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Skewered On The BBQ – Which Style Of Skewers Are Best

Skewered On The BBQ – Which Style Of Skewers Are Best

The use of skewers when grilling originated in the cooking techniques of Persia. The earliest skewers were made of metal, though some archaeological evidence suggests that ancient Greeks used stone versions. While the Near East has some of the earliest recorded evidence of cooking meat on skewers, every culture in the world has some form of “food on a stick.”

Most Americans associate skewer grilling with Shish Kebab, but the terminology will vary from culture to culture. The concept is simple – thread small cubes of meat (traditionally) or vegetables on individual skewers and position them directly above a fire or coals. Today of course, we are more likely to place the skewered food on the stainless steel grates of our backyard grills.

Is One Type of Skewer Better?

Skewers are available in various lengths, widths and styles, but the most popular materials used are stainless steel and wood. More often than not, what is sold as “wood” is probably bamboo.

While most of us tend seek out the longest skewers available, my advice is to match the skewer to the food. For example, if you are making Asian Satay, or if you intend to create single serving appetizers, like you might find sold by a street vendor, it would be best to use short wooden or bamboo skewers.

If you are preparing Near East Kebab style meat, I recommend the more traditional long, wide metal skewers.Metal skewers have one added virtue over wood or bamboo in that as they cook, heat is transferred through the center of the meat.

So whether you are making souvlaki or kebabs or spiedino, you can prepare them using a searing high heat and know that the meat will cook quickly on the inside before it burns on the outside. The use of high heat will create a little charring on the outside, but that is the very essence of this style of cooking – the root word from which kebab derives its name means to char or blacken.

With metal skewers I prefer the extendable style. The reason is that they provide a secure, stable hold on the food as it cooks plus they infuse more heat into the center of the food. They are best suited for big chunks of meat or vegetables or for wrapping ground “Kofta” style meats on.

Their flat surface makes them ideal for use in more open air cooking environments, not limiting them to the standard backyard grill. In a nod to tradition, you can arrange bricks or stones around an open fire and lay the skewers evenly on the bricks and directly over the heat.

The more widely available thin metals skewers have a bit of a flaw. As the food cooks, it pulls away from the metal and when you attempt to flip or turn the food, the skewer frequently rotates inside the food. To solve this problem you could double up two skewers piercing the food parallel.

The popular Fire Wire product provides flexible on-grill cooking options, however in my experience it, like all similar wire products, suffer the same problem as the thin metal skewers when attempting to turn the food.

There are two stainless steel skewer sets that solve the rotation problem. One is from Charcoal Companion, called the Double Prong Coastal Grilling Kabob Skewers. They are sold as a set of 4 – 14″ skewers that have decorative seafood icon handles. The second is from Elizabeth Karmel and is 15″ in length with very simple handles.

Skewer Misconceptions & Potential Problems

There is a common misconception about the best way to prepare the food for cooking on skewers. In my opinion, the much stylized Western “Shish-Kebab”, where you alternate foods such as meat and vegetables on a single skewer and cook them all together, is impractical. While this arrangement looks good in a magazine photo or for presentation purposes, it is not very effective method.

The problem with alternating cubed onion, chicken, bell pepper and cherry tomato on a skewer, even though it looks cool, is that none of those foods cook at the same speed or have the same doneness requirements. By the time the onion is softened & the chicken done, the tomato is over cooked and probably falling off the skewer. No matter how hard you try to get the food sized the same, they just won’t finish cooking at the same time.

If you examine how the traditional cultures prepare this style of food, you will find that they put all the same types of food on one skewer. Uniformly sized meats and vegetables will cook at the same rate and be easier to manage on the grill.

Personally I prefer to cook vegetables in large strips directly on the grill grates rather than attempting the “kebab” method.

Skewer Rotating And Not Turning

As mentioned above, thin or round skewers tend to do a poor job of reliably turning food. Regardless of whether the skewer is wood, bamboo or metal, I have observed that food tends not to flip uniformly on the skewer.

Certainly if food rotates on the skewer you can always use tongs to rotate the individual pieces, but it’s a hassle, takes longer to turn the food and can result in uneven cooking. A key to successful skewer flipping is oiling the grill grates prior to putting the food down; food that sticks doesn’t want to turn.

Again, the best way to prevent this rotation problem is to use two skewers parallel to each other within the food, positioned as evenly as possible. When the food is ready to flip, the double skewers make it easy to grab and turn with grill tongs or gloves.

I have used this method successfully with difficult to turn foods such as eggplant, zucchini rounds, onions & shrimp, but the method will work with any cubed meat. With onions you may want to utilize two toothpicks, or skewers, aligned in a cross shape to keep the onion uniform in shape and prevent it from falling into the fire.

When grilling cherry tomatoes I prefer to use a some form metal grilling tray or wire “wok”.

Proper Prep

As you are probably already aware, any time you use wood or bamboo skewers on the grill, you will have to soak them beforehand because if not soaked, the exposed portion of the stick will burn up.

Soaking the wood or bamboo for an hour or so before cooking can ensure there is something to grab onto with the tongs during cooking.

When prepping metal skewers, it is wise to apply a thin coat of oil to help prevent food from sticking.


If you had to choose just one type of skewer to own, I recommend the wooden ones. They are simply too versatile and inexpensive to not have on hand. Buy one pack each of the long and short ones and squirrel them away in a drawer.

Newell Bambu Products Co.,Ltd.engaged in manufacturing and exporting bamboo products for nearly 10 years. Our main products are bamboo skewer,stick,incense stick,chopstick,fruit pick,toothpick,bamboo matcha whisk and other whisk accessories,bamboo steamer,wooden pegs,wood coffee stirrer,wood tongue depressor and so on.There's a variety of sizes and types to meet customers' different demand.Nowadays, our market covers European and Asia countries such as America,Greece,Spain,Italy,France,India etc.

If you are interested in our products, welcome to send us your enquiry.

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