Spicy Cumin Lamb Skewers (Yang Rou Chuan) Recipe

Spicy cumin lamb skewers, yang rou chuan, on a small platter.
Photographs: Shao Z.

Why It Works

  • Coarsely grinding the spices ensures they don't become pasty when wet.
  • Lamb shoulder chops offer the perfect balance of fat and meat for juicy, tender, flavorful skewers.

Travel around the world and you'll find a different kind of skewered, fire-roasted meat wherever you go. On the streets of Beijing, you'll spot these spicy lamb skewers coated in cumin and chili flakes. But there's no need to go to China just to have them—you can make them right in your own yard on the grill. Here's how.

Type of fire: two-zone indirect
Grill heat: medium-high

Recipe Facts



Active: 30 mins
Total: 60 mins
Serves: 6 to 8 servings
Makes: 10 skewers

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  • 1 tablespoon red chile flakes

  • 1 tablespoon whole cumin seed

  • 2 teaspoons whole fennel seed

  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt

  • 2 teaspoons granulated garlic

  • 2 pounds boneless lamb shoulder, meat cut into 1-inch pieces (see note)

  • 1 tablespoon vegetable or canola oil

  • 2 teaspoons Shaoxing wine


  1. Submerge the bamboo skewers in a container of cold water and let them soak for at least 2 hours or even overnight.

  2. In a mortar and pestle or spice grinder, coarsely grind chili flakes, cumin, and fennel. Add granulated garlic and kosher salt and briefly grind to break salt into smaller pieces and thoroughly combine ingredients.

  3. Reserve 1 tablespoon of the spice mix in a small bowl. Add lamb to a large bowl and toss thoroughly with the remaining spice mix, oil, and Shaoxing wine.

  4. Light one chimney full of charcoal. When all the charcoal is lit and covered with gray ash, pour out and arrange coals on one side of the charcoal grate. Set cooking grate in place, cover grill and allow to preheat for 5 minutes. Clean and oil the grilling grate.

  5. Grill skewers, covered, over indirect heat until lamb is nearly cooked through, about 4 minutes per side.

  6. Move skewers over direct heat, sprinkle with the reserved spice mix, and cook until well seared on both sides, about 1 minute total.

  7. Remove skewers from the grill and serve right away.

Special equipment

grill, bamboo skewers, mortar and pestle or spice grinder


For the most flavorful, tender, and juicy skewers, don't trim off any of the fat from the shoulder chops. Pre-soaking the bamboo skewers for at least 2 hours or even overnight before using is an important step to prevent them from burning during grilling.

Make-Ahead and Storage

The spice mixture can be made

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