With the weather heating up, now is the time to get outside and fire up the grill. Summertime grilling can take many forms—from showstopping ribeyes, to spicy chicken wings, and corn on the cob for days—but don’t sleep on skewers. Kebabs and other skewers offer the low-fuss, high-impact feast your family and friends will flip for all summer long.
To get the most out of your skewered meat, fish, fruit, and veggies, you need the right skewers, a little ingredient prep, and big, bold seasonings. For the latter, we love McCormick for their carefully curated blends, like their savory Grill Mates Roasted Garlic and Herb Seasoning and smoky-sweet Grill Mates Smokehouse Maple Seasoning. Read on to learn how you can easily reach serious-skewer status all season long.
Select the perfect skewer
Stainless steel vs. bamboo? Round vs. flat? When it comes to skewers, there are a surprising number of options. If you are grilling smaller items (like chicken satay for an appetizer) a flat bamboo skewer easily transitions from the grill to the table. Just be sure to soak them in water for 2 hours before placing them over the fire. For larger kebabs, pick a sturdy metal skewer that can stand up to both the weight of the ingredients and the heat of the grill. Bonus: they are simple to clean.
No matter what kind of skewer you pick, consider doubling up. Threading your ingredients through two parallel skewers helps to keep your ingredients from spinning or sliding off.
Chop (and dry!) your ingredients
Whether you are grilling cubes of beef or fish, or veggies like zucchini and cherry tomatoes, prepping your ingredients in advance keeps things simple at the grill. Chop everything into uniform pieces (larger than the slats in your grill grates!) so they cook evenly. Pat meat dry with paper towels before cutting, to ensure you get a sizzling brown crust. (Even if you marinate your meat, pat it dry before it hits the grill!) With these tips in mind, don’t be afraid to add new ingredients to the rotation. Juicy fruits like peaches and watermelon are a natural fit for the grill, and make excellent skewer additions.
Marinate and season before you skewer
To keep prep as tidy as possible, sprinkle on a dry rub or let the ingredients soak in a liquid marinade after cutting but before threading them onto skewers. Add a heat-meets-sweet flavor to your beef and chicken with McCormick’s Grill Mates Sweet & Smoky Rub, or brighten up potato and sweet corn with a fiery Grill Mates Louisiana Cajun Seasoning. And, if you’re running short on time and don’t have to create a marinade from scratch: McCormick’s 30-minute marinades deliver on flavor without the measuring cups.
Skewer with time (and space!) in mind
While threading skewers is simple, there is a right (and a wrong) way to do it. Meat and vegetables grill at different rates, so be sure to keep ingredients with similar cooking times on their own sticks. That way, you can pull skewers off the heat at just the right time. Leaving a bit of space between ingredients (¼ to ½-inch is ideal) helps everything cook at the same rate. When ingredients (especially meat) get too crowded, the heat can’t circulate evenly, and you end up with food that is undercooked at the center of the skewer and overcooked at the ends.
Get in the grill zones
For perfectly cooked skewers, build a fire in your charcoal grill with hot and cool zones—in other words, one section that gives off blazing high heat, and another section that keeps things chill. (Gas grills can also be set up with two zones, as long as it has more than one burner.) Start the skewers in the hot zone to get a good, crusty sear before moving them to the cooler zone to finish cooking.
If you don’t have access to an outdoor grill, a screaming hot grill pan lets you get in on the skewer fun in your kitchen.
Monitor your meat temps
Whether you are cooking on a grill or over a grill pan, a digital, instant-read thermometer is a must-have for monitoring meat to your preferred temperature. Meat kebabs generally take 10 to 15 minutes to cook through, though smaller pieces of meat can cook in as little as 8 minutes. According to USDA guidelines, beef should be pulled off the grill at around 145°F degrees for medium, chicken at 165°F, and seafood at 145°F. Fruit and veggies, meanwhile, are done when they are seared outside and tender to the touch.
Pair skewers with simple sides
While you could certainly make a meal out of a few well-made skewers, pairing them with thoughtful side dishes completes the dinner. Keep things easy and fresh with a pea-studded rice pilaf or squash salad with tomato and olives. Dress up chopped tomatoes and cucumbers with a bright honey vinaigrette. And while you are already at the grill, fire up some fresh corn on the cob or pita wedges drizzled with olive oil and sprinkled with Italian seasoning to serve alongside the kebabs.