Grilled Chicken Shawarma
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.
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.
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.
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.
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, on repeat.
Grilled Chicken Shawarma
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
- In a small bowl, whisk all of the spices. Add the lemon juice and olive oil and whisk to combine completely.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Serve the chicken drizzled with tahini sauce, with extra sauce in a bowl on the side.
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