Skewered meat cubes are often the first thing you think of when you think of kebabs, but kebabs can be made with shrimp, lobster, tuna or veggies for a gourmet twist to a barbecue favorite. It's an easy dish that adds variety to your menus, and there's no end to the kebab recipes you'll find online and in cookbooks. And unlike slapping a steak on the grill, making kebabs can be a fun way to cook with the whole family.
Here are some tips to keep in mind when preparing your kebabs so that they come out perfectly and are safe to eat. It's important to cook raw meat and seafood thoroughly to avoid consumption of undercooked foods, which can make you sick.
--While alternating cubes of meat and fruits such as pineapple make for a pretty kebab, meats take a longer time to cook than soft fruits. If you see your pineapple getting browned, you might be tempted to stop cooking your kebabs before the meat cubes are cooked to the appropriate internal temperature to avoid food poisoning and other illnesses. To avoid this problem, thread meat or raw fish cubes on their own skewers, and get them on the grill well before you start grilling your skewered fruits or vegetables. The presentation of different skewers is still attractive, and your food will be safer to eat.
--Peggy Trowbridge Filippone, the About.com guide to home cooking, says, "Meats should optimally be cut in uniformly sized 1- to 2-inch cubes for quick and even cooking," and the same goes for vegetable cubes such as zucchini, pearl onions and other items on their own spears.
--Use different cutting boards when prepping your kebab items to avoid cross-contamination: one for raw meat and seafood, and one for vegetables and fruits.
--"Wash all meats and seafood thoroughly, and pat dry before skewering and adding to your marinade," says Filippone.
--While preparing the marinade that will give your kebab ingredients extra flavor, Filippone advises storing your kebab cubes in the refrigerator to avoid food-borne bacteria.
--The experts at Food Network say fish should be marinated for up to an hour, and overnight is often ideal for meats. Some acidic marinades eat away at chicken and turn it mushy, so a shorter marinade time is advised for poultry.
--Before placing your kebab elements into your marinade, pour a bit of fresh marinade into a separate container so that it does not come into contact with any raw foods. You can then use that marinade as a sauce for your finished kebabs, safely and deliciously.
--When your kebab elements have marinated completely, discard the used marinade. Don't brush this onto your cooking kebabs.
--If you use thin bamboo skewers for your kebabs, they must be soaked for at least 30 minutes in warm water so that they become saturated and don't burn while on the grill.
--If you plan to make kebabs often, invest in stainless-steel skewers -- either single spears or skewers with two parallel metal spears onto which you'll slide each piece of meat, seafood or veggie. The dual spears keep food securely on the skewer while cooking and rotating, eliminating the problems of fish and soft fruits falling off of skewers and shrimp spinning around while you're turning your kebabs for even grilling.
--Filippone says fatty meats can be cooked at a higher temperature, while leaner meats should be cooked at a lower temperature for a longer time.
--Filippone also suggests choosing firmer fish such as tuna, salmon or mahi mahi, which stay on your kebab spears more securely.
--Todd Simon, an owner of Omaha Steaks (OmahaSteaks.com), says to use tongs to flip your grilling kebabs. Don't stick a fork into the biggest piece of meat to flip your kebabs, or the juices will run out, making for dry meat bites.
--Make sure your grill is clean by using a grill-cleaning brush before cooking, and avoid grill-cleaning sprays or solutions. A clean grill is free of baked-on food particles and their bacteria, and a clean grill creates uniform grill marks on your cooked kebabs.
--Place kebabs on a preheated grill surface, and turn often to ensure even cooking and grill marks.
--Remove kebabs carefully. Handles can get hot, as the cooking temperatures conduct through them. Place on a glass or heat-safe serving platter for presentation.
A smart option for adding grilled vegetables to your kebab menu is to invest in a grill basket: a wide, metal-meshed grilltop basket in which you'll place all of your marinated, cut veggies for cooking as a tasty and healthy side dish.
And don't forget the fun of fruit kebabs. They require no cooking at all, but are simply speared cubes of melon and pineapple, cut berries, grapes and other fruits as a side dish or dessert, served with fresh whipped cream or fruit-dipping sauce.