Stick a skewer in it, it's done.
As we head into Memorial Day weekend, many families and friends will gather in backyards, campgrounds and parks across the Midlands to fire up the grill and savor some smoky, flame-grilled goodness.
Along with such summertime staples as hamburgers and hot dogs, kabobs — marinated meat and vegetables threaded and cooked on a skewer — have become a grilling favorite.
The appeal? They're easy to make, cook up fast and can include whatever ingredients you like.
They're also fun.
“Put something on a stick and people love to eat it,” said Jeff Snow, executive chef and owner of Catering Creations in Omaha.
From chicken, scallops and steak to zucchini, peppers and pineapple, you can put nearly anything on a kabob. Suitable for meat lovers and vegetarians alike, they're a great make-ahead dish, perfect for entertaining.
For a fun alternative to a dinner party, Snow suggests throwing a kabob party.
Arrange an assortment of meat, seafood, tofu, chunks of fresh vegetables and fruit on separate platters. Set out some metal or soaked bamboo skewers and let everyone make their own kabob creations.
Since meat usually takes longer to cook than vegetables, Snow recommends making single-ingredient kabobs (all beef, all chicken, etc.).
“Otherwise you run into the problem of your chicken not being cooked, but your vegetables are,” he said.
Vegetables with a similar texture (onions and peppers, for example) can go on the same skewer since they cook at about the same rate. You also could combine smaller pieces of meat with larger chunks of vegetables to ensure that ingredients cook evenly.
Once the prep work is done, kabobs come together in minutes. Since they cook quickly on the grill, they're a great option for busy families, said Gene Cammarota, chef-instructor in the culinary program at Iowa Western Community College in Council Bluffs.
The former Omaha restaurateur and radio cooking show host said kabobs appeal to him because they're incredibly versatile and portable.
“You can hold them in your hand and walk around and eat them,” he said. “You just gotta be careful not to poke yourself in the eye.”
When eating kabobs directly from the skewer, hold it with the point away from you, sliding the food across as you eat, Cammarota said. Parents may want to remove food from skewers before serving to young children.
Depending on the ingredients and size of the kabob, you can enjoy kabobs as an appetizer, side dish or entree.
Both Cammarota and Snow say outdoor grilling is the way to go because the high temperature from the flames will create a nice sear. If you don't have a grill, you can roast or broil kabobs in the oven.
For beef kabobs, the two chefs suggest starting with a tender cut such as New York strip, tenderloin or sirloin. Take time to marinate it before grilling to intensify flavor, tenderize the meat and keep it moist.
To make a basic marinade for about six kabobs, Cammarota whisks together 2 tablespoons olive oil, ¼ cup orange juice, a tablespoon or so of chopped fresh herbs (flat-leaf parsley, basil, rosemary etc.) and salt and fresh cracked pepper to taste.
“The idea of a marinade is to coat whatever you're marinating, but not overpower it,” he said.
Cammarota likes to serve vegetable and fruit kabobs as side dishes and encourages home cooks to get creative.
Instead of sticking with traditional veggies like bell peppers, onions and mushrooms, consider using carrots or Brussels sprouts. With their firmer texture, though, you'll want to blanch them before grilling.
Mango, pineapple, peaches and nectarines are well-suited for kabobs because grilling helps bring out their succulent sweetness.
Jo Anne Garvey, a chef-instructor at the Institute for the Culinary Arts at Omaha's Metropolitan Community College, makes kabobs at home and in the classroom.
When using wooden skewers, Garvey recommends soaking them in water for about a half hour to help keep them from burning on the grill. Another way to prevent this problem is to place a mushroom or cherry tomato at the ends of the skewer, she said.
For heavier items such as large meat kabobs, Garvey prefers metal skewers because they offer more support.
If you'd rather leave the prep work to someone else, many grocery stores sell premade kabobs in the meat department.
Omaha Steaks offers three kinds: one featuring chicken and vegetables and two with beef. Company spokeswoman Beth Weiss said all three versions are popular with customers because of their convenience and attractive presentation.
“We sell a tremendous amount of them,” Weiss said. “They offer you your protein and your grilled vegetables all in one beautiful package on a skewer.”