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Grilled Meat on Skewers (Kebabs)

Updated on February 7, 2016

From inception

So delicious. And when you think about it, these go way, way back -- back almost further than you can imagine!

Hunter-gatherers squatted around an open fire cooking chunks of meat on wooden skewers. Girl scouts and boy scouts or any of those who have hiked into the mountains for an overnight stay and who have done the same are the direct descendants of this primitive way of preparing a meal, which in some ways increases its satisfaction, don't you think?. Today it is more often folks in their back yards standing around a gas grill. The concern is not that the forest will run out of sticks to stoke the flame, but the propane tank isn't sufficiently full. But, in the end, it doesn't matter whether you are roughing it or not. Both those around a campfire and those around a back yard grill are participating in a ritual which provides not only history but flavor -- lots and lots of flavor.

Just get a few basic things right, and you will have a meal worthy of a queen and a king. Don't forget the vegetables. They add a great deal, not only to the cooking but to the final delectation. Actually, it possible, and in some ways preferable, to cook the meat on one skewer and the vegetables on another and then combine them on your plate when they are done. This has the advantage that the two have somewhat different cooking times. Maybe that's even the way they did it in prehistorical eras. But certainly there's a long tradition of putting the two on the same skewer and heading for the flames.

We call these things kebabs. Technically that term refers to the Middle Eastern version of meat on a stick, itself of ancient origin, but I think that the word has now become a general term for any presentation of meat on skewers. "Skewered meat" just doesn't have the same pizzazz as "kebab."

Let's not get fussy about terms, however, let's get started. The marinade/sauce is a good place to begin.


We are going to treat these Orientally. Specifically, Chinese Orientally.

The Chinese, however, would typically use pork rather than the beef we have here. That would work just as well with this marinade, so would chicken, even seafood. If you are vegetarian, sustituting mushrooms for meat is the way to go.

Oyster sauce is the dark blob in the middle. Kikkoman makes a good one, as do many other companies. To this we add - sesame oil, - smashed garlic cloves, - soy sauce, - a little vegetable broth, - a bit of rice vinegar, - a pinch of sugar, - hot sauce, and - coarse ground pepper. That's a lot of ingredients. One or maybe even two could be left out, but there is a certain magic is this combination even if you take a few liberties with it.

On the grill

The kebabs we have here are cubes of beef separated by pieces of green and red pepper and onion. Those are particularly sturdy vegetables and hold up particularly well in this grilling process. Plenty of other things can be used here as well, of course. Mushrooms are very good. And pieces of tomato, though since they cook faster than the beef many people prefer to grill the tomatoes on the side and combine them with the kebab meat on the plate.

If you like your beef rare or medium rare, the grilling would only take a couple of minutes per side, maybe five or six minutes in total.

Turn these regularly and you will have a beautiful charring that is not too dark and is uniformly distributed.

Marinade becomes sauce

The pan you used for the ingredients of the marinade and in which you carried the kebabs to the grill goes on the top shelf of the grill for a couple of minutes.

This produces a sizzle and serves to convert the marinade to sauce. The sizzle comes on quicker than the finished kebabs, however, so make sure to remove the pan not long after the sizzle starts -- or the liquid will sizzle quite away.

The resulting sauce will be used to spoon over the kebabs once they are on the plate.

Off the grill

And on the way to the table.

The transformation by fire is marvelous, as it always has been. You have to be careful of course -- not too long on the grill or the possibilities for something truly delicious will be scuppered. Just right and those possibilties will be fully realized.

This looks fully realized to me. All we need is a plate and some rice.

The meal composed

Here we have both the plate and that rice. The rice comes from my rice cooker. You have a rice cooker, don't you? Actually, other underlayers can be used as well: pasta, mashed potatoes, salad -- all are delicious.

Spoon the sauce over both the kebab and the rice.

A glass of red would be the perfect complement. A settled way of life based on agricultural knowledge has its advantages, too.

One last point about kebabs: universality. Not only do kebabs date back to the most primitive times, but every culture on the face of the earth makes them and enjoys eating them. For some cultures they are daily fare. For others, for advanced hedonists like ourselves who can pick and choose among so vastly many eating experiences, they are a special occasion.

Worthy of a hunter-gatherer

Parting facts

By "kebab" Americans generally mean "shish kebab," which has Turkish origins. For many Europeans it generally means "doner kebab," of Turkish origin also, but a dish which does not involve skewers -- instead it is slices of meat from meat roasted on a vertical rotisserie. Other parts of the world have other uses for the word.

Part of a series

Pictures, pictures, pictures

Series within series, actually. Food & Cooking, for example, then -- within that -- series on vegetables, fruits, seafood, meat, etc. Books, too. Ideas, too. Travel, too. Key virtues:. pictures, clear step-by-step text. Delicious -- whether foods or ideas! All of the series, and all of the items in each series, can be found at this link: Lee White's Department Store. Happy shopping! -- everything is for free!

Real Meal

Real Meal. Unlike fancy food mags, where images are hyped and food itself is secondary, all pix shown here are from a real meal, prepared and eaten by me and my friends. No throwing anything away till perfection is achieved. This is the real deal --- a Real Meal.

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