This juicy, tender Grilled Chicken Shawarma is wonderful on its own, in wraps, sliced thin in sandwiches and it’s super delicious in salads.
I’ve made this Grilled Chicken Shawarma lots of times this summer already and I know it will continue to be a frequent flyer at The Café. It’s an easy, never-fail recipe that’s always super well received.
This Grilled Chicken Shawarma pairs wonderfully with our Turkish Tomato Cucumber Salad. It makes a light lean meal that’s bursting with delicious flavor. We also enjoy it sliced thin and served as a wrap in Turkish Flatbread.
You might feel like you’ve taken a trip to Turkey if you’ve been following The Café for the last couple weeks. One reader noticed this Turkish theme and wrote, inquiring if we were planning a trip to Turkey. Not right now, although Scott and I spent some time in Turkey a few years ago, on a mission trip. We loved this unique and beautiful country bordered by the Mediterranean and Black Seas.
We also thoroughly enjoyed the food in Turkey, everything very fresh and full of flavor. As is the case in most foreign countries, there’s a touch of exotic flavor in Turkish food since the spice combinations are different than what we’re used to here in the States. That is definitely true with this Grilled Chicken Shawarma.
The delicious wet spice rub includes brown sugar, coriander, cumin, kosher salt, onion powder, smoked paprika, turmeric, black pepper, chili powder and a pinch of cinnamon. There’s also minced garlic, finely grated fresh ginger and a splash of olive oil. It sounds like a lot of ingredients, but you’ll most likely have everything right in your spice cupboard.
What is shawarma?
Shawarma is a type of roasted meat which originated in the Middle East. It’s been popular in this region of the world since the 19th century and is now enjoyed worldwide. Shawarma can be made with lamb, chicken, turkey, beef or veal and is generally prepared on a spit. Meat is stacked vertically and cut off for serving, as it cooks. My grilled chicken shawarma is a bit different (and easier). I simply grill the marinaded chicken thighs until their golden, caramelized and bursting with fabulous flavor.
Can I use chicken breasts instead of thighs for this grilled chicken shawarma?
I’m a huge fan of boneless skinless chicken breasts and, pretty routinely, used to shy away from thighs. Skinless, boneless chicken breasts come in a super tidy package (the way this girl likes things). They’re lean, consistent in shape and have minimal waste. Thighs not so much. There’s more fat to trim away and each thigh is very irregularly shaped. If I’m honest, I have to admit, that I’m not super fond of prepping chicken thighs.
But guess what? In many recipes (like this one) chicken thighs will yield far superior results in flavor, texture, and juiciness. Why? It’s mainly because chicken thighs don’t dry out. The reason is that there’s a higher fat content in thighs vs breasts, making it really difficult to overcook thighs. That means that they can get golden and caramelized without compromising the juiciness and tenderness of the meat.
Yes, there is a difference in calories, but not that much. Three ounces of boneless, skinless chicken breast has 140 calories vs 170 for the same amount of thigh meat. And if you’re careful about trimming off excess fat before cooking, the count could be even less. Not a bad price to pay for tons of extra flavor.
The other wonderful thing about chicken thighs is that all those irregular shaped bits and pieces get deliciously crisp and charred on the grill. Sneaking a little crisp, golden nugget (or two) is quite irresistible when Scott brings this fabulous chicken in from the grill.
So no, I wouldn’t try to substitute chicken breasts in this recipe. You want to be able to leave the chicken on the grill long enough for it to reach a nice deep color. If you’re an exclusive chicken breast lover, just give thighs a chance in this recipe. I think you just might be super pleasantly surprised like I was. And they say you can’t teach an old dog new tricks!…
Café Tips for making this Grilled Chicken Shawarma
- If you’re in a hurry, you can marinate the chicken for less than an hour or feel free to go longer than 4 hours. I’ve let the meat marinate overnight and it was delicious.
- It’s hard to overcook chicken thighs, but be sure not to undercook it. 165˚F is the minimum temperature, but it’s fine to go a little above that. Use an instant thermometer to check the temperature. It makes all the difference in the world in avoiding over or undercooked meats.
- Sometimes I like to make a double batch of the rub so that the next time I make this Grilled Chicken Shawarma it’s a breeze. Just wait to add the garlic, ginger, and oil. The rub can be stored at room temperature.
- Leftovers make wonderful sandwiches, quesadillas and/or wraps. Sometimes I serve the leftovers thinly sliced on a salad with tomatoes, cucumbers, Feta cheese and a drizzle of Zoe’s Copycat Dressing.
- For a healthy, light dinner serve this Grilled Chicken Shawarma with our Turkish Tomato and Cucumber Salad – lean, light and delish!
- Although there are a lot of spices in this recipe, the chicken is not spicy when comes to heat. Just loaded with vibrant flavor!
If it seems like we’ve been a little slack for the past few months as far as sharing new posts, there’s a reason. We’re moving to the mountains of North Carolina, near Asheville! Scott and I are, right now, on our eighth trip to Asheville since the middle of April. Asheville is about four hours from our current home in Raleigh.
Our son Nick has taken a job just outside of Asheville and he and his wife, Lindsay said they weren’t going without us. So we’ve been looking, looking, looking at homes and finally found one a few weeks ago. We won’t actually move until August, but it will be a full summer. Between getting the new home ready (we’ll be doing some renovation) and selling our current house, we’ll be busy as little bees.
We’ll continue to blog and share recipes as we go, but wanted to fill you in on what’s happening so you’ll understand if we’re not quite as consistent as usual.
For more seasonal recipe inspiration, check out some of our June posts from the past few years…
1 year ago – Tomato Basil Fresh Mozzarella Tart
2 years ago – Zucchini Fresh Pineapple Morning Glory Muffins
3 years ago – Layered Cheesecake Jars
4 years ago – Israeli Couscous and Orzo Pasta Salad
5 years ago – Lemon Risotto with Blackened Shrimp
This juicy, tender Turkish-inspired grilled chicken is wonderful on its own, in wraps, sliced thin in sandwiches and it's super delicious in salads.
- 2 pounds boneless boneless, skinless chicken thighs
- 1 ½ tablespoons dark brown sugar
- 1 tablespoon ground coriander
- 2 teaspoons ground cumin
- 2 teaspoons kosher salt
- 1 teaspoon onion powder
- 1 teaspoon smoked paprika
- 1 teaspoon ground turmeric
- ½ teaspoon ground black pepper
- ¼ teaspoon cinnamon
- ½ teaspoon chili powder
- 5 medium cloves finely minced fresh garlic
- 1 teaspoon finely minced fresh ginger
- 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
Line a sheet pan with foil or plastic wrap for easy cleanup. Lay chicken out on prepared pan.
Combine all rub ingredients in a medium-size bowl. Stir well to make a wet paste.
With your hands, coat the chicken on all sides with the rub, cover the pan with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 1-4 hours.
Prepare a gas or charcoal grill to medium-high heat. Oil grill grates to prevent sticking.
Grill until all sides are golden, charred with nice grill marks. Turn every couple minutes, about 8-10 minutes per side. Internal temperature should be 165˚F.
Enjoy with Turkish Flatbread and/or Turkish Tomato Cucumber Salad!
See Café Tips above for additional instructions and tips.
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