Labor Day is the symbolic end of summer and, for some, the close of many summer activities such as grilling.
We are fortunate that the weather in the South allows us to grill and participate in outdoor activities almost year round. Labor Day weekend is the perfect time to gather family and friends and hobnob over delicious kabobs. You can’t beat them for casual entertaining.
Shish kabobs are the perfect backyard picnic or party food and make outdoor entertaining festive and fun. Kabobs are easy to assemble ahead of time and can be grilled to perfection in minutes. They offer incredible flavor, color and variety, even for the fussiest eaters. I think of it as “dinner on a stick” and consider it one of my favorite barbecue meals.
Creating the kabobs is the time-consuming part of the preparation, the so-called grunt work of the kabob process. Once the cutting, marinating and skewering is out of the way, grilling them is a cinch and cleanup is even easier.
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When making a kabob, choose combinations of ingredients that complement each other. The varieties are endless, as this is another one of those creative and imaginative meals. Meats such as beef (I recommend tri-tip steak or you can get fancy with chunks of beef tenderloin), pieces of boneless chicken or turkey breast, pork (tenderloin), lamb cubes, small meatballs, ham chunks, pieces of sausage, peeled and deveined whole shrimp and large sea scallops (wrapped in bacon is very tasty) make excellent kabobs.
Onions, zucchini, or other summer squash, green, red or yellow peppers, partially cooked carrots, canned or partially cooked small whole potatoes, fresh mushrooms and firm cherry tomatoes are good vegetable choices.
Poultry, pork and ham go well with fruit such as pineapple chunks, apricot halves and peach or apple wedges.
For vegetarians, veggie-only kabobs can be made with any combination of your favorite fresh vegetables.
Skewers are the first item you will need to prepare your kabob. There are many types and sizes; however, I would recommend those about 12 to 16 inches in length and those that are not round, although these are not as easy to find. I have found that non-round skewers keep the food from turning on the skewer when you rotate it (at least to some degree).
Double-pronged skewers are the ticket and do a good job of holding kabobs together. As the double-skewered kabobs cook, they are easier to turn from side to side, and the secured food less is likely to fall off as it shrinks. You can make your own double skewer by using two per kabob.
Insulated handles are another nice addition to a skewer, as all metal ones tend to get hot, requiring you to use hot pads or a pair of pliers to handle them. If you choose wooden or bamboo skewers, which are very common, soak them in water for at least 30 minutes to prevent them from catching fire. These skewers are particularly good to use when cooking for a crowd because they are inexpensive and disposable. It also helps to give skewers a light brushing of oil or spray with nonstick cooking spray before adding the food to prevent the food from sticking.
The only “kabob rule” I can think of is to fill the skewers with pieces of food that are uniform in size and leave a little space between the pieces so everything gets thoroughly cooked. Do not overload skewers with food packed tightly together as they won’t cook evenly. When your skewered food is done, use a fork to slip over the skewer at the handle end and push the food off onto your serving dish or plate.
Fresh fruit and vegetable kabobs make a nice appetizer. Just thread your favorites onto a short bamboo skewer. My favorite way to present fruit kabobs is to take a whole or half pineapple or half of a small watermelon and stick the filled skewers all over the outside. The presentation is colorful and easy for guests to serve themselves. Another favorite of mine is to skewer Italian marinated antipasto vegetables (salami, cheese, olives, cherry tomatoes, pepperoncinis, artichoke hearts etc.), place them on a bed of curly lettuce and then drizzle or brush on additional Italian dressing.
There is less stress, less mess and more fun for everyone when you get out of the kitchen and make a meal outdoors, and let’s face it, everything tastes better when it’s hot off the grill. So, if this is your last big hurrah for the summer season, get grilling with kabob combos.
Sweet BBQ chicken kabobs
q 1 lb. boneless skinless chicken breasts, cut into 1-1/2 inch chunks
q 2 cups fresh pineapple chunks **
q 1 each: red and green pepper, cut into 1-1/2 inch pieces
q 1/2 cup barbecue sauce
q 3 tbsp. orange juice concentrate, thawed
n Mix the barbecue sauce and orange juice together. Set one-fourth cup aside for basting the kabobs on the grill, then place the chicken and the remaining one-fourth cup of sauce into a plastic bag. Marinate the chicken in the refrigerator for 30 minutes to one hour (if you have time, if not, forget this step).
n Prepare and heat the grill to medium-high heat.
n Using eight long skewers (placing two, side-by-side, for each kabob), remove the chicken from the marinade (discard the marinade) and thread it alternately with the pineapple and peppers onto the skewers to make four kabobs.
n Grill the kabobs eight to 10 minutes or until the chicken is done, turning and basting occasionally with the remaining sauce mixture.
**Note – Substitute one can (20 oz.) drained pineapple chunks in juice for the fresh pineapple. If using wooden skewers, soak them in water 30 minutes before using.
Variation – Prepare recipe as directed, substituting 1 lb. salmon fillets, cut into 1-inch chunks, or 1 lb. cleaned extra large shrimp for the chicken, but you will need to reduce the grilling time to four to six minutes or until the salmon flakes or the shrimp is pink.
q 1 lb. tri-tip or boneless top sirloin steak, cut into 1-inch chunks
q 8 large mushrooms
q 1 red bell pepper, cut into 1-inch pieces
q 8 cherry tomatoes
q 2 small onions, quartered
q 1 zucchini, cut into 1-inch slices
q 1/2 cup Italian dressing
q 1/4 cup soy sauce
n Place the first six ingredients in a large plastic bag.
n Mix the Italian dressing and soy sauce together.
n Add half the marinade to the bag and set the other half aside for basting the kabobs on the grill.
n Marinate the beef/vegetable mixture in the refrigerator for two hours, turning occasionally.
n Remove the steak and vegetables from the marinade (discard the marinade) and thread the steak alternately with the vegetables onto four (12-inch) skewers.
n Grill the kabobs, covered with the grill lid, over medium-high heat (350-400 degrees) five to seven minutes on each side, or until desired doneness, turning and basting with the remaining sauce mixture.