Using small pieces of food for grilling means there is tons of surface area for bold seasonings and marinades. Grilling with skewers is an excellent way to corral smaller pieces of meat and vegetables without the danger of them falling through the grates. In addition, there’s no other way to prepare some of the world’s most iconic grilled proteins, such as Greek souvlaki, Indonesian satay, or Turkish shish kebab.
Our test cooks have spent countless hours preparing them all, along with just about any other ingredient you can impale with a skewer. Here’s some of the wisdom we’ve learned to help you grill with confidence.
Sign up for the Cook's Country Dinner Tonight newsletter
10 ingredients. 45 minutes. Quick, easy, and fresh weeknight recipes.
Choose the Right Skewers
We like flat metal skewers best because the wide skewers help keep food from spinning around them, and metal doesn’t burn like wood can (plus, you don’t have to soak metal skewers). After rounds of testing, Norpro 12-Inch Stainless Steel Skewers came out on top. The only set to ace every task, these thin, flat stainless-steel spears supported thick kebabs, threaded delicate scallops without tearing them, and turned easily. Plus, their looped handles cooled quickly.
SkewersWe got grilling with six different sets to find the best of the bunch.
Note: If you’re using wooden skewers, be sure to soak them in water for at least 30 minutes so they resist burning over the hot grill.
Choose the Right Cut and Cut It Right
Here are some of the test kitchen’s favorite cuts of meat to grill on skewers along with a specific application to illustrate some best practices with that protein.
Chicken Breasts: Slicing boneless, skinless chicken breasts into ½-inch strips—as we do for our Grilled Chicken Souvlaki recipe—yields better results than cutting them into chunks. The strips have more surface area for holding onto the bold mixture of lemon zest, olive oil, oregano, and thyme, and threading them onto the skewers in an S shape allows the potent marinade to get stuck in the crannies of the folded chicken, providing concentrated pops of flavor.
Grilled Chicken SouvlakiA bold marinade, intense heat, and an extraordinary sauce made this grilled chicken something we couldn't stop thinking about for years.
Sirloin Steak Tips (aka Flap Meat): We use sirloin steak tips (cut into 1-inch pieces) for our Shashlik-Style Beef Kebabs because they aren’t too lean (and will therefore stay juicy), they have big beefy flavor, and their loose grain gives them more surface area, enabling them to hold on to more marinade.
Shashlik-Style Beef KebabsA visit to Brighton Beach in Brooklyn, New York, inspired our take on this flavorful cousin of kebabs.
Country-Style Pork Ribs: For our Spice-Grilled Pork Skewers with Grilled Tomato Relish, we turn to boneless country-style ribs cut into 1-inch pieces. They are quick cooking and tender yet have enough fat to keep them from drying out. A flavorful spice rub—garlic, coriander, cumin, nutmeg, cinnamon, and lemon—does triple duty, first in a marinade, later in a basting sauce (mixed with butter and honey to promote browning), and again in a relish for the finished pork.
Spice-Grilled Pork Skewers with Grilled Tomato RelishFor tender, juicy, flavorful pork skewers, you need to pick the right cut and be bold when it comes to seasonings.
Jumbo Shrimp: For our Grilled Chipotle Shrimp recipe, we stayed away from small shrimp—using bigger specimens (16 to 20 per pound or larger) meant that we could keep them on the grill for a few seconds longer. We also configured the shrimp on the skewers so that they were spooning each other, essentially making one large mass of shrimp that gave us a little more insurance against overcooking.
Grilled Chipotle ShrimpWe wanted tender, juicy, flavorful shrimp.
Swordfish: Robust and meaty, pieces of swordfish hold together better than most other fish on the grill. For our Grilled Swordfish and Pineapple Skewers with Couscous, we cut 1-inch-thick steaks into 1-inch cubes before marinating them in a delicious, quick-browning mix of olive oil, honey, lemon, and cayenne.
Grilled Swordfish and Pineapple Skewers with CouscousCurry-flavored couscous makes the perfect base for these vibrant skewers.
Flip the Food Not the Skewer
Perhaps the most common pitfall of grilling ingredients threaded onto thin skewers is that the food tends to spin around the skewer. Even when using the best skewers, this can be an issue. That’s why we like to instruct cooks to turn the skewers by grasping the food with tongs rather than using the tongs to grasp and turn the ends of the skewer itself. With the most unwieldy of ingredients—as is the case in our Grilled Chipotle Shrimp—threading the food onto two skewers makes spinning impossible.
The Outdoor CookGo way beyond burgers and basic proteins to become your best outdoor cooking self. Whether you use a gas or charcoal grill, flat-top griddle, open-fire setup, smoker, or pizza oven, you can revel in the outdoor cooking lifestyle. By learning to harness fire and smoke the ATK way, you’ll even be able to convert many of these recipes between different cooking methods.
Skewer Veggies and Meat Separately
There’s something very pleasing about a single skewer containing both your grilled meat and a vegetable side dish. But since it’s crucial that the meat be taken off the heat during a short window of perfect doneness, it’s typically best to separate your meat and veggies and place them on different skewers. That way each can be easily cooked to the appropriate doneness.
Of course, there are exceptions to this rule (several of which appear on this website). So if you do want to combine your meat and veggies on a single skewer, you’ll need to take care to choose just the right combination cut to just the right size in order to sync their cooking times. Luckily, if you choose one of our recipes, you can rest assured that our test cooks have taken care to do that work for you.