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A long-time contributor to SeriouslySmoked. Jim has had a lifelong relationship with the art of grilling, passed on from his father and grandfather to him.
Annabelle is an experienced food writer and editor. She focuses on common sense, easy to replicate recipes formulated to help keep things fresh and exciting while fitting into her day to day life as a wife and mother.
Skewering food for kabobs or kebab is a barbeque tradition that has spread around the world, and for good reason. It’s convenient, fun, and all around delicious, with a ton of different ways to cook up all sorts of meat and vegetables.
1. The Problem with using Skewers
Many people don’t tend to use skewers, instead of having a set of permanent skewers, they buy bundles of disposable skewers. These little things are great for the infrequent kebab maker, and are usually made of bamboo.
But as you might know if you’ve ever tried using them, they’re thin and tend to burn easily. Worse, when drying out on the grill they can often get splintery…meaning you run the risk of getting a sharp piece of wood stuck in the side of your mouth. Not fun.
To get around this, the best thing to do is soak your skewers. The added moisture prevents the wood from drying out, and keep them moist and intact so you can enjoy your skewers in peace.
2. How long should the skewers be soaked?
The length you need to soak your skewers varies a bit, and you can use a few different techniques.
If you’re in a hurry, you really only need to soak your skewers for about 30 minutes. Just place them flat in a tray with enough water to cover them, and let them sit. Take them out, shake them off, and skewer whatever you want before popping it on!
However, soaking them longer never hurts. You’ll make sure you have perfectly moist skewers every time if you soak them overnight, or even up to 24 hours in advance. This is especially good if you want to sear the skewers over very high heat; the extra moisture will help immensely in that scenario.
3. Soaking in skewers in marinade
But if you really want to get creative, you can actually turn the soaking into part of the recipe. Any liquid works, really, not just water. Soaking your bamboo skewers in something that compliments the marinade you’re using for the rest of the kebab is perfect. Red wine is a classic option, as are many types of vinegar, both of which will add a bit of extra kick to your skewers.
You can also, of course, just use the marinade itself if you want a little bit extra of the same flavor; that’s also perfectly valid.
This in itself gives the bamboo skewers a sort of advantage in and of themselves, but admittedly it doesn’t cover over every one of the weaknesses of the skewers. They can still burn and char, and they do make a lot of waste over time, as bamboo skewers can’t really be reused. If you end up making skewers a lot, you’re going to eventually start paying a bunch of money that you don’t really need to be on packages of skewers.
4. Investing in metal skewers
Instead, think about investing in a set of reusable metal skewers. These don’t need to be soaked, and are going to result in a much more even cook across your meat, as they conduct the heat quite a bit better than wood does.
These skewers are much better if you plan to do something like a doner kebab, which uses ground meat. Ground meat needs to be cooked thoroughly through no matter what it’s made of. While you can get away with rare meat chunks if it’s beef, even ground beef should be cooked until well done due to the bacteria inherent in ground beef.
These types of skewers are also typically flat, which makes them much better for doner kebabs as well; it’s difficult to get the ground meat to stick to the usually rounded and thin bamboo skewers.
No matter what kind you go with, you could also try to kill two birds with one stone, by skewering the meat and vegetables before marinating them.
5. Bamboo VS Metal Skewers
For the bamboo skewers, this allows it to soak up juices, and for the metal ones it lets you keep your hands a little cleaner during the whole process, and streamlines setup so you can just pull them from the fridge and toss them directly on the grill; great for lazy days where you don’t want to work too hard to get dinner ready. You can even get the meal ready days early for something like a backyard barbeque party on the weekend, helping to keep stress down for a planned gathering.
The metal skewers are better for this as well, as there’s no danger of them becoming over-saturated.
Of course, this mostly works best for small batches, not some huge restaurant style tray full of marinated meat. But if you’re making that much kebab, you’re likely not going to be using bamboo skewers in the first place.
So, you have a lot of flexibility on how long you soak your skewers. Just keep in mind that when it comes to bamboo skewers, the longer the better, though you can get by with as little as 30 minutes if you’re in a rush.