Lebanese Grilled Kafta
Lebanese Grilled Kafta is like a meatball, flavored with onion and spices, formed on a skewer, then grilled. One of the many grill recipes the Lebanese are famous for!
Even though a good hamburger is always, well, good!, I usually have plenty to critique: not enough flavor, too much between the bun to bite into, cooked too long or not enough. Enter Lebanese Grilled Kafta! Kafta shares plenty in common with burgers and with meatballs: seasoned meat, formed into a patty or a ball, cooked in a number of different ways.
But I will always–always–take kafta over a burger (where there’s a choice, at home!) for the FLAVOR factor. Use a higher fat ratio of meat and mix with onion, garlic, fresh herbs and spices galore. Even without grilling, made under the broiler or on the stove, kafta is a flavor bomb. But put that flavor on the grill and you have that next level smokey, summery, char-grilled element that is such good friends with meat.
What is Lebanese Kafta?
Think of kafta as a hamburger or meatball made with ground beef, lamb, or even chicken. Kafta flavor is achieved with a number of seasonings, especially onion, garlic, fresh herbs, and spices like dried mint, sumac, and cinnamon.
Kafta is eaten juice right off the grill, often with a bed of simple Vermicelli Rice Pilaf and thin pita bread with other trimmings like turnip pickles, hummus, tahini sauce, Toum garlic sauce, or labneh.
How to Make Lebanese Kafta
Start with that higher fat-content beef or lamb (or a mix of the two), and here we love to use the greatest tool in the kitchen: our hands! Add grated or pureed onion and minced garlic, chopped parsley and mint, sumac, cinnaomon, salt and pepper. Distribute the ingredients evenly with the meat, using your hands to blend everything together.
You’ll see that the meat mixture is quite soft. Pop the meat in the refrigerator to chill and allow the flavors to meld for at least one hour and up to a full day.
To prepare the kafta skewers, use about 1/2 cup of chilled meat mixture to each skewer (best to use skewers that are 12 inches or shorter for kafta). Form an oval football shape with the meat, then push the skewer through it lengthwise. Use your hands to spread the meat out so it isn’t so thick, making a log on the skewer that is about 6 inches long.
It is absolutely KEY not to overcook kafta! We’re looking for tender, juicy kafta that can only be achieved if the meat is cooked to medium or medium rare. Grill the kafta on medium heat so you have more control over the cooking time. Be sure to oil the grill grates before grilling so the kafta doesn’t stick. Lay the kafta crosswise on the grill grates so the marks are crosswise, rather than lengthwise, on the kafta. Wait for that satisfying moment when you turn the skewers over about halfway through cooking to find perfect char marks, the grillers’ goal!
Tips for Making Great Lebanese Grilled Kafta
- Be sure your meat has enough fat in it, 10-15% fat. The fat is key to juicy results.
- Take care not to overcook the meat. Keep the grill at medium heat so you have more control over the cooking time and are less likely to overcook them. Cook kafta to medium or medium rare.
- As with meatballs and burgers, don’t overwork the meat when forming the kafta. Distribute the seasonings evenly with your hands, then stop touching the mixture there.
- Serve kafta right from the grill. Reheating kafta can make it dry and overcooked. They’re best right off the grill when the kafta is hot and juicy.
Tips and Substitutions
- Kafta is delicious made with ground beef, lamb, chicken, or turkey. Because ground chicken and turkey are very lean, you can add olive oil or a little butter ghee to the meat mix to moisten it. Fresh breadcrumbs and a couple of tablespoons of milk will also help tenderize chicken and turkey kafta.
- Kafta can be baked at 325ºF for about 20 minutes, or sauteed in a well-oiled nonstick pan on medium heat, turning halfway through cooking. In both of these instances, the skewers are not necessary. The kofta can simply be formed without the skewers.
What to serve with Lebanese Grilled Kafta
Similar Recipes to Try
Lebanese Grilled Kafta
- 2 pounds ground beef, 85/15 fat content
- 2 tablespoons grated yellow onion
- 1 clove garlic, minced
- 3 tablespoons parsley, flat or curly, finely chopped
- 3 tablespoons mint, finely chopped, plus more for finishing
- 2 teaspoons kosher salt
- 1 tablespoon sumac
- 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
- 1 tablespoon crushed dried mint or Mint Salt
- 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- In a medium bowl, combine the beef with the onion, parsley, mint, salt, pepper, sumac, and cinnamon. Chill for at least one hour and up to one day.
- Heat the grill to medium. Coat the grates with oil.
- Use 1/2 cup of the meat mixture to form an oblong football shape. Pierce lengthwise with a 12-inch or smaller skewer. Continue to shape the kafta until it is longer and thinner, about 6 inches by 2 inches, on the skewer. Repeat this process with the rest of the meat.
- Place the skewers crosswise on the grill grates. Lower the lid and cook for about 3 minutes, or until golden with char marks on the bottom. Turn the kafta skewers and cook for another 5 minutes, or until the meat reaches 135°F.
- Remove the kafta from the grill to a platter or cutting board. Brush the kafta with olive oil and dust with chopped mint. Serve immediately.
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!