Flavor Explosion Skewers

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Years ago, our neighbor made us skewers the old fashioned way, with lots of different foods on the same skewer. I never forgot the flavor explosion from the interacting ingredients, but when I tried to make them myself, I struggled - they would burn, fall apart on the grill or not have as much flavor as I remembered. Eventually, I learned the tricks to make the most delicious, flavorful skewers imaginable. These are the tricks I learned on how not to burn everything, how to keep your skewers from falling apart on the grill, and how to maximize the flavor of your ingredients. Get your taste buds ready - your summer won't be complete without a taste of these.

Step 1: Gather the Ingredients

Recipe serves 6-8 (if you've got sides with that, as the whole meal it serves around 4-5)

Total Time:

  • Meat Marinade Prep: 1 hour
  • Marinade: Overnight
  • Skewer Prep and Cook Time: 2 hours

Meat Marinade:

There are a TON of meat marinades out there, but trust me on this, you really want to use this one - it's perfect for any pallet (not spicy, a little sweet, well balanced flavors), and has been my secret recipe for years. Courtesy of Allrecipes, the ingredients are below:

https://www.allrecipes.com/recipe/48125/absolutely...

  • 2 tablespoons Sesame Seeds
  • 1 bunch Green Onions, cut into ringlets
  • 8 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 tablespoons Tahini*
  • 1/2 cup Soy Sauce
  • 1/2 cup White Sugar
  • 1/4 cup Red Wine Vinegar
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground Black Pepper

* Tahini is a sesame seed paste, and can be found at your nearest middle-eastern grocery for around $4 - the jars will say "Tahini" in english and are typically found near the spices. I get the big jar because of how much I love this marinade, but a small jar will do just fine.

All the other ingredients can usually be found at your local grocer.

Veggie Marinade:

The veggie marinade is pretty basic and easy to make. You will need:

  • 1 part Olive Oil
  • 1 part Lime Juice
  • Salt to taste
  • Pepper to taste
  • Garlic to taste
  • 1 part Cilantro (optional)

Skewers:

  • 4lbs Beef Chuck*
  • 1 Pineapple
  • 1 lb Baby Portabella Mushrooms
  • 3 - 4 Bell Peppers
  • 10 Shallots
  • 2 White Onions
  • 1 Yellow Squash
  • 1 Zucchini

* You could use more expensive meat, but the marinade will make this $4.99 / lb meat taste as good as $10 / lb beef - no kidding.

Tools:

  • Bamboo skewers
  • Tongs
  • Medium bowl with lid (or a medium bowl and a large freezer bag)
  • Small bowl
  • Measuring cups and spoons
  • Spoon to stir with
  • Cutting surface / cutting board
  • Refrigerator or cooler
  • Grill + Fuel
  • Skillet
  • Knives (or magical cutting powers)

Step 2: Prepare the Marinade

This is the best non-skewer tip I can give, use this marinade!

First, gather your ingredients:

https://www.allrecipes.com/recipe/48125/absolutel...

  • 2 tablespoons Sesame Seeds
  • 1 bunch Green Onions, cut into ringlets
  • 8 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 tablespoons Tahini*
  • 1/2 cup Soy Sauce
  • 1/2 cup White Sugar
  • 1/4 cup Red Wine Vinegar
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground Black Pepper

And your tools:

  • Medium bowl with lid (or a medium bowl and a large freezer bag)
  • Measuring cups and spoons
  • Something to stir with

If using fresh garlic, peel the garlic cloves and the outer shell and then mince it (make it into tiny little pieces) with a knife or garlic press. Then, cut the green onions (also commonly called scallions) into ringlets (shown in the second picture). Gather your sesame seeds, and on a lightly oiled pan, brown them on medium heat until they reach the color shown in the third picture. Add all of the ingredients into your medium bowl, and stir.

The different ingredients are balanced to provide a great flavor to meat. The soy sauce and red wine vinegar both tenderize the meat. The sugar gives it a bit of sweetness, and the sesame seeds and tahini add an unexpected complex savory flavor.

Step 3: Prepare and Marinade the Meat

You've got your marinade all ready to go, now it's time to cut up the meat. I used beef chuck because it's inexpensive and the marinade does a phenomenal job of tenderizing any cut of beef.

Start cubing the meat into cubes a max size of 3/4 inches. It is important to keep these cubes small, as too large of cubes will not cook thoroughly while the vegetables burn. They don't need to be perfect cubes as you can fold the meat onto the skewers.

If you have a fatty piece of meat, cut away the fat as you go.

Once you have finished cutting all your meat cubes, put them in the bowl (or freezer bag) with the marinade, and let it sit in the refrigerator (or cooler) at least overnight.

Step 4: Skewer Prep

Now that your meat has marinaded overnight, it's time to get ready to build up our skewers, and, prepare for cooking.

First, collect all of your ingredients for the skewers - I like to make sure I have everything out before getting started so I don't forget a delicious ingredient!

Gather Skewer Ingredients:

  • 4lbs Beef Chuck, marinated
  • 1 Pineapple
  • 1 lb Baby Portabella Mushrooms
  • 3 - 4 Bell Peppers
  • 10 Shallots
  • 2 White Onions
  • 1 Yellow Squash
  • 1 Zucchini

Next, place your bamboo skewers into a tall container, and fill it with water. The skewers will absorb water which makes it harder (but not impossible) for them to burn.

Next, we want to prepare the veggie marinade. This is prepared the same day so the veggies are nice and fresh.

Prepare Veggie Marinade:

The veggie marinade is pretty basic and easy to make. You will need:

  • 1 part Olive Oil
  • 1 part Lime Juice
  • Salt to taste
  • Pepper to taste
  • Garlic to taste
  • 1 part Cilantro (optional)

First, finely chop the cilantro. Then, add all of the ingredients into the veggie marinade and place them in a small bowl. Set aside.

Ready your Grill:

Now that you have the skewer prep ready, it's time to remind you to think about your grill + fuel source. I use charcoal, so part way through making my skewers, I will want to get my grill started. If you have propane, you can wait to start, but now is a good time to check if you have enough fuel.

Step 5: Skewer Science: Cutting

Now, we're finally into the skewer master tips - first up, cutting!

The best skewers get their flavor medley from how they are stacked, and being able to stack it best starts all the way back at the cutting methods. Here are the best ways to stack cut your veggies so you can build the perfect skewer:

  • Bell Peppers: Cut the bell peppers into flat "sheets" of peppers. The easiest way to do this is cut the stalk so it can lie flat on your cutting board, then, cut down with your knife along the ridges. This helps to minimize the seeds you have to pick out. You should notice that the pieces are somewhat flat. Cut the pieces into approximately 1 inch squares.
  • Onions: If you're looking at it with the root down on the cutting board, cut it into thirds as shown in the third picture. Then, peel away the shells of the onion.
  • Mushrooms: Cut the stems off the mushrooms so they are even with the caps. We want these close to the stem so a lot of flavor can transfer from the mushrooms (more on that later). Try not to pull the whole stem out - these help keep the mushrooms on the skewer.
  • Shallots: Slice the ends of the shallots, then without turning the shallots, halve them in the thick center. This will allow more flavor of the shallot to transfer from the shallots.
  • Squash & Zucchini: Cut the squash and zucchini into rings of approximately 1cm. You want them this thick because as they cook they get weaker. If you make them too thin, they will slide all over on the skewer.
  • Pineapple: Cut the top off the pineapple. Next we want to turn the pineapple into 1 inch or greater chunks. If you have a corer tool that makes 1 inch or greater chunks, you can use that, but a knife works well too. If you're using a knife, cut off the fleshy skin. Once the fleshy area is cut off, cut the pineapple into horizontal slices that are 1 - 1 1/2 inch thick. Once you have the slices, cut out the core in each slice. Then, cut the slices into chunks greater than 1 inch thick.

Apply the Marinade:

  • Once you have completed cutting your veggies, apply the veggie marinade to the bell peppers, onions, shallots, squash and zucchini

Notes:

  • In the first picture, you'll see both potatoes and tomatoes. These are commonly attempted on skewers, but are usually not a good option. The potatoes take WAY too long to cook, and the tomatoes end up stewed, which makes them fragile and sometimes mean they fall right off the skewer. They are also big, so its way too tempting to try to rotate the skewer with them, which inevitably means the whole skewer falls right back on the grill.
  • In this video, Gordon Ramsay demonstrates the technique for cutting bell peppers - don't let him fool you though, it takes a bit to get it right. And don't follow the entire video, when he starts to julienne, stop.

Step 6: Skewer Science: Stacking

Now that you've learned the cutting tricks, it's time for the key trick that creates the flavor explosion - the stacking methods. You may have had a skewer once upon a time where the flavors intermixed and created a great melody of sensations and the meat had a hint of pineapple, or a hint of bell pepper. We're about to show you the science of how!

First, the quick answer:

Stack meat next to any of our ingredients to absorb flavor. I prefer a mushroom or pineapple on one side, and an onion, shallot or pepper on the other for a good balance of flavor. Stab ingredients through the middle.

Now, the extended, how to do it best and how it works answer:

First, you want to understand flavor transfer, and there are two main things to consider: Some ingredients absorb flavor, and some ingredients provide flavor. Think about it this way: How often do you have a potato that tastes like anything other than a potato - it's not very often. And how often have you had something else that is cooked with a potato taste like a potato - again, not very often. This brings us to the first chart. You will see a potato is in the bottom left, it doesn't provide flavor, and it doesn't absorb flavor. Now let's take a look at the pineapple. If you haven't experienced it yet, a pineapple can provide significant flavor to things it cooks near. This is because it has a lot of juice in it. It can also absorb some of the flavors from things it cooks near. Onions are similar in that they can provide flavor, but unlike the pineapple, they don't really absorb much flavor from other ingredients. Now, here is where it gets interesting - the beef absorbs a lot of flavor from the ingredients it cooks near. So we have some ingredients that can provide flavor, and our beef which absorbs flavor. The trick here is, why don't we stack these next to each other, and we can get the flavors to move between our ingredients?

The second picture shows this in action: In one example, the onion (which provides flavor) is next to the meat (which absorbs flavor), which is next to the pineapple (which provides flavor). The second example shown has the mushroom (which provides flavor) stacked next to the meat (which absorbs the flavor of the mushrooms and pepper) next to the pepper (which provides flavor). By putting things which absorb flavor (pineapples, mushrooms, shallots, peppers and onions) next to things which absorb flavor (squash, zucchini, meat), the flavors go from one ingredient to the next.

The second key is to make sure that there is a lot of contact between the ingredients, and that the contact is on the correct "side" of the ingredient - and you also want to push them close. This is why we cut the vegetables the way we did. For bell peppers and onions, we want to use the "Cupping Technique", where the inner fleshy side is in contact with and surrounding the meat, this helps the onion flavor to absorb into the meat. For shallots, the wide, sliced end is the best side to use as it has more surface area with the meat. For the mushrooms, the Underside, below the cap, is where we will get the most flavor, so we want this to touch up against the meat.

Lastly, one annoyance of skewers is often that ingredients will fall off. In the stacking step, we want to prevent this as much as possible. To prevent this when we go to stack our ingredients, make sure to: stab everything through the center, stab the mushrooms through the center of the stems, stab the shallot through the middle as shown in the picture.

Step 7: Become a Skewer Master and Enjoy!

We're almost ready, you should have the grill fired up and the skewers stacked and ready to go.

Skewer grilling isn't like grilling steaks or a burger, you want to keep the lid open, and don't walk away. Skewer grilling is Not a conversation sport! Skewers need a lot of attention, and walking away can result in overcooking / burning.

Once you're ready, throw the skewers on and get started. I generally put them in the hot part of the grill so the meat gets fully cooked. Skewers need to be rotated regularly to ensure an even cook without burning the vegetables. It is very tempting when grilling to just pick up the tongs and pick up the skewer wherever, just like you would with a steak. However, skewers are different, some ingredients are very soft, like the squash, and might fall apart if you try to pick up the whole skewer with it. Instead, only pick up the skewers with the meat - the meat stays strong even as it cooks.

When the meat is done, the skewers should be done. You can use a thermometer, or just wait until the meat is nicely browned. Because of the veggie marinade, the veggies don't char easily, and their flavor can actually enhance if left on longer than expected as the sugars will caramelize. No stress - if you're not getting the cook times right and the meat isn't cooking all the way through, throw the meat back on! Even some of the darker colors on the veggies in the photos tasted phenomenal.

Cook and enjoy, that's it! I hope you enjoyed this Instructable, and please let me know if you have any tips to add!

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    8 Discussions

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    offseid

    3 months ago

    Thanks for all the additional info! Great job.

    1 reply
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    FriendInMeoffseid

    Reply 3 months ago

    Thanks offseid! I'd love to see everyone be able to make a great skewer :)

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    jessyratfink

    3 months ago

    Those look delicious and I love all the tips you included to get them right :)

    1 reply
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    FriendInMejessyratfink

    Reply 3 months ago

    Thanks Jessy! The flavor is to die for, I hope you try them :D

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    Penolopy Bulnick

    3 months ago

    Such a lovely variety of foods on the skewers and the marinade sounds tasty!

    1 reply
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    FriendInMePenolopy Bulnick

    Reply 3 months ago

    Thanks Penolopy! I might try some banana peppers squares next for a little spicy kick :)

    0
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    Thanks Jason! My dinner guest said it was the best skewer she had ever had - I hope you try it :)