This authentic Shish Tawook Recipe features tender, juicy chicken that’s marinated in a spiced yogurt, lemon, and garlic mixture and then grilled to perfection.
When I lived in Syria, I remember buying incredibly delicious pre-marinated Shish Tawook from a local butcher.
It wasn’t fancy. It came in a plastic bag with the open end tied into a knot. The marinade had a pretty pinkish color flecked with spices and pieces of garlic. It smelled divine.
We’d get it home and cook the chicken on the little grill on the balcony or roast it in the oven. It was amazing served on top of fresh flatbread (from the baker whose bread shop was downstairs on the bottom floor of our building!) to soak up all the flavorful juices from the grilled chicken.
We enjoyed Shish Tawook along with grilled onions and tomatoes from the vegetable shop on the corner. That shop was owned by a man who brought fresh produce into Damascus from his family’s farm every morning. Talk about supporting local!
And we always had Shish Tawook with Toum (garlic sauce) for dipping. Toum is a pungent fluffy white dip that’s redolent with garlic. It only has four ingredients – garlic, salt, oil, and lemon juice – but it’s packed with flavor. Its creamy texture is perfect for using as a condiment or dipping sauce, and it perfectly complements the flavors in Shisk Tawook.
The beautiful thing about this recipe for Middle Eastern Grilled Chicken Skewers is how easy it is to make, and how few ingredients it calls for. You’ll be surprised at how flavorful the end result is, and how moist, tender, and juicy the chicken is!
The Best Shish Tawook Recipe
The secret ingredients in this recipe that result in juicy, tender chicken every time are so common that you probably already have them in your kitchen: yogurt and fresh lemon juice!
Tomato paste lends beautiful color to this dish. Garlic adds aromatic flavor. A few spices add depth, mainly paprika with a touch of allspice, and cayenne adds a touch of spicy heat.
If you prefer, you can use boneless skinless chicken breasts; that’s actually what I had every time I had this dish in the Middle East. However, I love the rich flavor and juicy texture of dark meat chicken so I like to use boneless skinless chicken thighs here.
Ingredients for Middle Eastern Grilled Chicken Skewers
- Plain yogurt
- Fresh lemon juice
- Light olive oil
- Tomato paste
- Cayenne pepper
- Black pepper
- Boneless skinless chicken thighs
How to Make Authentic Shish Tawook
- Whisk together the ingredients for the marinade.
- Add the chicken pieces to the marinade, toss to coat, and let the chicken marinate in the fridge for 1 to 24 hours.
- Skewer the chicken and grill it!
How to Store Grilled Chicken Skewers
Once the chicken is grilled, you can store it in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 4 days.
Variations on This Recipe
- You can use boneless skinless chicken breasts instead of thighs.
- The tomato paste is optional; it’s mostly used to lend color to this dish.
- Play with the level of spicy heat. Feel free to add more or less cayenne pepper to taste.
Tips for Making Authentic Shish Tawook
- Be sure to let the chicken marinate for at least 1 hour, or up to 24 hours.
- If you’re using wooden skewers to grill the chicken, soak them in water for 20 minutes before skewering the chicken.
- If you don’t have an outdoor grill, you can use a grill pan inside. Alternatively, you can roast the chicken pieces at 400F for about 20 minutes.
Shish Tawook FAQs
How Do You Keep Chicken Juicy on the Grill?
There are a few ways to keep chicken from drying out on the grill.
For starters, use dark meat instead of white meat. Here we use boneless skinless chicken thighs.
Also, marinating chicken helps keep it moist and juicy when grilling. The yogurt and lemon juice in this marinade do a great job of not only tenderizing the meat, but also preventing this chicken from drying out on the grill.
Another important factor is to not over-cook it. Chicken is fully cooked when it reaches an internal temperature of 165F.
Where Does Shish Tawook Come From?
Shish Tawook is a common dish in the Levant area of the Middle East, which includes present-day Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, Israel, and Palestine.
An old family friend told me that this particular recipe came to the Levant area from Turkey during the time of the Ottoman Empire.
This recipe is also transliterated as Sheesh Tawook, Shish Tawouk, and Shish Taouk.
What Do You Eat with Shish Tawouk?
Traditionally, Shisk Taouk is served on top of Middle Eastern flatbread to soak up the juices. Grilled onions and tomatoes are commonly served on the side. Additionally, in the Middle East, Toum, a creamy garlic spread, is frequently served with these Grilled Chicken Skewers.
More Authentic Middle Eastern Recipes to Try
- Red Lentil Soup
- Arabic Breakfast
- Ma’amoul (Middle Eastern Date Filled Cookies)
- Tangy Arugula Salad with Sumac (Salatat Jarjeer)
- Foul Mudammas
Shish Tawook Recipe (Middle Eastern Grilled Chicken Skewers)
- 5 tablespoons plain yogurt
- 3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 2 tablespoons tomato paste
- 5 large cloves garlic crushed
- 2 teaspoons paprika
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1/4 teaspoon allspice
- 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
- 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
- 2 pounds boneless skinless chicken thighs trimmed of excess fat and cut into 1 1/2-inch pieces
- Chopped or sliced tomato
- Sliced cucumber
- Sliced onion
- Fresh parsley
- Toum Lebanese Garlic Sauce
- Whisk together the yogurt, lemon juice, oil, tomato paste, garlic, paprika, salt, allspice, cayenne pepper, and black pepper in a large bowl. Add the chicken and toss to coat. Cover the bowl and refrigerate at least 1 hour (or up to 24 hours).
- Thread the chicken onto skewers. I like to divide the chicken onto 6 skewers so each serving gets 1 skewer.
- Preheat a grill to medium-high. Grill the chicken until fully cooked, flipping occasionally, about 12 minutes. Chicken is done cooking when it reaches an internal temperature of 165F in the thickest part, and the juices run clear.
- Remove the chicken from the grill. Serve.
- Net Carbs: 3g per serving
- Nutritional Information: The information this recipe was calculated for the marinated chicken only (not the optional additions).
- Soak Wooden Skewers: If you’re using wooden skewers to grill the chicken, soak them in water for 20 minutes before skewering the chicken.
- Other Ways to Cook This Chicken: If you don’t have an outdoor grill, you can use a grill pan inside. Alternatively, you can roast the chicken pieces at 400F for about 20 minutes.
- Recipe Inspiration: Recipe adapted slightly from the recipe in my cookbook An Edible Mosaic, published by Tuttle Publishing.