaves, thyme, citrus zest, and cinnamon, which we mix with fish sauce and oil and use to coat strips of sirloin or flank steak.
Ginger-Teriyaki Beef Kebabs
These easy beef kebabs use one sweet-and-savory sauce for both the marinade and the glaze. We start with what is essentially a teriyaki sauce base and add ginger, garlic, red pepper flakes, and pineapple juice. To go with the juice we add chunks of pineapple to the skewers, along with red onion and bell pepper.
If you're not going to serve steak at your cookout, then how about kebabs packed with all the flavors of a classic steakhouse dinner? These hearty sirloin tip, mushroom, and onion skewers are marinated in a steak sauce-style mix of Worcestershire, Dijon mustard, and soy sauce.
Seekh Kebabs (Pakistani Spicy Grilled Ground Meat Skewers)
Walk into an Indian market and you're bound to find pre-packaged seekh kebab spices, but you're much better off making the mixture from scratch. Our version uses a blend made with spices like black peppercorns, coriander seed, paprika, and amchur powder. Made of dried mango, amchur adds a wonderful sour note to the kebabs—if you can't find it then use citric acid powder, tamarind paste, or lime juice in its place.
Spicy Cumin Lamb Skewers (Yang Rou Chuan)
If you've ever had the cumin lamb burger from New York's Xi'an Famous Foods, then you already know that lamb is very popular in parts of China. Yang rou chuan is a street food favorite in Beijing made by grilling lamb shoulder chop with a mixture of cumin and chili flakes—our version also adds granulated garlic, fennel seeds, and Shaoxing wine.
Halloumi and Vegetable Skewers
These meatless skewers are made with zucchini, red onion, grape tomatoes, and halloumi—a squeaky Cypriot cheese that works wonderfully for grilling. To flavor the cheese and veggies we turn to an olive oil, lemon juice, vinegar, garlic, oregano, and mint vinaigrette.
Balsamic Vegetable Skewers
To make vegan-friendly skewers we keep the zucchini, red onion, and grape tomatoes and swap the cheese out for yellow squash and bell pepper. You can add other vegetables if you'd like, but make sure to go with sturdy ones that can hold up to being skewered and grilled.
Grilled Skewered Shishito Peppers With Teriyaki Glaze
Yakitori is really all about the chicken, but that doesn't mean there isn't room for a few vegetable sides. Grilled shishito peppers brushed with teriyaki sauce are one of my favorite yakitori pairings. Be sure to double-skewer the peppers—I've learned the hard way that it's basically impossible to flip them otherwise.