You ask any grill enthusiast about grilling with skewers and you’ll get a range of answers. Some folks prefer the good old bamboo skewers, others prefer the length of metal skewers. Some just don’t prefer to use them at all. I, as you would guess, don’t like to use either of the above. Therefore, I am giving you my personal opinion on grilling with skewers and throwing in a little history as well.
‘Kebab’ cooking, originated in the Near East area of Asia and Northern Africa in large part due to the lack of cooking fuel. According to tradition, medieval Persian soldiers used their swords to grill meat over open fires on the front. Kebab actually refers to way the meat is turned in order to char it to the desired temperature. There are many different ways to refer to kebab cooking, although we are going to focus on the basic skewers; even rotisserie cooking on a spit is considered ‘skewer’ grilling, but that’s a whole other post.
Unlike the soldiers of yesterday, today we have quite a few options when it comes to skewer grilling. I am going to briefly discuss four methods of cooking with skewers.
Wooden skewers are often made from bamboo but other woods have been used. The main advantage for using wooden skewers is clean up. Whether you are serving your skewers as an appetizer at a party or a dinner service, once the meat is off the skewers, they can simply be tossed in the trash. The main disadvantage is they are wood. Therefore, they require preparation for the grill just as your meat. The basic rule of thumb for using wooden skewers is to soak (immersed) in cold water for at least one hour prior to use to avoid burning.
Metal skewers are just that, metal! Metal skewers are typically stainless steel. They will have a pointed tip on one end and a grip of some kind on the other end for ease of removing the food. The advantage of using these is that they are generally about 1 to 2 feet in length and can hold a large amount of prepared food for grilling. They are also good when you have a variety of requests for each kebab; they can be placed over different temperature areas on the grill to get more even cooking times. The disadvantage for using metal skewers is turning them one by one and the metal gets REALLY hot. I would suggest using tongs or heat-resistant gloves.
A skewer fork resembles a dinner fork, just a grander scale. There are usually four prongs attached with a wooden or rubber handle. These are good when you have the same size items on each skewer and placement over heat is not a worry. They also usually come with a small plate the size of a nickel already on the skewer to assist in removing the grilled delicacies. Using skewer forks can be a catch-22! While they have the four prongs on one handle, they typically have to be quite large and they are evenly spaced so getting more than two on a grill at once is probably not going to happen.
Curved skewers are simply metal skewers that have been made with a curve to them. I like to use these for shrimp because they resemble the natural shape of shrimp, but I digress. Using curved skewers are great when you are hosting a dinner party and want to serve the grilled skewer directly on the plate for your guest. It adds that special something that says “Yeah, I really put some thought into preparing your dinner.” It also helps when you are trying to woo that special someone with your culinary grilling expertise. As with the regular metal skewers, the disadvantage for using these is, again, they are metal and they will get HOT. Tongs or heat-resistant gloves are the way to flip these extra special skewers.
While there are many different types of skewers, I hope this has helped shed some light on the task of grilling with skewers. So, next time you are in a dilemma on how to grill small portions of meat, don’t forget about the skewer and try something different.