Skewers of freshly-grilled meat and vegetables make almost any dinner feel like a party. Getting kabobs ready at the last minute, however, can make party preparation hectic. Since cooking time is brief for these skewered treats, ease the stress of serving kabobs by doing everything but the grilling ahead of time. Alternative cooking methods can also make last-minute work easier.
Advance Prep Cutting
Most of the work of making kabobs can be completed the day before your party: cutting meat, vegetables and fruit; marinating meats and veggies; and soaking skewers, if you’re using wooden varieties. The most demanding prep-step is cutting; items to be grilled should be close to the same size, so they require the same time to cook. Cut meats and seafood into 1 1/2- to 2-inch chunks. Vegetables such as zucchini, peppers, onions and mushrooms need to be similar sizes as well. Do all your cutting the day before your party, and marinate in covered plastic containers or cover tightly with plastic wrap and refrigerate.
Marinating for Flavor
Some recipes suggest marinating kabob items as much as two days before the party, while others are more flexible on time. Marinating adds flavor more than tenderness; New York Times food columnist Mark Bittman points out that marinating is effective in as little as 15 minutes. Marinate items well ahead of time, however, if it makes preparation easier for you.
Soaking and Sticking
Soaking bamboo skewers for at least 30 minutes before using is an easy advance step. Once skewers are soaked, you can thread items on them and wrap the ready-made kabobs in plastic wrap for refrigeration. Metal skewers need no soaking and can also be threaded far ahead of cooking time. One way to simplify threading and cooking is to use two skewers instead of one. Meat and vegetables secured with two skewers cannot roll or rotate easily on the grill. All kabob items turn at the same time, making cooking even.
Grilling in Advance
While cooking time on the grill for kabobs is fairly brief, running generally from 8 to 15 minutes depending on the recipe, it does demand your full attention. Although nothing duplicates the sizzle of food right off the grill, two cooking strategies can keep you from abandoning guests entirely. Especially for kabobs served with cocktails and therefore not required to be red-hot, cooking half an hour before guests arrive and keeping kabobs warm in a 150-degree Fahrenheit oven gets you away from the grill in time to greet your guests. Lay skewers parallel to each other in a shallow, rimmed pan and cover with foil. This method is less successful for main-dish kabobs served later in the meal; texture can be affected by a steamy wait in a warming oven.
This rainy-day strategy can keep you cool while cooking for a crowd, no matter what the weather. Lay kabobs on a grill pan, like the one from your oven broiler, or on a metal rack set in a shallow rimmed baking pan. Kabobs may bake at 400 to 425 F in the oven for 10 to 20 minutes, depending on your recipe. Elevating kabobs above the pan lessens the need for frequent turning. Kabobs also may be cooked on a stove top griddle or an electric grill.
Freezing and Reheating
The small size of items cut for kabobs means that freezing and reheating can produce dry, juiceless meat. Vegetables grilled, then frozen for later reheating, are likely to be soft and overly juicy. Generally, freezing is unsatisfactory, and leftover kabobs should be plastic wrapped and refrigerated for reheating the next day. One variety of kabob — popular in Iran, Turkey and other parts of the Middle East — is made from ground lamb, beef or a mixture of both, and is often removed from the cooking skewer for serving. Kefta kebab can be made simply from ground meat and onions with seasonings and perhaps breadcrumbs and an egg. Molded in sausage shapes alone or around skewers for grilling, they can also be oven-baked and are most often served over rice or other pilaf. These kabobs freeze well on their own or in a sauce and can be thawed and reheated in the oven without becoming excessively dry.
References and ResourcesToday: Dinner on a Stick: How to Cook Kebabs
The Washington Post: Assorted Grilled Kebabs
Delia Online: Recipes L-N: Lamb Koftas in Chili Pepper Sauce
Saveur: Persian Ground Meat and Onion Kebabs
Prepared Pantry: Oven Shish Kabob Recipe
The Latin Kitchen: Paprika Chicken Skewers with Roasted Chili Potatoes