5 Common Mistakes We've All Made When Grilling Kebabs

Grilled kebabs (or kabobs or kababs) are a particular pleasure, but there are a few pitfalls that are easy to avoid.

Spiced Shrimp and Tomato Kebabs

Kebabs are a particular pleasure for the home griller. Food on a stick is always fun, and they can be a terrific and affordable way to feed a family or a crowd. Kebabs (or kabobs or kababs — they're all legitimate ways to spell it) cook quickly, can be assembled in advance, and require little more than some pita breads, condiments, and side dishes to make an instant party. But that doesn't make them automatically foolproof. Kebabs can be a little bit tricky, and if you aren't careful to avoid some of the obvious pitfalls, you might end up with scorched skewers stuck to your grill grate. Here are the top five mistakes we have all made that you should be wary of when it comes to grilling kebabs.

Don't mix different ingredients on one skewer.

While a skewer of various mixed vegetables and proteins is a reliably Instagrammable beauty shot, anyone who has ever received a kebab of crunchy semi-raw pearl onions, mushy cherry tomatoes that disintegrate en route to plate, and stringy cubes of overcooked meat can tell you, when it comes to the kebab, think monochromatic. By creating skewers of single ingredients, you can cook each to perfection in its own time and have all of your proteins and vegetables at their most delicious. Since everything cooks at various rates, keeping them separate gives you the most control.

Don't choose the wrong protein.

Not everything is ideal for skewering. You want proteins that are sturdy enough to stay on the skewer, and can stand up to hot, fast grilling without drying out. For seafood, leave the delicate flaky fish behind and stick with meatier fish like swordfish or monkfish, or whole shellfish like shrimp or scallops. Chicken thighs are more forgiving and will stay juicier than breasts, and meats with some marbling like skirt steak or ribeye will serve you better than tenderloins or other leaner cuts.

Do prep your grill properly.

Trying to lift a skewer to turn it and leaving half the contents stuck to your grate is never a good feeling. To ensure that your grill is ready to receive your kebabs, heat it as hot as it will go for at least 15-20 minutes, use a wire brush to scrape it off and remove any previous debris, then give it a good wipe down with a paper towel soaked in a high smoke-point oil. Be sure the kebabs themselves are also slicked in some nonstick spray or oil, and you should be good to go. And remember, on a properly prepared grill, food should naturally release when seared, if it is sticking, give it another minute and don't force it.

Do use a meat thermometer.

Kebabs are tricky, and it can be easy to over or undercook them. And the skewer in the middle can give you a false positive for doneness when using the patented finger poke method. As soon as your kebabs have had a full rotation, read the temperature, avoiding the skewer if you can, and be sure to pull them off the grill 5 degrees before your desired doneness, as they will finish with carryover cooking.

Don't choose the wrong seasoning and marinade ingredients.

Seasoning kebabs before cooking is essential. Rubs and spice blends are ideal for this, since they keep the exterior of the ingredients dry which is great for searing and color. Marinades can be tricky, since they often include ingredients which can burn or brown quickly, making you think your kebabs are done before they are, or can get acrid when charred. If you can, avoid glazes or sauces that contain sugar, fresh or dried herbs, or too much oil, which can catch and flame up. Instead, think about seasoning your proteins with salt and pepper and then when cooked, transferring them to a shallow dish and tossing with your favorite sauce or marinade, so that they can absorb and get coated as they rest. Bonus, since the meats will already be cooked, you can serve the sauce or marinade on the side, no danger of contamination and no wasteful need to discard, the way you must when doing a raw preparation.

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