Grilled chicken shawarma is the perfect recipe for summer cookouts: easy, healthy, and incredibly flavorful. You’ll put this one on repeat performance all season long.

Grilled Chicken Shawarma Skewers with red onion on a sheet pan

Steak. Shish Kebab. BBQ Chicken. Steak. Shish Kebab. BBQ Chicken.

It’s a kind of grilling rut I’ve noticed in recent summers. Granted, this is a “rut” of delicious dinners, but this summer, I’ve got goals. #grillinggoals.

My step-it-up list includes the simple yet elusive perfect grilled burger. Also: grilled chicken shawarma, classic Middle Eastern spit-grilled chicken akin to Greek gyro but different, in that shawarma is composed of layers of marinated meat and fat, whereas gyro is more of a meatloaf (sorry to use that word) of ground lamb and beef and spices.

Chicken shawarma skewers on the grill

I have made great oven-roasted shawarma in the past and have always enjoyed a yogurt-based marinade. Or, I should say, I’ve always enjoyed the tenderness a yogurt marinade imparts. But the goopiness (another sorry, for that word) of the yogurt?

Well, let’s just say I wanted to develop a shawarma marinade that would give us our POP! of flavor (just ask Celine), with definite tenderness-enhancement, but without the yogurt, for the grill. Enter our pal lemon juice, and spices galore. The right spices, not just any.

Spices in a bowl for chicken shawarma

Marinated chicken and onion on skewers for shawarma

Then there is replicating the flavor-making heaven of all that is spit-fired. Traditionally you’ve got the shawarma piled up on a vertical spit, down which the juices and fats glaze the chicken as it turns and chars slowly and consistently.

You can understand why, in my mind, a rotisserie spit is not off the table to enhance our array of tools here at home, but I suspect Dan would beg to differ on that score (“you want to get a what?”). That’s fine though. The grill does its job ever so well charring the grilled chicken shawarma’s edges. And there is an excellent replacement for the spit-fired glaze: olive oil, and lots of it. From the marinade to basting to drizzling, the liberal use of olive oil here is simple, effective, and healthy. But most importantly: succulent and delectable.

Grilled chicken shawarma cut on a board

Pita filled with grilled chicken shawarma in a dish

The flexibility of grilled chicken shawarma makes it the perfect cookout recipe: Marinate the chicken for as little as an hour and up to a day; flavor is full either way. Grill the skewered meat at show-time and serve immediately, or grill in advance and reheat the cut shreds stove-top in olive oil. Serve the grilled chicken shawarma with salads like fattoush and tabbouleh, atop Mom’s special rice. Or tuck the meat into small pita with lettuce and pickles like lifft (turnip pickles), easy picnic food. In any case, a generous drizzle of tahini sauce gilds this lily but good.

After mastering such a succulent shawarma, I’m thinking I may not need to master the burger after all. We’d be just fine with a new grilling rut this season: Grilled Chicken Shawarma. Grilled Chicken Shawarma. Grilled Chicken Shawarma.

Chicken shawarma skewers on the grill

Grilled chicken shawarma pitas with tahini sauce

Chicken shawarma skewers on the grill

Grilled Chicken Shawarma

Keyword: chicken, grilling, shawarma, summer
Prep Time: 1 hour
Cook Time: 18 minutes
Servings: 6
Recipe by: Maureen Abood

Your simple, succulent summer grill favorite is here! Many spices are called for to get the classic shawarma flavor, but note that you'll be using your spices all season long, so the investment is worth it! Marinate the chicken for as little as an hour and up to a day; flavor is full either way. Grill the skewered meat at show-time and serve immediately, or grill in advance and reheat the cut shreds stovetop in olive oil. Serve the grilled chicken shawarma with salads like fattoush and tabbouleh, atop Mom’s special rice. Or tuck the meat into small pita with lettuce and pickles like lifft (turnip pickles).

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Ingredients

For the marinade:

  • 2 teaspoons turmeric
  • 1/2 teaspoon cumin
  • 1 tablespoon sumac
  • 1 tablespoon coriander
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons kosher salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon allspice
  • 2 teaspoons granulated garlic
  • 2 teaspoons onion powder
  • 2 teaspoons mint salt or crushed dried mint
  • 1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper (or more, to taste, or none at all)
  • Juice of 2 lemons
  • 1/3 cup Extra virgin olive oil

For the chicken:

  • 2.5 pounds skinless, boneless chicken thighs
  • 1 large red onion, cut in 8 wedges
  • 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil, to coat the grill and baste and finish the chicken

For the tahini sauce:

  • 1/3 cup tahini
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt

Instructions

  1. In a small bowl, whisk all of the spices. Add the lemon juice and olive oil and whisk to combine completely.

  2. In a medium bowl, place about half of the chicken thighs and half of the marinade. Rub the chicken, coating each piece well all over with the marinade. Add the rest of the chicken and marinade and again rub each piece all over with the marinade. Cover and chill for one hour or up to one day.

  3. Make the tahini sauce by whisking the tahini, garlic, and salt. Set aside until the chicken is grilled. The sauce can be made a day or two ahead, covered and chilled. Bring to room temperature before serving.

  4. Heat the grill on medium high heat. While the grill heats up, thread the chicken and onion on skewers, disposing of any remaining marinade. Take care keep the chicken fairly loosely threaded so that more of it will char on the edges. I like stainless steel skewers. If using bamboo skewers, be sure to soak them in water first.

  5. Using a paper or other towel on grill tongs, coat the hot grill grates with oil. Grill the skewers with the top down on the grill for 8-10 minutes, or until charred on the edges and browned. Again coat another area of the grill grates with oil and turn the skewers, placing them on the oiled surface. Coat the top of the grilled skewer with olive oil, close the grill top and cook for another 8-10 minutes, or until charred on the edges and browned.

  6. Remove the skewers from the grill, and push the chicken and onions off onto a cutting board. Slice the chicken into 1/2-inch thick slices. Drizzle everything with more olive oil.

  7. Serve the chicken drizzled with tahini sauce, with extra sauce in a bowl on the side.

 

 

 

 

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18 Responses to "Grilled Chicken Shawarma"
  1. Karen Lipsey says:

    HI Maureen, can you use chicken breasts instead of thighs? Can you omit the tumeric–if so, should I add any other spice or change the proportions of the remaining spices?

    • Maureen Abood says:

      Hi Karen–breast meat will dry out here, but you can use it if you like. You can also omit the turmeric without replacing it, though yes, the flavor won’t be exactly the same–but still delicious!

  2. Nicki says:

    Maureen! My mouth is watering! I’m assuming you cut your chicken up before putting on skewers. How big of chunks should we go for?

    • Maureen Abood says:

      Hi Nicki–don’t cut the chicken thighs before grilling. Thread the whole thighs loosely, then cut them into 1/2-inch thick pieces after grilling!

  3. Tomas says:

    Maureen, I am making this tonight! Your oven roasted shawarma was a staple in our summer dinner rotation. I just made a batch of smooooooth hummus last night and I’m sure it will pair perfectly with the shawarma and my Lebanese Salata.
    Can’t wait

  4. Reema Shuman says:

    Maureen, I love your blog. I will be trying this recipe this weekend. I love how your recipes bring out the freshness in Lebanese cooking, it really makes me want to reconnect to my grandma’s roots. I am also go to try pickling turnips today. I’m super excited.

  5. Michael Beacham says:

    This is honestly one of the best recipes I have ever made. Everyone raved about this when I served it. The marinade gives magical results.

  6. maureen sanderson says:

    This was fabulous!! It will be my “go to” recipe!!

  7. Hilda beshara says:

    Hi Maureen shouldn’t you think the tahineh sauce with a little lemon juice and water? It would be too thick otherwise.Thanks

  8. Mary M-S says:

    Our 33rd anniversary was on the 25th so I tried this paired with ‘Mom’s Lebanese Rice’ and some roasted carrots with garlic. Grand. Slam. I couldn’t readily find the sumac but substituted lemon pepper I had on hand. This is absolutely in our rotation, thank you SO much, Maureen!!

  9. Tina says:

    I made this and, while we found this delicious, my whole family agreed it was extremely salty. I double-checked the ingredient list after we ate because I thought I screwed up. Am I the only one who found it so salty?

    • Maureen Abood says:

      Hi Tina! Question: are you using regular table salt? That is saltier than the kosher salt I use in this (and all) recipe, so I’m thinking that might be the culprit!

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