Skip to content

For juicier Turkish grilled chicken skewers, think strips not chunks

When grilled perfectly, chicken skewers come away from the fire tender and smoky. Except perfection on a grill can be elusive; they just as easily finish tough and overcooked.
This image released by Milk Street shows a recipe for Turkish-style chicken kebabs. (Milk Street via AP)

When grilled perfectly, chicken skewers come away from the fire tender and smoky. Except perfection on a grill can be elusive; they just as easily finish tough and overcooked.

To ensure juicy, luscious chicken skewers every time, we started by rethinking the cut of meat. Though breast meat is the typical choice, darker thigh meat not only is more flavorful, but its higher fat content makes it more forgiving on the grill. And rather than cut the meat into thick chunks, we slice it into strips. The thinner strips cook faster, and when threaded onto the skewers, they provide more surface area for applying flavorful rubs and sauces.

We applied those lessons to this recipe from our book “The New Rules,” which rethinks familiar dishes to change the way you cook. For flavor inspiration, we looked to Turkey, the country that gave shish kebabs their name.

Biber salçası, or Turkish red pepper paste, is a traditional ingredient in many versions of tavuk şiş. We use easier to find Fresno chilies, which we puree with roasted bell peppers and a touch of tomato paste. Dried and fresh mint add unique layers of freshness, and a touch of honey balances the acidity of the tomato paste.

Our puree also uses Aleppo pepper; look for it in well-stocked markets and spice shops. If Aleppo pepper is not available, substitute 1 tablespoon sweet paprika plus ¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper or red pepper flakes.

After the skewers marinate, don’t forget to scrape excess marinade off the chicken as you thread the pieces onto skewers. This prevents a sticky buildup on the grill grates.

Turkish-Style Chicken Kebabs (Tavuk Şiş)

Start to finish: 1 hour, plus marinating

Servings: 4

1/2 cup drained roasted red bell peppers, patted dry

6 medium garlic cloves, smashed and peeled

2 Fresno chilies, stemmed, seeded and roughly chopped

¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil

2 tablespoons dried mint

2 tablespoons Aleppo pepper (see headnote)

1 tablespoon honey

1 tablespoon tomato paste

Kosher salt

1 1/2 tablespoons lemon juice

2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken thighs, trimmed and cut crosswise into 1-inch strips

3 tablespoons chopped fresh mint

In a food processor, combine the roasted red peppers, garlic, chilies, oil, dried mint, Aleppo pepper, honey, tomato paste and 1 teaspoon salt. Process until almost smooth, 45 to 60 seconds, scraping the sides as needed. Measure 3 tablespoons of the puree into a small bowl, then stir in the lemon juice; cover and refrigerate. Transfer the remaining puree to a medium bowl, add the chicken and toss to coat. Cover and refrigerate for at least 1 hour or up to 12 hours.

Prepare a charcoal or gas grill. For a charcoal grill, ignite a large chimney three-quarters full of coals, let burn until lightly ashed over, then distribute evenly over one side of the grill bed; open the bottom grill vents and the lid vent. For a gas grill, turn all burners to high and heat, covered, for 15 minutes, then clean and oil the grate; turn all burners to medium-high.

While the grill heats, remove the reserved puree from the refrigerator. Thread the chicken onto eight 10- to 12-inch metal skewers, evenly dividing the pieces and scraping off excess marinade. Place the skewers on the hot side of the grill (if using charcoal), and cook, uncovered, turning every 2 to 3 minutes, until evenly charred on all sides and the thickest piece is opaque when cut into, 10 to 12 minutes. Transfer to a serving platter. Stir the fresh mint into the reserved puree and serve with the kebabs.

EDITOR’S NOTE: For more recipes, go to Christopher Kimball’s Milk Street at

Christopher Kimball, The Associated Press