Recipe Spotlight

The Secret to Juicy, Smoky Chicken Kebabs: Bacon Paste

It may sound weird, but it works.

Published July 6, 2023.

There’s truth to the “everything’s better with bacon” mantra. But when we incorporated it into our barbecued chicken kebabs recipe, it wasn’t just about flavor.

Without any fatty skin protecting them from the blazing heat of the grill, skinless chicken thighs and breasts don’t stand a chance of staying moist. Even the fattiest thigh meat can dry out and toughen. Not even the tastiest barbecue sauce can save it.

We came up with two safeguards against dry meat: salting the chicken pieces, and coating them with a bacon paste before threading them onto skewers.

Sign up for the Notes from the Test Kitchen newsletter

Our favorite tips and recipes, enjoyed by 2 million+ subscribers!

The bacon idea came from Middle Eastern kebab cookery. Turkish chefs skewer slices of pure lamb fat between lamb chunks before grilling. The fat melts during cooking, continually basting the lean meat. We were working with chicken here, so lamb didn’t quite fit. But we could think of another fatty, more complementary meat: bacon.

As far as how to incorporate bacon into the kebab, we tried threading 1-inch pieces between the chunks of chicken and wrapping strips of bacon around the kebabs in a spiral-like helix, but they both fell short texturally or overwhelmed the chicken’s delicate taste. (After all, these were chicken kebabs, not bacon kebabs.) We also tried basting the kebabs with bacon fat, but the fat dripped into the grill and caused flare-ups, torching the meat.

chicken kebab with bacon sliceschicken kebab wrapped in baconchicken skewer brushed with bacon fat
From left: Bacon pieces cooked up too flabby, whole strips tasted too bacony, and bacon drippings were prone to flare-ups.

Our breakthrough came when we pulsed a couple strips of bacon in a food processor, creating a spreadable paste. We combined the bacon paste, other spices, and a bit of sugar in a bowl, then tossed the salted chicken pieces in it. Once grilled, the chicken was juicy, tender, and full-flavored, with a smoky depth that complemented the barbecue sauce.

View the full recipe for all the details (we have a gas-grill version and a charcoal-grill version), but here’s a rundown of the key steps for adding bacon the next time you make barbecue chicken kebabs.

Barbecued Chicken Kebabs

  • Toss 1-inch cubes of chicken (thighs or breasts, but not both on the same skewer) with salt and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes and no longer than an hour.
  • Combine spices and sugar in a small bowl. Process bacon in a food processor and add to the small bowl.
  • Dry the chicken and add to the bowl with spices and bacon paste. Mix until chicken is completely coated. Thread chicken onto skewers.
  • Use a half-grill fire setup and grill kebabs over the hot side of the grill, turning every couple of minutes until well browned and slightly charred.
  • Brush the top of the kebabs with barbecue sauce; flip and cook until sauce is brown in spots. Brush second side with sauce; flip and continue to cook until brown in spots and chicken is cooked through.
  • Let rest 5 minutes before serving, passing extra barbecue sauce separately.
New Release!

The Outdoor Cook

Go way beyond burgers and basic proteins to become your best outdoor cooking self. Cover fire setups and heat levels, plus read reviews of outdoor cooking equipment and all the invaluable tips ATK has learned from more than 25 years of experience.
Save Now

This is a members' feature.