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! ~

THK Shish Kabob6

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!*

THK Shish Kabobs1

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.

THK Shish Kabob8
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!

THK Shish Kabob9

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!

THK Shish Kabob10

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?
THK Shish Kabobs3
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!

THK Shish Kabobs2

  • 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. Awesome awesome awesome idea to separate the different items on different skewers and then that way they can cook them the way you want them. I look forward to try this. I thought about putting less quantity of beef or chicken ,etc. then cook them as you recommend but then leave them on the skewers so guests can’t take one or two skewers of beef to cut down on waste. They can still have sliding the items off or just bite and slide directly into their mouth?

    • Hey, John! So glad you enjoyed this post! 🙂 I think it’s a great idea to change up the amount of meat on a skewer — just be sure to monitor cook times as this may change them slightly! You’ll have to let us know what you find out! 🙂 ~Amy

  2. This addresses my frustration with grilling shish kabobs- the fact that the meat gets overdone while the vegetables are not yet done. Also, skewering / grilling the individual ingredients together and letting picky eaters select their own completed ingredients would also reduce waste. Sounds like a solution!

    • Hi Robert! I’m so glad you found the suggestions in this post helpful! And I definitely agree – besides the obvious benefit of just having all the components of your shish kabobs more deliciously, properly cooked, I really do love the bonus of less food waste! I mean, hey – just because someone else might not like the mushrooms, that doesn’t mean I wouldn’t be happy to eat them ALL!! 😉 BTW – if you’re as interested as I am in ways to reduce food waste, you might like the list I put together of “23 Ingenious Recipes That Reduce Food Waste and Use Up Fruit and Vegetable Scraps” – didn’t even occur to me to mention this shish kabob tip in that one, but I guess maybe I should have! Thanks again – and I hope you have a terrific day! ~Shelley

  3. I love this. I am having Kabobs for a party this weekend and will separate meat and veggies. Just another suggestion : remember to soak your wooden skewers before putting them in kabob and on skewer. I have found it works better when grilling.

    • Great addition, Tori! Thank you – that tip really can help prevent an unexpected grilling flare-up (which is definitely not a fun addition to a cookout! 😉 ). Hope you have a great party this weekend! And if by chance you need more menu ideas, I actually JUST posted a Mix-and-Match BBQ Menu planner ( a couple of days ago (I guess I should add that link up in the post, too!), which has options for making every single course (even appetizers and dessert!) on the grill, or for swapping in some recipes that are easily made ahead of time. Let me know how your party went and how this shish kabobs idea worked for you! And thanks again for the terrific suggestion – so helpful for other readers! ~Shelley

    • We typically don’t find that the veggies lend much flavor to the meats during the cooking process in shish kabob recipes, due to the very short cooking time that shish kabobs are on the grill. Essentially the exact same results can be achieved if you eat the various components together – once they’re each perfectly cooked. However, if your recipe does allow for the co-mingling of flavors, you should definitely leverage that for all it’s worth, especially if your recipe utilizes ingredients that have fairly similar cooking times, such that you get BOTH a perfect amount of doneness for each ingredient, and also a delicious co-mingling of flavors! Enjoy! ~Shelley


Leave a Comment