Juicy, full of flavour, and grilled to perfection, these Grilled Lamb Shish Kebab will be a hit at your next cookout. The secret is in the marinade. A combination of vinegar, onion and spices work together to make these kebabs super tender and incredibly delicious. Not to mention Whole30 and Paleo.
What You Need for Grilled Lamb Shish Kebab (Shashlik)
Lamb: I like to use boneless leg of lamb here. It’s a flavourful cut, not too expensive and when marinated, becomes quite tender. Lamb shoulder is more affordable but a bit tougher and requires a longer marinating time. You can also substitute lamb loin chops if that’s preferred. If they’re on the bone, you can skewer them or grill them individually.
Onion: Marinating the lamb in thinly sliced onion is an essential part of this recipe. The onion adds a tremendous amount of flavour and aroma to the marinade, but it does not get grilled with the lamb. Discard the onion after marinating because it will burn on the grill and impart a bitter flavour onto the meat.
Spices: A combination of dried marjoram, fenugreek, oregano, and bay leaves work alongside cumin and chili flakes to bring these grilled lamb shish kebabs to life. It took me around attempts to nail down this spice blend and I think it’s pretty much spot on. That’s better than the year it took me to perfect my Chicken Shawarma.
Vinegar: You can use just about any kind of sharp vinegar here. Sometimes I use red wine vinegar, other times it’s white wine vinegar. You could probably also use a sweet vinegar like balsamic, which would balance out some of the bitterness from the onion and actually help caramelize the meat on the grill.
What is Shashlik?
Usually grilled over charcoal on a mangal, this type of shish kebab or skewered meat (AKA shashlik in Russian) is found throughout Caucauses, Central Asia and Russia. Every country, region, town and household has its own version of the marinade and it can be used on lamb, chicken, pork or beef.
Some like to add red wine to the marinade. Others will use water. However, the building blocks usually remain the same: onion, acidity (usually in the form of vinegar) and spices. It can be super simple, or things can get a bit more involved.
This recipe falls somewhere in the middle. Not too simple, but not overly complicated.
The onions add an incredible aroma and help tenderize the meat along with the vinegar. The spices compliment each other beautifully without overpowering one another. And the finishing touch is the wood-fired flavour that comes from grilling the lamb shish kebab on a Traeger Grill.
I Don’t Like Lamb. Any Substitutions?
Feel free to use this same marinade for chicken thighs, chicken breast, chicken wings, pork tenderloin, beef tenderloin or beef sirloin.
Do You Have to Skewer the Shish Kebabs?
If the pieces of meat your grilling are large enough you can simply marinate the meat and grill it as is. I do this very often with chicken thighs or chicken wings.
The benefit of skewering, however, is it allows you to cut the meat into smaller pieces, which increases the surface area, allows for more marinade to penetrate the meat, and decreases the amount of time it takes for the marinate to work.
On a conventional grill, skewering also helps prevent pieces of meat from falling through the grill grates. On a mangal, where there is actually no grill grate at all, skewering is essential because the skewer is what rests on the edges of the grill.
Grilled Lamb Shish Kebab (Shashlik) – Whole30, Paleo
For the Onion Garnish
- ½ medium yellow onion
- 1 teaspoon white wine vinegar
- 1 teaspoon dry parsley
For the Lamb Shish Kebab:
- 3.5 pounds boneless leg of lamb cut into 1” chunks
- 1 medium yellow onion thinly sliced
- ¼ cup white wine vinegar
- 2 tablespoons avocado oil
- 2 teaspoons dry oregano
- 2 teaspoons dry fenugreek
- 2 teaspoons dry marjoram
- 2 teaspoons ground cumin
- 2 teaspoons kosher salt
- 1 teaspoon crushed red chili flakes
- 2 bay leaves fresh or dry
- 1/2 teaspoon freshly-cracked black pepper
For the Onion Garnish:
- In a small bowl, combine the onion, vinegar and parsley. Toss to coat and refrigerate up to 4 hours in advance.
For the Lamb Shish Kebab:
- In a bowl, combine all of the ingredients and toss to coat. Cover and refrigerate 4 hours to overnight.
- Preheat Traeger grill to 475F.
- Skewer the lamb pieces and discard the onions, they will burn on the grill. Transfer the kebabs to the grill and cook until grill marks form, around 7 minutes. Flip and cook the other side until grill marks form and the thickest part of the meat registers 140F internal for a medium center, around 4 more minutes. If using a gas or charcoal grill, cook the kebabs over direct, medium-high heat.
- Transfer the kebabs to a serving platter and top with the onion garnish.