Applewood favoritesThe mild, yet distinct flavor of applewood smoke brings a subtle smoke and sweetness to the lighter flavors of poultry or seafood. Dial up your dinner by adding applewood to these recipes.
The world of kebabs
Cooking meat on a stick over live fire is the most primal, ancient way of cooking. Primitive cultures cooked meat on spears. Travelling armies cooked meat on swords. Today, this method of cooking can be found in just about every culture. In the Middle East these meats are called kebabs. In Southeast Asia they are called satay. In France they are called brochettes. It’s a universally delicious and easy way to cook meat, vegetables, and sometimes fruit all together.
It all starts with a stick.
You can purchase high-end kebab sticks made of metal or stainless steel. They are re-useable and easy to clean and they last a lifetime. However, most people just pick up a bag of bamboo skewers at the grocery store. Skewers win out in terms of price and convenience, since they are disposable. However, because they are made of wood, they will catch fire. This means your kebabs could literally fall apart on the grill. To prevent this, all you need to do is soak the bamboo skewers for an hour or so in water. They still might discolor and perhaps catch fire, but the time it takes for all the water to evaporate is generally enough to ensure the kebabs are cooked through.
The building blocks of a kebab.
Beef, pork, lamb, chicken, fish, and shrimp are all ideal candidates for making kebabs. Regardless of which meat you choose, size matters. To prevent dry, chewy kebabs, use larger chunks of meat—at least 1- to 1½-inch chunks. Larger meat chunks will stay moister during cooking and make for a juicier kebab.
Seasoning is equally important. Beef, pork, and chicken take nicely to wet marinades. Soak the meat chunks for at least an hour prior to assembling the kebabs, or as long as overnight. With seafood, you have to be careful with marinades that contain a high acid content from vinegar or citrus juice. Do not marinate longer than 15 minutes or else the marinade will start to cook the flesh of the seafood. Or try a simple drizzle of olive oil and any number of commercially available dry seasonings.
The last component is the vegetables. It’s important to select and cut vegetables at a similar size as the meat so that everything cooks at the same rate. For beef, pork, lamb, and chicken you can’t go wrong pairing with peppers, onions, mushrooms, and squash. You can also add fruit like pineapple and peaches. When making seafood kebabs, select vegetables that cook quickly, since most seafood cooks quickly as well.
It’s best to alternate between meat and vegetable types to ensure even cooking. And don’t try to squeeze too many items on the skewer. Crowding creates problems such as unevenly cooked or raw areas of the meat. However, if the ingredients are too loose, they can dry out. The perfect kebab has enough ingredients on it so they touch, cook evenly, and remain juicy.
Time to grill.
When it comes to cooking your kebabs, a two-zone fire is essential. You will sear the kebabs directly over the coals on the hot side and let them finish cooking through on the cool side. This is critical when using bamboo skewers to avoid flare-ups. If your sticks do catch fire during searing, just move them to the cool side and put the lid on to snuff the flames. Kebabs work best in smaller batches. Rotating them all can take longer than you might expect, so grill fewer at a time for better results. Check out our complete, step-by-step instructions on how to expertly grill beef kebabs, chicken kebabs, and shrimp kebabs.
The centerpiece of a lighter gilled meal
As opposed to a heavy, 24-ounce T-bone steak, kebabs make for a lighter grilled meal. Combining vegetables and meats, kebabs pair nicely with side dishes like leafy green salads, vegetables, and starches like rice or pasta. Since they cook relatively quickly, they’re perfect for a light, summer weeknight meal. They’re a nice change of pace from the usual grilled fare and downright fun to make and eat.
Once you have mastered the basic technique for making kebabs, you can get very creative with specific recipes from around the world. You can choose from the spice of Turkish or Middle Eastern-style kebabs. Or try the exotic flavor profile of Southeast Asia in satay, which is often paired with a peanut dipping sauce. Grilled meat on a stick can be found in just about every country, so the recipe possibilities are endless.
How to: shrimp kebabs
- When it’s Done:
- When the shrimp curl and turn pink and the flesh is pearly and opaque.
The easiest way to grill shrimp is actually on skewers, because they become infinitely easier to manage and flip. You can grill the shrimp on the kebabs with the shells on or off—either works fine. Add some fresh vegetables or fruit to your shrimp skewers and you have a fantastic grilled meal on a stick. Here’s how to make them in just seven steps.
Start soaking your skewers.
Readily available in most grocery stores, bamboo skewers are inexpensive and perfect for shrimp kebabs. However, because they are made of wood they can easily catch fire while grilling. To prevent this, simply soak the skewers in water for an hour prior to grilling.
Season your shrimp and prep the vegetables.
You can use a marinade or a dry seasoning to bring flavor to your shrimp. If using a marinade, do not use one with high acid content with ingredients like lemon juice or vinegar. If left on too long, the acid in these marinades will change the texture of the shrimp, almost like cooking them. You can also simply drizzle olive oil onto the shrimp and apply the dry seasoning of your choice—many are popular for seafood. Next, cut your vegetables to match the size of your shrimp. Because shrimp cook so quickly, use vegetables that also cook quickly like cherry tomatoes and scallions. Fruits like pineapple or peaches are also good choices to pair with shrimp. If you plan on marinating your vegetables or fruits, do so in a separate container from the shrimp.
Gently thread your shrimp onto the skewers, followed by the vegetables and fruits if desired. Work in sequence, alternating between shrimp and veggies to ensure even cooking. Do not overcrowd your skewers, but don’t skimp either. You want to fill the skewers so the shrimp and veggies are touching but not too packed in.
Start a two-zone fire.
You will grill the shrimp skewers over a two-zone fire. Fire up the coals, and once lit, pile them all onto one side of the grill. Leave the other side completely empty. You’ll sear the shrimp kebabs over high heat, but you can still move them over to the cooler side in case of a flare-up.
Sear and flip your shrimp kebabs.
Grill your shrimp skewers directly over the coals on the hot side of the grill. Shrimp don’t take long to cook—only two to three minutes per side—so don’t load up the grill with too many skewers at once. Cook them in batches so you can flip them and move them aside in case of flare-ups.
Finish on the cool side.
If you are using particularly large, meaty shrimp, you may need to let them finish cooking through on the cool side of the grill.
You do not need to rest your shrimp kebabs, just serve them hot off the grill. Shrimp kebabs go great with leafy green salads for a lighter meal or paired with hearty pasta dishes on the side.
Grill the Good Stuff
for Your Late Summer Bash
Burgers and dogs may be staples of griling season, but when summer starts winding down, it’s time to elevate your cookout menu. These recipes showcase high-quality meats that are a cut above your average grilling fare.
BBQ Beef Brisket
Grilled Tomahawk Ribeyes
Grilled Ahi Tuna Steak with Jalapeño Pineapple Salsa
Pork Chops with Coffee Dry Rub
Smoked Moroccan Lamb Ribs
How to: real wood flavor
When we think smoke flavor, we immediately think of the BBQ classics ribs, brisket and pork shoulder cooked over low temperatures.
But you can easily add smoke flavor to just about anything you grill, even if you only are planning for a quick cook. Burgers, fish, vegetables, even chicken breasts benefit from a good dose of smoke. Best of all, that smoky flavor is not difficult to achieve.
Historically speaking, this is the wood of choice for much of Southern barbecue. Hickory imparts a rich, slightly sweet flavor that pairs perfectly with the staple of the South: pork. It’s paired with traditional favorites like ribs, pork shoulder, hams, and pork chops. But it also goes great with chicken and beef.
The pecan may be the official tree of Texas, but mesquite is the official smoke of its pitmasters. Mesquite wood provides a strong flavor that pairs wonderfully with the richness of Texas beef and spicy rubs and sauces.
Fruitwood imparts a lighter, slightly fruitier but still smoky taste. It’s much more subtle than the bold flavors of hickory and mesquite. Apple is very popular, followed by the wood of stone fruits like cherry and peach. People even smoke with citrus woods. The lighter smoke flavor makes fruitwood ideal for more delicate meats like poultry and seafood.
Ways to Add Smoke
From packages of Kingsford® wood chips to plain old hunks of dried wood, there are a number of great ways to add wood flavor to your food.
Briquets with wood
The easiest way to add a hint of smoke to any food is by using Kingsford® Briquets with wood. These briquets include real, un-charred wood pieces pressed into each briquet, so there’s no need to add extra chips or chunks. Choose from three flavors—hickory, mesquite, or apple. These light the same way as Kingsford® Original Charcoal. Just fire up, smell the smoke, and start cooking.
One common way to add smoke is by adding wood chips to a bed of already-lit Kingsford® Original Charcoal or Kingsford® Match Light® Charcoal. Just and add the desired flavor of wood chips to the top of your already-lit coals. With wood chips, such as Kingsford® Wood Chips with Mesquite, it’s important to soak the chips in water for 30 minutes to prevent the chips from burning up too quickly, so they produce more smoke for a longer period of time.
Larger wood chunks that burn slowly are a favorite of many pitmasters. Chunks work perfectly when combined with Kingsford® Charcoal to provide plenty of smoke for long cooks. Just add the wood chunks to hot coals. Wood chunks typically are not soaked before using. However, unsoaked chunks can burn, so watch the grill temperature after adding.
Wood flavor profiles
Whereas all kinds of hardwood, fruit, and even citrus woods can be used for smoking, three flavors are most common in the barbecue world: hickory, mesquite and fruitwood.
Kingsford® Original – fishFor perfect seafood meals, start with the freshest fish possible and the best charcoal around — Kingsford® Original Charcoal.
How to: arrange your coals with the Coal Configurator
Think of this as your charcoal reference manual — how much to use, heat ranges, and a simple visual guide to popular charcoal arrangements.
How much charcoal should I use?The answer to this lies in what you are cooking, how much you are cooking and how hot you want the grill. If you need high heat, you’ll want a full chimney. If you want lower heat, then there’s no need to fill the chimney all the way and wait for the heat of all those coals to dissipate. Below are some guidelines. These numbers are based on the capacity of a standard charcoal chimney, available at most hardware stores, which holds about 100 briquets.
- High heat450°F to 550°F1 full chimney
- Medium heat350°F to 450°F½ to ¾ full chimney
- Low heat250°F to 350°F¼ full chimney
Exactly how hot are the coals?The most accurate way to gauge temperature is with a thermometer. However, if your cooker does not have one built in, you can use the hand test. Simply hold the palm of your hand about 5 to 6 inches above the grill grate. Leave it there until you have to pull it away. The number of seconds you can keep your hand there gives you an indication of how hot the coals are at the grate.
- High heat450°F to 550°F2 to 4 seconds
- Medium heat350°F to 450°F5 to 6 seconds
- Low heat250°F to 350°F8 to 10 seconds
What is the best way to arrange the coals for cooking?The answer depends on what you’re cooking. See below for basic and more advanced configurations.
Direct-heat grillingCoals are spread out in a single layer across the bottom cooking grate. Ideal for high-heat cooking and thin cuts of meat. Unless you absolutely need the entire grill space, it’s still best to leave a void zone. Read more about direct-heat grilling
- High-heat 450°F to 550°F
- Coals needed: 1 whole chimney, about 100 briquets
The two-zone fireYour go-to configuration for almost everything. Coals spread out over half the grill, leaving the other half empty. Gives you all the advantages of direct heat for searing and the flexibility of indirect heat for cooking slowly or managing flare-ups. Ideal for steaks, chops, bone-in and boneless chicken cuts, and seafood. Read more about the two-zone fire.
- High-heat 450°F to 550°F
- Medium-heat 350°F to 450°F
- Coals needed: ½ to 1 whole chimney, about 50–100 briquets
Two-zone fire: parallel configurationCoals spread along either side of the grill, with an empty space down the center. Ideal for smoking and low-temperature cooking of larger roasts, whole chickens and turkeys. Read more about the parallel configuration.
- Low-heat 250°F to 350°F
- Coals needed: 1 whole chimney to start, about 100 briquets. Additional coals later.
The charcoal snakeUnlit coals and smoke wood are arranged in a circle around the inside edge of your grill. A few lit coals are added to one end of the snake, which burns slowly over several hours. Read more about the charcoal snake.
- Low-heat smoking 225°F to 250°F
- Coals needed: 100 unlit coals, six to eight lit coals to start the snake. Additional coals later.
SmokingSmoking is a low and slow cooking method where meats are cooked over indirect heat at low temperatures for hours at a time. Hardwood chunks or chips of wood soaked in water are added to lend smoke aromas and flavors to the meats. There are several different types of smokers available, but all use indirect heat. Read more about smoking techniques.
- Low-heat smoking 225°F to 250°F
- Coals needed: Fill your charcoal bed with unlit coals, and add only a few lit coals to start the process.