This Chicken Shish Tawook is one of my favorite Middle Eastern recipes! Chicken pieces are marinated in a warmly spiced, brightly flavorful lemon and yogurt sauce then grilled to tender, juicy perfection. It’s easy to make and pairs wonderfully with a variety of sides.
What Is Shish Tawook?
In the Turkish language, “shish” means skewer, and “tawook,” also sometimes spelled tauk, means chicken. Put together, the two translate to mean chicken skewer or chicken kebab.
Believed to have first been served during the Ottoman Empire, shish tawook quickly became popular throughout the entire Middle East, spreading into Egypt and Levant during the Ottoman’s rule.
It features pieces of chicken that are soaked in a yogurt marinade infused with garlic, lemon juice, and lots of warm spices. It is then grilled or baked until the chicken is fully cooked and tender.
Thanks to the marinade, chicken shish tawook always turns out juicy and is virtually fail proof. It’s one of my all-time favorite recipes and is always what I order when we dine at Middle Eastern restaurants. Luckily, it’s simple to make at home, too!
What’s the difference between chicken shish tawook and chicken shawarma?
Both dishes are made with boneless skinless chicken and Middle Eastern spices, but they are not the same. There are key differences in how the two recipes are created and prepared.
- Shish tawook is created with a creamy, yogurt-based marinade that features garlic, warm seasonings, and tomato paste. As a result, it has a rich, bold flavor and a distinct hue.
- Alternatively, shawarma does not use yogurt or tomato paste. Instead, an olive oil-based marinade creates a stronger citrus flavor with warmer seasonings and a slightly spicier flavor.
- Traditionally, shish tawook is grilled on skewers, and shawarma roasts long and slow on a spit. Although, you can also make oven baked chicken shawarma at home.
Chicken Shish Tawook Ingredients
- Yogurt: Low-fat or whole will work great. Just make sure whatever you use is plain.
- Lemon juice: Freshly squeezed is best.
- Olive oil: I recommend using extra virgin olive oil for the strongest taste.
- Tomato paste: Make sure it’s a thick paste and not tomato sauce.
- Garlic: Whole, fresh cloves are best.
- Ginger: Use fresh ginger that has been peeled and chopped.
- Herbs and spices: Paprika, ground cumin, dried oregano, allspice, ground cinnamon, ground nutmeg, ground cardamom, cayenne pepper, salt, and black pepper are included in the marinade.
- Boneless skinless chicken thighs: Chicken breasts can be substituted.
How to Make This Shish Tawook Recipe
- Soak the skewers: If using wooden skewers, soak them in water to prevent them from burning on the grill.
- Create the marinade: In a medium bowl, whisk all the ingredients for the marinade until smooth.
- Marinade the chicken: Cut the chicken into strips, and place them in a gallon-size resealable bag or large bowl. Pour the marinade on top, and coat the chicken completely. Transfer the ingredients to the fridge for 2-3 hours.
- Grill: Thread the chicken pieces onto the soaked skewers, and place them on a heated grill. Cook until the chicken reaches an internal temperature of 425 degrees, rotating the skewers twice.
- Serve: Plate the shish tawook, and serve the chicken warm drizzled with olive oil or with hummus for dipping.
- Even chicken pieces: For even cooking, cut the chicken into equal-sized 2-inch by 1-inch strips.
- Don’t rush the marinading process: In addition to adding flavor to the chicken, the yogurt sauce also helps tenderize the meat. For the best results, let it marinate for 2-8 hours. However, if you’re in a hurry, allow for at least 30 minutes.
- Use metal skewers: This helps prevent splintering and ensures they don’t burn on the grill. Plus, they’re reusable, saving you money in the long run and preventing waste!
- Oil the grill: Brush the grill grates lightly with oil before adding the shish tawook skewers to prevent them from sticking.
- Bake: If grilling isn’t an option, try baking the chicken at 450 degrees for 18-25 minutes, flipping the skewers once or twice instead.
This chicken shish tawook works great stuffed into pita bread with lettuce, tomatoes, and veggies. Or, serve it over a bed of Jasmine rice, tabbouleh, or fattoush. No matter how you serve it, don’t forget to add a sauce! Hummus, tzatziki, baba ganoush, and toum are some of my favorites.
Storage and Reheating
- Transfer the chicken to an airtight container.
- Store in the fridge for up to 4 days.
- Reheat once on the grill.
- Or, enjoy cold in a salad or wrap.
More Chicken Recipes To Try
- Grilled Moroccan Chicken
- Yogurt Marinated Chicken
- Honey Lime Chicken Skewers
- Chicken Satay
- Thai Coconut Grilled Chicken
- Gyros with Greek Chicken
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- 1/2 cup plain yogurt (low-fat or whole)
- 1/3 cup fresh lemon juice
- 1/4 cup olive oil, plus more for grill, and optionally more for drizzling over grilled chicken
- 2 Tbsp tomato paste
- 2 Tbsp chopped fresh garlic
- 1 Tbsp peeled and chopped fresh ginger
- 1 1/2 tsp paprika
- 1 1/2 tsp ground cumin
- 1 tsp dried oregano
- 1 tsp ground allspice
- 1/4 tsp ground cinnamon
- 1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
- 1/4 tsp ground cardamom
- 1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
- 1 1/2 tsp salt
- 1 1/2 tsp black pepper
- 2 1/2 lbs boneless skinless chicken thighs, trimmed of fat
- If you are using wooden skewers soak them in water while the chicken marinades so they don't burn up on the grill. You'll need about 8 (10-inch) skewers for this recipe.
- In a medium mixing bowl whisk together yogurt, lemon juice, olive oil, tomato paste, garlic, ginger, paprika, cumin, oregano, allspice, cinnamon, nutmeg, cardamom, cayenne pepper, salt and black pepper.
- Cut chicken into 2-inch by 1-inch strips. Place chicken pieces into a gallon size resealable bag or a large bowl.
- Pour marinade over chicken, seal bag and rub marinade over chicken (if using bowl just toss then cover).
- Let marinate in fridge 2 to 3 hours.
- Thread chicken pieces onto skewers folding in half as you thread.
- Preheat a gas grill over medium-high heat to 425 degrees. Clean and brush grill grates lightly with oil.
- Grill chicken pieces, rotating 1/3 of the way twice during grilling, for about 16 to 20 minutes total until center of thickest portion registers 165 degrees.
- Plate chicken and if desired serve drizzled with olive oil or with hummus for dipping.