I actually never really had the desire to make my own shawarma recipe at home.
Every place I have ever lived, I have been lucky enough to have had access to so many great shawarma shops. In Bahrain, where I was born and lived till I was 15, shawarma shops were like McDonalds in North America – you can find a few in every neighbourhood. In university I lived in Ottawa, home of the best shawarma shops in Canada (in my opinion). Now that I live in the GTA, I am surrounded by shawarma shops again. So anytime I crave shawarma, the problem is not finding shawarma, it is which shawarma place do I want to get it from? There are too many choices!
That being said, one of you lovely people asked me to share a shawarma recipe, and I had to put all my shawarma eating knowledge to work to come up with a perfect (and easy) shawarma recipe that would rock my (and your) world. And let me tell you. This Shawarma delivers! You might even forget about your local shawarma shop after trying this one…. I know we did for a bit while I was perfecting this recipe!
Shawarma is the perfect food in my opinion. You can wrap it up with some veggies and turn it into a sandwich. Or top the grilled meat over a salad or a plate of rice and veg. It is actually quite healthy, especially if you go easy on the garlic sauce (which I admit is not easy – especially if you have tried my bomb garlic sauce).
So what makes this shawarma recipe so special? I try to replicate the rotisserie feel that you get from a shawarma, without any special equipment – just a few skewers and an onion. I use three long skewers (don’t forget to soak them for a few hours before hand if using wooden skewers so they don’t burn) and an onion to make a makeshift rotisserie for the BBQ. And then I add a smokey flavour secret at the end that changes everything!
A few tips to make perfect shawarma:
- You want to use boneless chicken thighs, as they have a higher fat content and can hold up to the high heat of the BBQ better than chicken breast without drying out.
- Thread the large pieces of boneless chicken thighs onto the three skewers so they are piled on pretty close together. The skewers help keep the meat together to it doesn’t dry out on the grill. Half an onion at each end help to hold the skewers together so that the can lie on the grill easily and make for easy flipping so we get even browning on all sides.
- Cook the whole thing on the ‘cooler’ side of your grill. So that it gets indirect heat. This way the heat has time to get all the way through the chicken. It takes some patience here. About 30-40 minutes. But trust me it is worth the wait. Try to cook to internal temperature of 165F (73C) so you know the chicken is cooked through.
- As it cooks I rotate every 5 minutes or so, so that it can get golden brown all over. When it is looking like it is done, shave off the cooked meat. If the insides still look like they need a bit more cooking (it shouldn’t if you checked the internal cooking temp), just toss it back on the grill after shaving off a layer, so it can cook and crisp up again. This way you dont over cook the chicken, and get that delicious shawarma char that they get with those big shawarma rotisserie things in the shop! Genius right?!
Once the chicken is cooked – I like to add a bit of smokey flavour with some charcoal smoke. Just heat up a piece of charcoal in the BBQ and add a tsp of oil to the hot coal, then quickly close the lid and let the smoke infuse the chicken for at least 5 mins without lifting the lid. This is totally optional, but I honestly feel it takes this from being basic grilled chicken to real fancy shawarma! You have to give it a try.
I also tried to cook this shawarma in the oven. The oven method works well too, but you wont get the crisp bits you do from BBQ-ing. It is more of a set-it-and-forget -it type of recipe. The oven will bake the chicken, but it wont get as crisp all over as in the BBQ. But you will still get that juicy shawarma meat you are looking for with little effort. I put the oven method in the recipe notes if you want to try that method. I am partial to the BBQ method – just for the extra flavour you get from a bbq and the extra crisp chicken bits. Either way, this is surprisingly easy and of course delicious!
No matter which method you use I would still recommend doing the charcoal smoke at the end to give it that extra flavour. This is totally optional but really makes all the difference to giving your shawarma that long slow-cooked taste.
Give it a go and tell me what you think?!
Easy Chicken Shawarma
- 2 lbs boneless chicken thighs (keep the pieces as large as possible – you can keep the skin and fat on as well to add flavour – but this is optional – I normally do skin off.)
- 2 tbsp oil
- 2 tbsp lemon juice (half a lemon)
- 1 tbsp minced garlic
- 1 tsp salt
- 1 tsp sumac
- 1/2 tsp cumin powder
- 1/2 tsp black pepper
- 1/2 tsp red chilli powder
- 1/2 tsp smoked paprika
- pinch cinnamon
- pinch nutmeg
- pinch turmeric
- 1 tbsp smoked harissa paste (optional)
- 1 medium onion
- 3 skewers (if using wood skewers, soak for at least 3 hours in water)
- 1 tsp oil
- bomb garlic sauce (see recipe notes for recipe link)
- naan or pita
Marinate the Chicken
- In a large bowl, mix all the marinade ingredients together, add the chicken and mix well to coat. Cover and let the chicken rest for at least 3 hours in the fridge.
- Heat up your grill at medium high heat.
- While the grill heats up, slice the onion in half horizontally, leaving the skin on and root base and top in tact. These will be the base and top of your makeshift rotisserie.
- Insert one half of the onion onto three skewers evenly spaced in a triangle shape so that the skewers can stand upright with the onion at the base – the pointy ends facing up.
- Start to layer the chicken pieced onto the skewers, you may need to fold pieces over onto themselves to be able to thread them onto the skewers. The idea is that the chicken should fit snugly inside the rough circumference of the onion. You don't too many loose bits hanging out as these will burn too quickly.
- Once all the chicken is on the skewers, top with the second half of the onion to cover the pointy skewer ends. The chicken should be evenly spaced and snug, but not too tight, on the skewers.
- Lie your makeshift shawarma rotisserie on the heated grill on its side. Turn down the heat to medium low (or place it on the cooler side of your grill).
- Cover and cook for about 35-40 minutes, turning every 5 to 8 minutes to ensure the chicken gets golden brown and crisp all over. The best way to know that the chicken is cooked, is to check the internal temperature is at least 165F (74C).
- Depending on how hot your grill is, you may find that the outside cooks too fast, in that case, you can shave off the cooked bits as you go, and then keep them aside while you continue cooking the rest – in true shawarma style!
- Preheat oven to 350F (180C).
- Using an 8 inch loaf pan, gently place the marinated chicken into the pan, packing it down on top of each other so it fits snugly. Almost like a chicken meat loaf.
- Bake the chicken for 35 to 40 minutes, till the chicken reaches an internal temperature of at least 165F (74C).
- When chicken is ready, heat up a piece of charcoal on the stove, or on the bbq.
- Once the charcoal starts to turn ashy, form a boat out of a square of foil, with the edges turned up. (If cooking in the oven, keep a large piece of foil ready – it should be large enough to cover the chicken dish).
- This part goes, quickly, so have everything ready to go: when the charcoal is hot (it turns a white ashy colour), carefully place the hot charcoal onto the foil boat, and immediately add 1 tsp oil to it. It should start to smoke right away. Place the foil boat with smokey charcoal beside or on top of the chicken and cover. If using BBQ, just cover the BBQ and turn off the heat. If using oven method, cover the chicken with a tent of foil and set aside. Make sure it is well sealed so no smokey air can escape.
- Allow the smoke to infuse the chicken while it cools for about 5-10 minutes.
- Once the chicken is done, remove the charcoal, and start carving into thin slices and serve!