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.

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, on repeat.

Chicken shawarma skewers on the grill

Grilled chicken shawarma pitas with tahini sauce

Chicken shawarma skewers on the grill

Grilled Chicken Shawarma

Maureen Abood
Your simple, succulent grill favorite is here! Many spices are called for to get the classic shawarma flavor. Get Maureen Abood Market Shawarma Spice here! If using this spice blend, just mix 2 tablespoons with 1/3 cup of olive oil and the juice of two lemons, subbing the blend out for all of the spice ingredients in the 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 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).
Prep Time 1 hr
Cook Time 18 mins
Servings 6

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
 

  • 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.
Keyword chicken, grilling, shawarma, summer

 

 

 

 

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37 Comments

  1. Karen Lipsey on May 23, 2019 at 11:29 AM

    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 on May 23, 2019 at 11:48 AM

      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 on May 23, 2019 at 12:33 PM

    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 on May 23, 2019 at 12:48 PM

      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 on May 23, 2019 at 1:22 PM

    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

    • Maureen Abood on May 23, 2019 at 1:28 PM

      That is so great Tomas, thank you and enjoy!! Your meal tonight will be delectable…

  4. Reema Shuman on May 24, 2019 at 10:11 AM

    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.

    • Maureen Abood on May 28, 2019 at 8:14 AM

      Thank you so very much Reema!

  5. Michael Beacham on May 28, 2019 at 10:26 AM

    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.

    • Maureen Abood on May 28, 2019 at 10:09 PM

      Michael, thank you! I’m honored to know this recipe makes the grade at the Beachams!

  6. maureen sanderson on May 28, 2019 at 12:43 PM

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

    • Maureen Abood on May 28, 2019 at 10:08 PM

      I’m so happy to hear that!

  7. Hilda beshara on May 28, 2019 at 10:26 PM

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

    • Maureen Abood on May 31, 2019 at 11:51 PM

      Hi Hilda–the tahini sauce is great as written but I love it as you’ve described too, with lemon!

  8. Mary M-S on May 29, 2019 at 10:02 AM

    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!!

    • Maureen Abood on May 31, 2019 at 11:53 PM

      Perfect sub for the sumac, tangy and great. Happy anniversary! Great way to celebrate.

  9. Tina on June 15, 2019 at 11:25 AM

    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 on June 20, 2019 at 9:54 AM

      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!

  10. Alyssa on June 22, 2019 at 5:45 PM

    Made this shawarma tonight – My husband said it tasted like it was from a “restaurant” (a big compliment as dining at Lebanese restaurants is our favourite)! – we will be making this again and again this season – thank you!!

    • Maureen Abood on June 23, 2019 at 6:57 AM

      Hurray Alyssa, thank you!

  11. Danesh on June 28, 2019 at 1:23 AM

    Hi Maureen, I gave your recipe a try and it was hands down one of the best grilled Shawarma’s I’ve ever eaten! Although im not sure I made it perfectly. Adding granulated garlic and mint is not part of my regular recipe but will definitely include it henceforth as I was pleasantly surprised. Hoping you have some ideas for a healthy Kuboos bread!

    • Maureen Abood on July 1, 2019 at 11:40 AM

      This is great, thank you! I hear you about the healthy bread recipe….!

  12. Disha Shengale on August 28, 2019 at 5:56 AM

    i have tried almost all chicken shawarma restaurants in Kuwait..yet home made chicken shawarmas has a different level of taste <3 thanks for this amazing recipe

    • Maureen Abood on August 29, 2019 at 12:37 PM

      Soooo good! Thank you!

  13. Diane Power on May 18, 2020 at 10:32 AM

    Hi Maureen –

    I hope you and your family are staying safe :). So look forward to your posts and making your food especially during these challenging times! I am loving the cookbook too :). I am a bit confused about the preparation of the chicken used in the shawarma. When I think of a chicken thigh it is thick and meaty and I worry how the thigh will cook all the way through being such a big chunk of meat. The pictures almost look like the chicken is in chunks, but they aren’t by your recipe. So to confirm, there’s no fileting or pounding need, correct? Thanks for clarifying. Excited to try the recipe! dmp

    • Maureen Abood on May 20, 2020 at 5:43 AM

      Thanks so much Diane! For the shawarma, the chicken thighs are indeed marinated and skewered whole. They cook through fine; be sure not to crowd them too much on the skewers, and to cook at a medium temperature so that the interior has time to cook before the exterior gets charred. Enjoy! So delicious!

  14. sandra on July 23, 2020 at 11:42 AM

    Hi love your recipes look yummy i will tray them also wanted to ask can you plz share the recipe of basbosa
    Thanks

    • Maureen Abood on July 25, 2020 at 7:17 AM

      Thank you Sandra–I’ll add that to my list!

  15. Nancy on August 20, 2020 at 8:49 PM

    This chicken shawarma was fabulous. The marinade really clung to the chicken and it resulted in a wonderfully moist and flavorful chicken. We grilled the chicken on both sides and then moved it to indirect heat to keep it from burning. We removed the chicken and onions from the skewers and drizzled the tahini sauce over — it was awesome. Served with some Middle Eastern-style potatoes and steam broccoli. Definitely will be a repeat at our house.

    • Maureen Abood on August 31, 2020 at 9:25 AM

      Mmmmm Nancy, you make this delicious dish sound even more delicious! Thank you!

  16. Michele on February 5, 2021 at 5:31 PM

    This is the best chicken shawarma I’ve had. The only thing I changed was to serve it with a white garlic sauce.

  17. Michele on February 9, 2021 at 6:24 PM

    This was a delicious shawarma full of flavor and well thought out instructions

    • Maureen Abood on February 10, 2021 at 9:55 AM

      Delicious, thank you Michele!

  18. Ashraf Mohamed Hamed on June 20, 2021 at 12:19 PM

    HI Maureen, can you use Who’ll chicken Boneless instead of thighs? Can you Vinegar and Orange, should I add any other spice or change the proportions of the remaining spices same Arabic Masala or Mexican Masala ?

    • Maureen Abood on June 29, 2021 at 9:56 AM

      You can use boneless breasts whole, but you won’t have the same flavor level of char-grilled exterior of pieces vs. whole. Also breast meat tends to dry out more than thigh meat, especially boneless breast. As for spice combos, you can switch out any and give a whirl!

  19. Marita on September 19, 2021 at 3:05 AM

    Hi, we made this for my family and we loved it. Such rich flavour. One of our favorite BBQs now.

    • Maureen Abood on September 20, 2021 at 9:24 AM

      Thanks Marita, it’s just such a delicious favorite!

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I'm so glad you're here! You'll find among these pages the fresh and classic Lebanese recipes we can't get enough of! My mission is to share my tried + true recipes -- and to help our Lebanese food-loving community keep these culinary traditions alive and on the table. What recipes are you looking for? Let me know!

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