Behind the Recipes

The Secrets Behind the Most Flavorful Kebabs You’ll Ever Eat

You need these juicy, fragrant spiced lamb skewers on your grill and in your life.

Published Mar. 31, 2023.

It was love at first bite. 

Since the first time I tried Adana kebabs in a Turkish restaurant near my home in New Orleans, I’ve been a little obsessed. The long, flat kebabs of red pepper–infused ground lamb were served atop a flatbread glistening with the tasty drippings. The meat was tender, juicy, and rich—garlicky and smoky with a captivating, balanced heat. 

I was smitten and had to learn more. 

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Since then, I’ve done hours and hours of research and eaten versions at Turkish restaurants from New Orleans to Boston to Munich, Germany, where thousands of kebab shops line the streets. There, I had one particularly exceptional version at an incredible restaurant named for the Turkish city of Adana, where the kebabs originate and where they are a popular specialty. 

I watched the chef pull out an arm’s-length sword of a skewer (called a shish) that was sheathed with a perfectly uniform layer of minced lamb. He gave the kebab a few turns over the hot mangal (a shallow box filled with glowing coals), and when the lamb began to sizzle and brown, he pulled it from the fire and pressed it between sheets of lavash to season and warm the flatbread with the juices from the meat and marinade. 

Served with garlicky yogurt and a salad of onion, parsley, and sumac, it was the most delicious thing I ate in Germany.


Grilled Adana-Style Kebabs

These juicy, fragrant, and delicious Turkish-style spiced lamb skewers deserve more attention.
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Since then I’ve been making Adana kebabs too, going through iteration after iteration to create a kebab that does justice to the best versions I’ve tasted (and others I’ve read about). The recipe I developed is necessarily a compromise but a really delicious one. 

In Adana the recipe is patented and strictly defined. Among other restrictions, the designation of origin specifies that a precise percentage of male lamb meat and tail fat must be minced by hand with a zirh (a large, crescent-shaped knife). 

For practicality’s sake, our recipe starts with ground lamb (with the highest fat percentage you can find), into which we mix a blend of aromatics and spices: chopped onion, garlic, biber salçası (Turkish pepper paste), cumin, paprika, sumac, and cayenne pepper. 

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The onion not only adds pungency and bite, but its moisture content also helps keep the kebabs juicy. The pepper paste, which adds an irreplaceable salty-sweet brightness, and sumac, which lends a unique pleasant sourness, are worth seeking out, either online or at your local Middle Eastern grocery. 

To correctly shape the ground lamb mixture for our Adana kebabs, we form makeshift shishes by wrapping aluminum foil around planks made from five wooden skewers. 

How to Make a Shish from Foil and Bamboo Skewers

1. Place foil sheet on counter and place 5 bamboo skewers one-third of way up sheet.

2. Fold bottom third of foil up and press down to secure over skewers.

3. Fold skewers over themselves, pressing foil down with each fold.

4. Fold ends of foil down to form single wide, flat skewer. 

Finally, after refrigerating the lamb skewers to firm them up, we give them a quick stint over a very hot, well-oiled grill. A 5-minute rest atop lavash lets their juices seep into the flatbreads and gives you time to toss together the vibrant, superfresh salad. I hope you’ll try them for yourself to see the deliciousness that’s had me so infatuated over these past months.

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