Shish Kebab – Who could say no to meat on a stick?


Is there anything more delicious than meat on a skewer? Aside from a quite practical way to eat, the vegetarians and vegans among you might disagree. Let’s have a look at the origins of this delectable dish.

What is Shish Kebab?

Shish kebab is a dish of small pieces of meat on a skewer that is grilled over fire. The meat is often marinated beforehand to make it as soft as lokum. It is made will all types of meet, be it beef, lamb or chicken.

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The origins

Nomadic Turks in Central Asia had the two staple foods of meat and dairy (1). Naturally, there have been a wide variety of ways to make them, but the practice of putting meat on skewers has been claimed to have come from soldiers who put chunks of meat onto their swords and then cooked them over an open fire. Kysaa-ı Yusuf was the first to refers to this as a kebab is in 1377.
As with many popular, modern dishes, kebabs are mentioned in the recipe books of the Topkapı Palace kitchens from the mid 15th century. These recipes mainly made use of lamb, mutton and chicken. Beef was mainly used in the production of “pastırma”, a cured kind of meat (2).
With the centuries marching on, there have been a wide variety of shish kebabs in Turkey, with the most popular being “Urfa kebabı” and “Adana kebabı”, which are both named after their places of origin. These kinds of shish kebabs are made out of ground beef and/or lamb and Adana kebabs are on the spicier side. The meat mixture is molded around a wide skewer and is barbequed, just like the original dish with cubed meat.


The word kebab refers more to the way it is prepared rather than the dish itself. Across the Middle East, the word refers to meat cooked without water or sauce. This doesn’t necessarily mean that it needs to be cooked over a fire directly, but rather any way of cooking without adding any water (2).
The word can be traced back to the Akkadian “kababu”, meaning frying or burning, according to etymologist Sevan Nişanyan. The oldest recording of the word of is found in Mahmud Kashgari’s “Diwan Lughat al-Turk” from the 11th century, with the definition of a pointed stick.

Shish kebab - who could say no to meat on a stick?

Although there are many different kebabs, here the most classic with lamb.
Servings 6 portions
Prep Time 5 mins
Cook Time 15 mins
Total Time 20 mins


  • 800 gr lamb
  • 4 tbsp yogurt
  • 2 tbsp onion juice
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 tbsp pepper paste
  • ½ tsp black pepper
  • ½ tsp cumin
  • 1 tsp garlic powder or 2 crushed cloves


  • Put all the ingredients other than the meat in a bowl and give it a good stir. Cut the lamb into pieces big enough to put them on a skewer and let it marinate for at least half an hour. Depending on how you want to prepare them, you will want to choose different kinds of skewers. Use metal skewers if you want to barbeque. If you want to roast them in a pan, then wood or bamboo skewers will do.
  • Make sure to rotate them frequently to distribute the heat equally on the meat.


Note: Does not include marinating time (min 30 minutes)


(1) Deniz Gürsoy, “Tarihin süzgecinde mutfak kültürümüz”, 2013.
(2) Marianna Yerasimos, “500 Yıllık Osmanlı Mutfağı”, 2002.
Course: Main Course