The Secret to Perfect Shish Kabobs

by Shelley and Gretchen · May contain affiliate links

Published Updated July 30, 2021

~ Grilled kabobs are so much better with this easy trick! Whether you grill steak, chicken, veggies, or any other kabobs … here’s all you need to know! ~

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Ok, all you backyard cookout masters … we hope you won’t hate us for what we’re about to say. But it’s true …

You know the classic grilled combo – steak or chicken with peppers, onions, mushrooms, summer squash and tomatoes? Yeah, well it just never should’ve been shoved all together onto a skewer. *Gasp!*

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But wait. Let us explain.

Sure, those flavors are delicious together. And a kabob with grill-marked meat and colorful veggies is picnic eye candy. We get all that.

But, attempting to thread so many different foods onto one skewer – all with entirely different cook times – it’s just not a great plan. What do you end up with? Perfectly done meat (hopefully!). But also undercooked peppers, nearly raw onions, rubbery mushrooms, and utterly overcooked tomatoes that burst into a pile of mush as soon as they hit the plate. Yum? No, not so much.

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So the meat is cooked perfectly, but nothing else is quite right. Does one victory and three failures sound like a successful dinner? No? We didn’t think so either.

We finally gave up on the dream of multi-ingredient shish kabobs. There just had to be a better way.

And there is!

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So, here’s the secret: Simply thread each skewer with all the same type of ingredient! Some skewers have only meat, some have only peppers, others have only squash … you get the idea. You can grill each skewer for exactly the amount of time it needs. Brilliant!

Just picture it: your beef and chicken are seared and juicy, your onions are cooked to the point of sweetness yet are still a little firm, your peppers have some great grill marks and just a bit of crunch, and those pesky tomatoes are gently warmed without turning mushy. Mmmmmmm … now that’s what you really wanted to eat when you decided to grill shish kabobs, right?

We know – you’ve probably got mixed emotions about this idea. It sounds so delicious, yet you love the way traditional shish kabobs look – each skewer with its pretty variety of colors. But dinner should be delicious … and everything should be cooked just the right way!

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For parties and cookouts, try a new vision for presenting impressive, perfectly cooked kabobs. Remove everything from the skewers and mound them onto a serving platter so guests can choose the meat and veggies they’d like.

And really, if you’re just cooking a casual meal for your family – make life easier and simply take the skewers to the table. Everyone can remove what they want from the kabobs. It’s not as showy as a bountiful serving platter, but it’s quick and easy and still tastes fantastic!

Bonus: pickier eaters won’t waste food because they’re not stuck with skewers that include stuff they don’t like. (No, your three-year-old doesn’t have to eat a mushroom today!) Everyone can select exactly the meal they really want to eat. Now that’s a beautiful dinner!

Here are a few more tips to ensure the most miraculous shish kabobs ever:

  • Make sure you cut your ingredients to consistent sizes so they cook uniformly. Have you ever seen kabobs (like the disappointing example below, from a local grocery store) that are threaded with completely uneven sizes? Some of the chunks are huge enough to feed a dinosaur, and others are so small they’ll be incinerated in a flash. What was the plan here?
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This is from our local store. Everything is cut to different sizes, and there is no breathing room between the food!
Needless to say, it didn’t turn out well.
  • Leave a little space between each piece on the skewer. Don’t jam them too tightly together or they won’t cook in the middle. They need some room!

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  • You know how some foods twirl loosely on the skewer when you try to flip them while grilling? No problem! Just thread them onto two skewers!

So, how long should you cook everything? Well, that depends on how powerful your grill is, how done you like your meat, and how crunchy you like your peppers and onions. The whole point is – you’re in charge of your own shish kabob destiny! In general, though:

  • Mushrooms require a surprisingly long cook time, and you’ll probably want to put them on the grill even before you add the meat.
  • Unless you like raw onions, they need to cook longer, too, but avoid really high heat or they will char before they start to turn soft and sweet.
  • Tomatoes need just a minute or two. Turn the skewers a couple of times to snag a few grill marks and allow the tomatoes to get a tiny bit warm. Take them off long before the dreaded mush stage!

And there you have it! The secret (plus lots of bonus tips – yay!) for grilling perfect shish kabobs! Happy Labor Day, friends! Be safe and eat REALLY well this holiday weekend!

Looking for More Easy Grilling Ideas?

We’ve got lots of grilling recipes, for every part of your meal –from appetizers to dessert!

Not in a shish kabob mood for dinner tonight? You could go for something like our Easy Grilled Fajita Burgers with Guacamole, Grilled Chicken with Lemon and Garlic, or our Caprese Grilled Fish. Our Grilled Zucchini Flatbread is a perfect appetizer that doubles as a vegetarian main. And what would make a cookout more impressive and memorable than ending the meal with a grilled dessert, too (like our Banana Split Grilled Dessert Nachos or Grilled Tropical Fruit)?

And if you’re planning an entire menu – like for hosting a big backyard cookout party – be sure to check out ALL our recipe options with our Mix-and-Match BBQ Menu Ideas planner! You can choose recipes for grilling every single course, or swap in a few non-grilled recipes that are easy to make ahead (so you can actually relax and enjoy your own party!).

No matter what you choose, grilling success will be yours!

The Secret to Perfect Shish Kabobs
Author: Two Healthy Kitchens
  • Canola oil for prepping grill
  • Your choice of:
  • Marinades or seasonings
  • Meats like chicken and beef
  • Veggies like peppers, onions, mushrooms, zucchini, yellow squash, and grape or cherry tomatoes
  1. Cut your meat and vegetables to uniform sizes and marinate ahead of time, if desired.
  2. Clean your grill if needed. Oil the grates (preferably using a canola-soaked, wadded paper towel).
  3. Preheat the grill on medium to medium-high.
  4. Meanwhile, season meat and vegetables as desired and thread them onto skewers, making sure to leave a little room between each item and not crowd them too closely together. Remember to thread all the same type of ingredient onto each skewer, keeping ingredients separate so you can control their cooking.
  5. Add kabobs to the grill and turn them or move them to cooler/hotter parts of the grill as needed until each item reaches the desired doneness. Remember that tomatoes need just a brief couple of minutes, so you’ll want to reserve them until the end of cooking.
  6. If any kabobs are done before others, keep them warm on a plate, covered with foil, until all skewers are done cooking.
  7. To serve, take finished kabobs to the table and let everyone un-skewer the food they would like. Alternately, for a nice presentation, un-skewer all of the cooked items onto a large serving platter and present that at the table for guests to pass and serve themselves as desired.
For foods that tend to rotate on the skewers, which can make turning the kabobs difficult, simply run two skewers (rather than just one) through the chunks of food prior to grilling.

49 thoughts on “The Secret to Perfect Shish Kabobs”

  1. I am very selective when I say “brilliant”, because nowadays it’s used way too frequently to describe the most mundane things. However, this technique is worthy of it! I am so happy that I stumbled across this recipe because I am making shish kabobs tonight & feel very confident that they will be absolutely delicious! Thank you so very much for sharing!

    • WOW, Jackie – what a truly wonderful compliment! That is seriously high praise, and I truly appreciate that you took the time to leave such kind feedback. This grilling technique has made such a difference for my family in how our shish kabobs turn out, and I’m so pleased to know that the idea will help you, too! Thank you very, very much – you’ve made my morning! 😀 ~Shelley

    • Oh, I’m glad it made a difference for you, Esther! I always felt like it was a disappointment to make “typical” shish kabobs that weren’t really terrific – where some parts were overcooked and others were undercooked. This little tip really helped me, and I’m glad it helped you, too! ~Shelley


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