Master the steps for sizzling spit-roasted shawarma at home.

By Mary-Frances Heck
May 26, 2020
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The sight of sizzling, vertically spit-roasted meat, slowly turning and basting in its own juices, is enough to stop any hungry person in their tracks. Sold on street corners from Istanbul to Los Angeles, this slow-cooked meat is shaved to order and often wrapped in flatbread. This method of preparing meat originated in Istanbul, in kebab form, travelled to the Levant, where it became known as shawarma (literally “to turn” in Arabic), then jumped the Atlantic with Lebanese immigrants to Mexico, where it evolved as al pastor. All three variations on spit-turned meat—and dozens more riffs—are found across the globe today.

Photo by Victor Protasio / Food Styling by Margaret Dickey / Prop Styling Heather Chadduck

Famously affordable, shawarma has kept me well-fed throughout my life. Doner kebab nourished me as a broke student in Spain; shawarma carts 
sustained me as a broke intern in New York City years ago. To this day, the aroma of cumin-and-chile-scented meat remains a profound comfort.

It was with this taste memory in mind that I set out to make shawarma at home. Instead of a vertical spit, 
my method involves triple-skewering 
thin slices of marinated chicken to create a tight horizontal roast­—a sort of shawarma-kebab hybrid. Searing the stacked chicken over hot coals before finishing it over low heat ensures the right ratio of crispy charred outside to tender, super-juicy inside. Paired with grilled marinated mushrooms, fresh vegetables, pita, and a creamy tahini sauce, the result is a gorgeous spread perfect for early-summer eating.

1. Pound Chicken

Photo by Victor Protasio / Food Styling by Margaret Dickey / Prop Styling Heather Chadduck

Place chicken thighs between 2 sheets of plastic wrap. Using a meat mallet, pound chicken to 1/8-inch thickness.

2. Butcher Chicken

Photo by Victor Protasio / Food Styling by Margaret Dickey / Prop Styling Heather Chadduck

Lay pounded thighs on top of one another in 1 or 2 neat stacks. Cut stack crosswise into thirds. Marinate chicken as directed.

3. Stack Chicken

Photo by Victor Protasio / Food Styling by Margaret Dickey / Prop Styling Heather Chadduck

Arrange marinated chicken in 3 even stacks, rotating as needed to keep stacks as neat as possible. Top each stack with 2 onion petals.

4. Skewer Chicken

Photo by Victor Protasio / Food Styling by Margaret Dickey / Prop Styling Heather Chadduck

Into the center of 1 stack, insert skewers 1 inch apart, forming a triangle. Use fingers to slide chicken up skewers.

5. Skewer Stacks

Photo by Victor Protasio / Food Styling by Margaret Dickey / Prop Styling Heather Chadduck

Position skewers over second chicken stack; skewer stack. Repeat with remaining stack. Add onion petals to end of shawarma.

6 Grill Shawarma and Mushrooms

Photo by Victor Protasio / Food Styling by Margaret Dickey / Prop Styling Heather Chadduck

Sear shawarma over direct heat, turning often, until sizzling and charred. Move to indirect heat, and gently roast shawarma, turning often, until center is juicy and tender. Grill marinated mushrooms over direct heat until crispy, then finish cooking over indirect heat until tender.

7. Carve Shawarma

Photo by Victor Protasio / Food Styling by Margaret Dickey / Prop Styling Heather Chadduck

Hold chicken shawarma upright on a cutting board. Starting at the top, slice downward into thin strips, rotating shawarma with each cut.

8. Serve

Photo by Victor Protasio / Food Styling by Margaret Dickey / Prop Styling Heather Chadduck

Tuck chicken and mushrooms in pitas with tomato, cucumber, parsley, and hot sauce. Serve with Lemon-Garlic Tahini Sauce.