Shashlik – Grilled Pork Kebabs
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Grilled pork kebabs (shashlik, in Russian) is the summer staple! Let’s learn to make the juiciest and most tender grilled pork skewers together.
I can’t imagine summer without good ol’ Russian shashlik! Oh, how I love that intoxicating smell of smoky, savory grilled meat!
Growing up, it was such a summer staple!!!! On a weekend, my dad would take us to a forest and grill endless rows of kebabs over an open fire pit. Pork, beef, lamb, he used any kind of meat!!!
And now, I carried that tradition over to our family. But instead of going to the forest, we do it on our deck, on a gas grill. I know, I know! Dedicated Russians would argue that that’s not how you grill shashlik, but I say it’s better than nothing! If possible, a charcoal grill is a better option!
WHAT IS SHASHLIK?
Shashlik is a Russian word for meat skewers (shish kebobs), marinated and grilled over charcoal, or wood fire. Traditionally, shashlik is made of lamb. However, pork is common alternative nowadays.
In Russia (and other Slavic and Central Asian countries), shashlik is grilled over open fire pit (mangal).
Wood is best, as it yields the most flavorful shashlik. But you should never cook shish kebabs over open flames. Instead, you burn most of the charcoal/wood, and then cook the meat skewers once they turn white.
WHAT CUT OF PORK SHOULD I CHOOSE FOR PORK KEBABS?
For juicy, tender pork kebabs, I recommend pork shoulder, which consists of two parts: Boston butt and picnic roast. You can’t go wrong with either cut. Boston butt is more marbled, which means it’s fattier and has more flavor.
Fatty meat yields more flavorful kebabs, because fat drips down into the fire, releasing amazing smoke flavor back into the meat.
HOW TO MAKE PORK KEBABS:
Step 1. Prepare the meat
- Cut the meat into small bite-size pieces.
- Grate the onion and squeeze out the juices.
- Mix meat with onion juice, salt and seasonings. Cover and refrigerate for at least 2 hours, or overnight.
There’re literally thousands of ways to marinade shashlik meat.
Every kebab enthusiast has their signature marinade and claim it’s the best one! You may hear vinegar, beer, wine, yogurt, mayo-based marinades. But you know what?
Experts claim that the simplest marinades yield the best shashlik. And I 100% agree with them. All you need is onion, salt and your favorite spices!
TIP: Onion juice tenderizes the meat. Mixing grated onion (without juicing) with the meat will still tenderize the meat, but onion pieces burn during grilling. You can use sliced onions too for marinating meat, if you prefer, but as you can imagine onion slices won’t produce as much onion juice.
Step 2. Grill
Now the fun part! For the best flavor, use charcoal or wood fire, but gas grill works just fine.
- Grill the meat skewers for about 8 minutes, turning on all sides. You can cover the grill for couple of minutes, but watch for flames. You don’t want big flames burn your kebabs.
- To check for doneness, use a meat thermometer. The internal temperature should read 160°F. If you don’t have a thermometer, get one asap! But in the meantime, cut into the biggest piece. If the juices run clear, it’s ready!!!
TIPS FOR THE JUICIEST AND MOST FLAVORFUL SHASHLIK (PORK KEBABS):
- Use the right cut of meat. As mentioned earlier, Boston butt (part of pork shoulder) makes the best pork kebab, as it’s fatty and flavorful cut!
- Cut the meat into small bite-size pieces, about 1-inch cubes. This way, you can eat the meat straight from the skewers and the meat cook perfectly: slightly charred on the outside and juicy & tender on the inside.
- Get a meat thermometer to cook the meat to perfection without a guessing game!
These grilled mixed vegetables are perfect side dish for shashlik!
Grilled Pork Kebabs / Shashlik
- 4 lbs 2kg pork shoulder (Note 1)
- 4 medium yellow onions
- 1-2 tablespoons spices of your choice I use ½ tablespoon ground black pepper, ½ tablespoon ground cumin, ½ tablespoon garlic powder, and ½ tablespoon smoked paprika
- ½ tablespoon salt
- To prepare the meat: cut the meat into bite-size pieces, about 1-inch cubes.
- Grate the onions and then squeeze the juices. Reserve the juices and discard the pulp. (Note 2)
- In a large bowl, combine meat, onion juice, seasonings and salt. Cover and refrigerate for at least 2 hours, or overnight. (Alternatively, you can slice the onions and combine with the meat. However, onion juice tenderize the meat, so when sliced, they aren't as effective.)
- To grill the meat: preheat the grill over medium high heat. Clean and lightly oil the grates.
- Thread the meat onto metal skewers and arrange them on a baking sheet.
- Once the grill is nice and hot, place the skewers on the grill and grill for about 8 minutes, turning on all sides. You can cover the grill for couple of minutes, but watch for flames. You don't want big flames burn your kebabs.
- To check for doneness: use a meat thermometer. The internal temperature should read 160°F. If you don't have a thermometer, get one asap! But in the meantime, cut into the biggest piece. If the juices are clear, it's ready!!!
- Serve immediately. (These grilled mixed vegetables are perfect side dish!)
Tips & Notes
This post was originally published on August 3rd, 2015, and last updated on July 27th, 2020.