What is Shish Tawook and Where Does It Come From?
Also referred to as “chicken tawook” and “shish taouk”, Shish tawook is a traditional Turkish dish made by threading marinated chicken on skewers and cooking them over a grill. Unsurprisingly, the word “shish” translates to “skewer,” while the word “tawook” means “chicken” in Turkish. Together, the name means “chicken threaded on a skewer.”
This recipe’s classic meat marinade—a mixture of yogurt, tomato paste, and spices—dates back to the Ottoman Empire, which ruled much of the Middle East from the 1300s to the 1900s. Since its inception, this recipe has been claimed by many countries in and around the Middle East, including Turkey, Lebanon, and Egypt.
Though popular in its countries of origin, shish tawook has made a considerable mark on American culture—becoming a popular dish in Mediterranean, Lebanese, and Middle Eastern fast food restaurants in the US.
List of Ingredients
This shish tawook recipe comes together with two sets of ingredients:
- Shish tawook marinade: To make this Middle Eastern chicken marinade, you will need:
- Greek yogurt: I like the thick creamy texture of full-fat Greek yogurt, but you can also use plain yogurt.
- Lemon zest and freshly squeezed lemon juice
- Olive oil
- Fresh garlic cloves
- Tomato paste: This is mostly for color than flavor and can be omitted if preferred.
- Seasonings: You will need warm spices like ground cumin, dried oregano, paprika, and basic seasonings like kosher salt and black pepper. Optionally, you can also add in a pinch of cayenne pepper for some heat.
- Chicken: You can use boneless skinless chicken thighs or boneless skinless chicken breasts for this shish chicken kebab recipe. Regardless of which one you use, it is important to make sure they are cut in equal sizes.
In terms of equipment, you will need either metal or wooden skewers to thread your kabobs.
How to Make Shish Taouk?
The recipe for shish taouk makes authentic Middle Eastern cuisine easy for cooks at any level. Follow the instructions below for a juicy chicken dish that is guaranteed to impress:
- Prep the chicken: Remove any residual skin and fat from your chicken, then slice it into one-inch chunks. Transfer your sliced chicken cubes into a large bowl, and set it aside.
- Make the yogurt marinade: In a mixing bowl, mix yogurt, fresh lemon juice, lemon zest, olive oil, garlic, ground cumin, dried oregano, paprika, tomato paste, salt, and black pepper. Whisk until the ingredients thoroughly blend.
- Add the chicken: Pour the marinade over the chicken and toss the mixture until each piece of chicken has an even coating of marinade. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and remove as much air as possible. Transfer the meat to the fridge and marinate the chicken for at least 4 hours or preferably overnight.
- Prepare the skewers: If you are using bamboo or wooden skewers, soak them in water for 30 minutes before assembling the chicken kebabs.
- Preheat the grill: Set the burners to medium-high, and let it preheat for 10 minutes or until it reaches 400 degrees F. Use tongs to dip a wad of paper towel into the olive oil and thoroughly wipe the grates.
- Assemble the skewers: Thread the meat through the skewers, tapping off any excess marinade. If you have any thin pieces, fold them before threading to ensure even cooking. Do not overcrowd the meat as you thread the skewers. Leaving a little room between each piece will help each chicken piece cook evenly.
- Cook: Place the chicken skewers onto the oiled grate in a single, even layer. Cover the grill and cook for 12-15 minutes, rotating the skewers every five minutes. This rotation will evenly brown your meat and give the dish its signature grill marks. Check doneness by inserting a meat thermometer (affiliate link) in a few of the chicken pieces. They are fully cooked if they reached 165 degrees F.
- Rest and serve: Place a sheet of aluminum foil loosely over the grilled chicken skewers and let it rest for 10 minutes. Serve!
How to Make Ahead, Store, and Reheat?
Chicken shish tawook is a godsend for easy meal prep and leftover storage. Whether you make it for a weeknight meal or a summer party, you won’t let a single bite go to waste with these helpful tips:
- Make ahead: The best part about Middle Eastern marinated chicken is that its flavor deepens the longer it sits. You can marinate your chicken for up to 24 hours before cooking. Then, assemble your chicken kabobs and grill them as written in the recipe below.
- Storage: When done eating, let your chicken reach room temperature. Then, remove the meat from the skewers and store it in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to three days.
- Reheating: You can reheat the leftover shish chicken kabobs using three different methods:
- In the oven: Place your leftovers on a sheet pan and warm them in a preheated 325 degrees F. oven for 10-15 minutes.
- On the stovetop: Heat your chicken in a skillet with a bit of oil over medium-high heat until heated through.
- In the microwave: For a super-quick reheating method, place your leftovers in a microwave-safe container and microwave them for 1-2 minutes—checking every 30 seconds—until warm. If your meat is too dry, add a splash of water to the container before heating.
What to Serve with Shish Tawook?
You won’t believe how many menus you can design around this Middle Eastern Grilled Chicken recipe. This collection has everything to help you create a feast in your own kitchen:
- Make it a sandwich or wrap: Nothing hits the spot better than a shish tawook sandwich. Simply remove your grilled chicken from its skewers, lightly grill a slice of pita bread or lavash, spread a sauce on top, and add your chicken. In Turkey, I’ve seen people make a chicken tawook wrap by spreading the pita with creamy hummus, then topping it with cooked chicken, sliced tomatoes, and red onions (or sumac onions for a zestier taste). Then, it is drizzled with a yogurt-based sauce such as yogurt dill sauce or tahini yogurt sauce.
- Turn it into Lebanese chicken kabobs: Want to make it as they do in Lebanese restaurants? Spread your lavash (or pita bread) with Lebanese garlic sauce, toum, and then place the shish tawook on top along with lettuce, pickles, and tomatoes. If you have never made this Lebanese recipe, this homemade toum garlic sauce recipe is my favorite one.
- Serve over rice or tabbouleh: Whip up a pot of simple rice for an easy weeknight fix. Or, for a more traditional pairing, serve this Middle Eastern chicken skewers recipe alongside Turkish Tabbouleh or Tabbouleh with Quinoa with a helping of cool tzatziki on the side.
- Simple salad on the side: Packed with protein and herby flavor, this chicken kebab recipe balances perfectly with a garden-fresh salad. Prepare an authentic Middle Eastern menu with a Turkish White Bean Salad or Fattoush Salad. You can also add tasty, crisp flavors to your table with my Yogurt Coleslaw or any of my other delicious summer salads.
This five-star Middle Eastern meal is pretty straightforward and quite easy to make. Below are a few helpful tips to help you make the best chicken shish tawook on your first try:
- Don’t skimp on the marination: Sufficient marination is the key to the tender, juicy chicken in this recipe. Like my Yogurt Chicken Marinade, the yogurt and lemon juice in this recipe’s marinade tenderizes the meat and infuses it with rich, tangy flavors. To ensure your chicken comes out as juicy as possible, I recommend letting it sit for at least 4 hours— up to 24 hours—before cooking.
- Cut the chicken into equal sizes: Be sure to slice your chicken into even, one-inch chunks before threading them on the skewers. Evenly-sized chicken cubes will allow each skewer to cook at the same rate.
- Thread loosely: Thread your tender chicken chunks loosely on their skewers to avoid crowding and uneven cooking. I also recommend leaving 1-2 inches on the ends of your skewers so you can easily remove the chicken pieces from the skewers.
- Oil the grates: To avoid sticking and burnt meat, thoroughly oil your grill grates before cooking your shish taouk. Furthermore, once you add the chicken skewers to the grates, turn them a few times to ensure even cooking.
- Check for doneness: The best way to check your shish tawook’s doneness is to insert a digital meat thermometer into the center of a piece of chicken. USDA recommends cooking chicken until its internal temperature reaches 165 degrees F. before serving.
- Let the chicken rest: Once you remove the chicken skewers from the grill, let it rest under a sheet of aluminum foil for 5-10 minutes before serving.
- Don’t have a grill?: If you don’t have access to an outdoor grill, you can use an indoor grill pan to prepare your chicken shish tawook on the stovetop. You can also make a slightly different version of this recipe in the oven using my recipe for Oven-Baked Chicken Kabobs.
- Add vegetables to the skewers: The authentic shish tawook recipe is not made with vegetables. However, if you prefer, you can use quick-cooking vegetables such as onions, mushrooms, and green bell peppers as you thread the chicken.
The difference in shish taouk vs. shawarma lies in marination and cooking. Though both dishes originate in the Middle East, chicken shawarma doesn’t usually include yogurt in its marinade, resulting in a deeper flavor profile. Also, shawarma comes from slow-cooking stacks of spiced chicken slices on a vertical rotisserie and slicing off the outer layer.
To identify chicken mishwi vs. tawook, you’ll want to look at the method of assembly and cooking process. Chicken mishwi refers to chicken grilled on charcoal, whereas shish tawook is made by cooking cubed chicken on skewers.
Though both refer to dishes cooked on a skewer, shish kebabs can include any meat, including beef, chicken, or seafood. Shish kabobs may also have veggies, like bell pepper or onions, for extra freshness and fiber. Meanwhile, shish tawook refers to skewered kebabs made with marinated chicken.
Yes! To cook shish tawouk in the oven, line a sheet pan with parchment paper and arrange your marinated chicken pieces. Bake the meat for 15-20 minutes at 450 degrees F., flipping halfway through. Finish the cooking process by broiling the chicken for one minute on each side, up to two minutes in total.
Popularized by a Philadelphia-based restaurant, chicken maroosh is a version of shish tawook served on a hoagie roll rather than on pita or lavash. Top your hoagie with charred onions, tomatoes, pickles, and garlic sauce for an authentic maroosh recipe.
Nowadays, people in the U.S. refer to this dish in dozens of different ways, including “sheesh tawook”, “chicken taouk”, and “shistaouk.” I’ve even heard it marketed as “Chickabob” in some Lebanese restaurants in the US.
Other Middle Eastern Recipes You Might Also Like
If you love this shish taouk recipe, I have dozens of other classic recipes for you to try. You won’t be able to resist these fan-favorite dishes’ mouthwatering Middle Eastern flavors.
If you try this Shish Tawook recipe, please take a minute to rate the recipe and leave a comment below. It is a great help to others who are thinking of making the recipe. And if you took some pictures, be sure to share them on Instagram using #foolproofeats so I can share them on my stories.
Shish Tawook Recipe
For The Marinade
- ¾ cup whole milk Greek yogurt or plain yogurt
- ¼ cup lemon juice freshly squeezed
- 1 teaspoon lemon zest
- 3 tablespoons olive oil plus more for the grill
- 6 garlic cloves minced
- 1 teaspoon ground cumin
- 1 teaspoon dried oregano
- 1 teaspoon paprika
- 2 tablespoons tomato paste
- 1 teaspoon Kosher salt
- ¼ teaspoon pepper
- Pinch cayenne pepper optional
- 2 pounds boneless and skinless chicken thighs or chicken breasts, cut into 1-inch cubes
- Prepare the chicken: Remove any residual skin or fat from the chicken; pat dry and transfer the chicken pieces to a bowl and set aside.
- Prepare the marinade: In a mixing bowl, whisk together the yogurt, lemon juice, lemon zest, olive oil, garlic, ground cumin, dried oregano, paprika, tomato paste, salt, and pepper so that all are incorporated.
- Pour the marinade over the chicken and mix well, ensuring all the chicken pieces are thoroughly coated. Cover it tightly with plastic wrap, removing as much air as possible. Place it in the fridge and marinate for at least 4 hours or preferably overnight.
- If using wooden skewers, begin soaking them in water for 30 minutes prior to assembling the marinated chicken. Remove the marinating chicken from the fridge 20 minutes before grilling.
- When ready to grill*, turn burners to medium-high and let them preheat for 10 minutes or until it reaches 400 degrees F. Using tongs, dip a wad of paper towel into the extra olive oil and then generously wipe the grates*.
- Meanwhile, remove the chicken from the marinade and thread the chicken pieces through the skewer. Tap off any excess marinade. If you have a thin piece, fold it as you thread it so it will cook evenly. Do not pack the pieces too tight, as this can lead to uneven cooking.
- Place the skewers on the oiled grate in a single layer. Cover and cook for approximately 12-15 minutes, rotating every 5 minutes so that you achieve a nice browning with grill marks. If you have a meat thermometer, check doneness by inserting it into one of the chicken skewers. If the internal temperature reached to 165 degrees F., your shish tawook should be cooked.
- Remove the skewered chicken from the grill and tent with aluminum foil for at least 10 minutes before serving.
- Yields: This recipe yields 8-9 skewers of shish tawook with each skewer having 5 pieces of cubed chicken. The nutritional information below is per skewer.
- Cook on the stove top*: If you do not have a grill, you can cook your skewers in a grill pan on the stove. It takes about 15-20 minutes to cook them on the stove.
- Do not skip the oiling of the grill grates: This is an important step to ensure that the chicken releases easily (and in one piece) when cooked. If you skip this step (or do not oil them well) the chicken skewers will stick to the grates and it will be difficult to flip them.
- Make ahead: You can marinate your chicken for up to 24 hours before cooking. When ready, assemble and cook them as directed in the recipe.
- Storage: Bring the leftovers to room temperature. Then, remove the meat from the skewers and store it in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to three days.
- Reheating: To heat in the oven, place your leftovers on a sheet pan and warm them in a preheated 325 degrees F. oven for 10-15 minutes. And to warm it up on the stovetop, place your chicken in a skillet (or a grill pan) with a bit of oil over medium-high heat and cook until heated through.
- Serving suggestions: These chicken skewers can be served with cooked grains, summer salads, or in lavash bread. I served them over a bed of tabbouleh and with a side of tzatziki.
I made this dish last night for a family cookout and everyone loved it! This recipe is a gem!
I am happy to hear that you liked it Anne. Thanks for coming by and taking the time to leave a review. Cheers!