Kebab: A Complete (& Quick) Guide

Kebab, an international favorite, can be daunting to make sense of. 

This article will help you understand the many options available to you. 

Whether it’s doner, shish, or one of the many regional variations, the kebab novice will know what to order when the waiter comes to your table.

Let’s see what’s on the grill.

side view of hands holding shish kebab with colorful bell peppers and fresh vegetable salad on a wooden table

Image by stockking on Freepik

What is kebab?

Kebab is a Middle Eastern food that comes in a variety of forms, all of which consist of roasted meat (either sliced or ground) and vegetables.

Many cultures in the Middle East have developed their own unique style of preparing it.

Some popular types are Doner Kebab, which is eaten like a sandwich; and Shish Kebab, eaten from the skewer it was grilled on.

Many types of Kebab are served with vegetables, and sometimes served with bread, to soak up the juices or hold the contents.

What meat is used in Kebab?

The meat used to make kebab often comes from lamb, but can be made from beef, chicken, veal, and sometimes fish.

Pork is not commonly used in areas that observe kosher traditions.

Beef may be difficult to find in India, where Hindu populations revere cows as sacred.

Greek varieties are more likely to use pork as the meat.

The meat is marinated before roasting, usually in a combination of oil, onions, peppers, and spices.

Different types of kebab will have ingredients that reflect the local culture it developed in.

What does the word “Kebab” mean?

The origins of the word trace back to the Arabic language, and simply means ‘roasted meat’.

It became popular in the West by Turks using the term to describe the many ways of preparing this dish. 

Where does Kebab come from?

Kebab, as a food, originates in general in the Middle East.

Its specific origins are contentious. Did it come from Iran? Or did kebab begin in Greece, or ancient Persia?

The Turks were known for roasting pieces of meat using their swords as skewers and holding them over the fire, thus giving origin to the Kebab as we know it. 

How do you spell it?

kabob or kebab?

The spellings are often used interchangeably to refer to roasted meat dishes, though the spelling ‘kebab’ is more commonly used.

However, the US Meat Industry has titled certain cube shaped cuts of meat as ‘Kabobs’.

You would not be making a mistake if you spelled it either way.

How do you pronounce kebab anyway?

ke·bab – /kəˈbäb/

Commonly asked questions

Doner kebab vs gyro

Both doner kebab and gyro are made with meat roasted vertically on a spit, and shaved onto some sort of bread, served with vegetables.

Their similarities come from their shared heritage. 

Greece, where the gyro is from, was once part of the Ottoman Empire and Turkish culture.

Gyro is served with Tzatziki on a pita, and distinguished by Mediterranean spices, such as thyme, rosemary, and oregano.

Doner kebab is served on flatbread, and can be seasoned with a more Turkish spice blend, including cumin, coriander, garlic, and salt. 

Shawarma vs kebab

Shawarma grew out of a specific type of kebab.

Doner kebab and shawarma both are prepared by slow roasting meat that has been marinated and stacked on a vertical spit.

This meat slowly turns and as it cooks, pieces are shaved off the side and used to prepare the finished meal.

Doner kebab is the inspiration for Shawarma, which developed in the Arab peninsula with local flavors, making ingredients and region the determining differences.

Souvlaki vs kebab

Another Greek variation of kebab, souvlaki is made specifically with pork.

Similar to kebab, the meat is roasted on a skewer.

You will always find garlic in souvlaki, which is not the case in kebab prepared in other cultures.

Souvlaki is traditionally served on a pita bread, while kebab is served on a plate, both with vegetables.

Kebab vs Tas Kebab

Tas kebab is another variation on kebab, in the form of a stew.

Meat and vegetables are slowly simmered, making for a comforting and unique variation on kebab.

Most other kebab preparations are roasted in a dry heat.

Kebab vs shish kebab

Like kebab in general, shish kebab is meat roasted on skewers.

However, in this form, the meat is cut into cubes, rather than being ground or minced before being placed on the skewer. 

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