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A better way to skewer

I watch a lot of TV. And YouTube videos, and Vimeo videos.

The biggest thing I’m looking for in most of the food videos is not exotic ingredients or flavour combinations, but rather technique. Most of the time, I’m just  trying to find better ways to cook the stuff I already enjoy. So when Anthony Bourdain takes a stroll through a food market in a far off land, I’m always interested to see how things are cooked.

One thing I’ve noticed from several cultures around the world, from the far East to the Middle East especially, is the way skewered meats are cooked.  I’ve seen many expamples of grilling where there is no grate over the coals, just two supports on either side of the coals (or gas burners) for the ends of the skewers to rest on.  Using this method does away with all of the sticking, ripping and even burning that we’ve come to live with when grilling skewers on our home barbecues.

But emulating the open-grill method with a standard Weber kettle grill couldn’t be simpler. Just set the top grill aside and use six bricks instead.  I lined up two rows of bricks on end, measured the distance apart using the skewer that would hold the meat, then started my coals and poured them between the bricks. Voila – open grilling of skewered meat. It worked incredibly well, producing evenly roasted, juicy chicken (see recipe below) and was very easy to manipulate the skewers with a pair of tongs to flip them over occasionally.

Here’s a simple recipe for a charcoal-grilled Middle Eastern-spiced chicken skewer that benefits greatly from the charcoal flavour.  Serve the chicken in warm pitas with tzatiki sauce, chopped onions and tomatoes.

Middle Eastern spiced chicken skewers

1 lb boneless, skinless chicken (thighs or breast are fine)

salt for the brine

A good pinch each (1/8 teaspoon or so) of garlic powder, cinnamon, cumin, allspice, pepper and turmeric

1 teaspoon vegetable oil

Chop the chicken into small cubes. Place a couple of cups or water in a large bowl and add a few tablespoons of salt.  Stir to dissolve the salt, then add the chicken. Brine for at least and hour or up to three. Drain off the brine thoroughly and place the chicken back in the bowl.  Add all spices and the oil and use your hands to massage it into the chicken for a couple of minutes.  Thread the chicken onto skewers (preferably metal but well-soaked wood skewers will work).  When the coals are ready, begin roasting your chicken, turning them every three to five minutes to roast evenly and cook through.  Serve with warm pitas, tzatziki sauce, chopped onions and chopped drained tomatoes and gallons of cold beer.

The setup: