Chicken Shawarma

Homemade Chicken Shawarma?? Yeah, I went there. You know I wouldn’t post a recipe that I don’t love. Well, I’m in love this recipe. I’ve cracked the homemade shawarma code. And it’s awesome. Seriously awesome.

Okay, so technically this recipe should actually be called Shawarma-Style Chicken. True shawarma is cooked with stacked, spice-marinated meats– lamb, turkey, chicken, beef, or a mix of meats– on a vertical spit. The shawarma turns and cooks on the spit for hours and hours, basted in fat and its own juices. Fat = flavor = tasty, amazing shawarma. Thin slices of meat are shaved from the surface and served, either on their own or tucked inside a warm flatbread, topped with tahini or garlic sauce. Shawarma is one of life’s great pleasures.

I’ve been trying to replicate the flavor of shawarma at home for months, playing with different spice combinations and cooking methods. At first I tried buying premade shawarma spice blends from the Middle Eastern markets, but none of them made my mouth happy. I needed more spice, more flavor, more oomph. So I began to experiment. Then finally, last week, I nailed it.

This recipe is probably as close as I’ll ever come to making shawarma at home. My husband says it’s even better than the shawarma at our local Lebanese restaurant. He’s biased, of course– but he’s also brutally honest, especially when it comes to my recipes. I blind taste tested two of our Israeli friends, and they both asked me if I’d finally gotten that shawarma spit I’ve always wanted (in my shiksa dreams!). Suffice it to say, I’m happy with the result.

You have two choices for cooking this recipe– in the oven or on the grill. To be honest both cooking methods taste great, there really isn’t a big difference between the two. I used¬†boneless skinless chicken meat (a combination of dark and light meat) in the recipe to cut down on unhealthy fat, but the flavor needs to come from somewhere. Shawarma gets a lot of its flavor from the meat fat that it is basted in. I’ve replaced the flavor of the skin fat with olive oil (a healthier oil than chicken fat), including a final saute in olive oil prior to serving. It may seem strange to saute meat that has already been cooked, but you’re going to have to trust me on this one. The extra saute adds a ton of flavor and really gives it a shawarma-like texture that can’t be replicated in the oven or on the grill. If you’re trying to cut down on your oil intake you don’t need to do the extra saute, it will save you 2 tablespoons of olive oil… it won’t taste exactly like shawarma, but it will be yummy. But please, don’t replace the chicken thighs with breast meat. This dish really needs some dark meat in it to make it taste great. You can make it with all chicken thighs, if you prefer (I actually love it that way), but don’t sub all chicken breast. Pretty please.

This recipe is super yummy. The shreds of chicken meat go great with hummus and tahini sauce, over a salad for a boost of protein, or in a pita sandwich or wrap. It stores well in the fridge, so you can make a large batch and enjoy it for several days afterwards– just reheat before serving. The best part? It’s ridiculously easy to make!

You’re welcome. :)

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Notes: I’ve received several requests asking about the sauce in this post. Here is a link to the recipe: Tahini Sauce. If you are making this recipe for Passover and you are avoiding kitniyot, don’t serve it with the tahini sauce– it’s great without sauce, too.

Chicken Shawarma

Ingredients

  • 1 lb boneless skinless chicken breasts (2 large breasts)
  • 1 lb boneless skinless chicken thighs (4 large thighs)
  • 6 tbsp extra virgin olive oil, divided
  • 2 tsp cumin
  • 2 tsp paprika
  • 1 tsp allspice
  • 3/4 tsp turmeric
  • 1/4 tsp garlic powder
  • 1/4 tsp cinnamon
  • Pinch of cayenne
  • Salt and black pepper
  • Nonstick cooking oil spray

You will also need

  • Grill or baking sheet, tongs, skillet, spatula, foil, plastic wrap.
Servings: 6
Kosher Key: Meat
  • Slice the chicken breasts into 5-6 pieces each and the thighs into 3-4 pieces each. Place them in a marinating dish or large plastic zipper bag.
  • In a small bowl, whisk together 1/4 cup olive oil, the spices, 3/4 tsp salt and 1/4 tsp black pepper (if you're salt sensitive, use 1/2 tsp of salt). Pour the spice marinade over the chicken pieces. Stir with a spoon till all the chicken pieces are evenly coated in the marinade.
  • Cover the marinating dish with plastic wrap, or close the zipper bag. Place chicken in the refrigerator and let it marinate at least 1 hour, up to overnight.

Oven Cooking Method

  • Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Line a baking sheet with foil. Spray the foil with nonstick cooking oil. Place the chicken pieces on the sheet, evenly spaced.
  • Place the chicken in the oven. Let it roast for about 15 minutes till cooked through, turning the chicken pieces once with tongs halfway through cooking.
  • Take chicken out of the oven and let it cool slightly. Use a sharp knife to slice the meat into small, thin shawarma-like pieces.
  • Heat 1 tbsp of oil in a skillet on the stovetop over medium. Pour half of the chicken into the skillet and saute for 3-4 minutes till the smallest pieces of chicken turn brown and crisp. Season with additional salt and pepper to taste, if desired.
  • Remove the cooked chicken from the skillet. Heat another 1 tbsp of oil and saute the remaining chicken in the same way. Serve warm.

Grill Cooking Method

  • Spray the grill with nonstick cooking oil and preheat to medium heat. Thread the marinated chicken pieces onto wooden skewers.
  • Cook the chicken for about 20 minutes, giving a quarter turn every 5 minutes, till cooked through (slice into the thickest piece of meat to check for doneness).
  • Let the chicken cool slightly, then remove it from the skewers. Use a sharp knife to slice the meat into small, thin shawarma-like pieces.
  • Heat 1 tbsp of oil in a skillet on the stovetop over medium. Pour half of the chicken into the skillet and saute for 3-4 minutes till the smallest pieces of chicken turn brown and crisp. Season with additional salt and pepper to taste, if desired.
  • Remove the cooked chicken from the skillet. Heat another 1 tbsp of oil and saute the remaining chicken in the same way. Serve warm.
  • Note: If you are making this recipe for Passover and you are avoiding kitniyot, don't serve it with the tahini sauce-- it's great without sauce, too.

Comments (207)Post a Comment

  1. I just returned from the trip of a lifetime to Israel about a month ago. My friend cooked this recipe last night for our Schawarma and Falafel potluck and slide show presentation. It was the tastiest food I have had since returning to the States. You have a gift making authentic tasting Israeli food.

    1. Hi Rabbi Dan, in our family (and in many other American Ashkenazi families) cumin, coriander and quinoa are not considered kitniyot. You’ll see on my Passover recipe pages that I lead with a disclaimer about spices: link to theshiksa.com It is assumed that if a reader is so strict that they consider spices like cumin to be kitniyot, then they will already have a firm grasp of their own Passover dietary restrictions and will not choose to make a dish like this for Passover.

  2. Thanks for this recipe…I made it for dinner tonight, and it was just delicious! I’m going to have to check out more of your recipes!

  3. Awesome recipe! Thank you! My favorite local Kosher restaurant went out of business and I was crushed that would not ever have their Shawarma again. This recipe was so easy and fool-proof; even I, who has unpredictable results in the kitchen, could make it. Thank you again!

    1. Krisina, it is served many different ways in different countries throughout the Middle East and Mediterranean. It can be served in flatbread, nan bread, pita bread, or on its own with rice. I’m sure there are other variations as well.

  4. Came across this recipe a couple months ago, and must have made it a dozen times since then. Just made up a 8x batch of the marinade and portions a bunch of freezer bags to cook up later. Amazing recipe, thanks.

  5. I’ve had this bookmarked for months. Finally got around to trying it. The chicken is currently marinating overnight. Can’t wait to try it tomorrow!

  6. Hey Tori, I tried your recipe for the chicken. But it came very disastrous. After cooking the chicken in bake method and than frying them, the taste of the chicken was very unpleasant. All i could taste was paparika chili powder and tasteless of chicken pieces. Can you tell me where I went wrong? I feel as if your recipe is very similiar to chicken tikka, more towards Pakistani spicky dishes than Middle Eastern dishes.

    1. I’m not sure where you went wrong. If you’ll read the reviews you’ll see that pretty much everybody has had a great experience with this recipe. As for tasteless chicken, perhaps you didn’t marinate it long enough? It’s hard to say since I wasn’t in the kitchen with you. I’m thinking perhaps you misread one of the seasonings and/or added too much or too little of something? In any case, I’m sorry it didn’t turn out well for you.

  7. Have the chicken marinating for tomorrow…sooo can’t wait to try it! My fiance & I love the one and only place here in our city & always wanted to try to make our own. Thanks for sharing your culinary knowledge Tori! :)

  8. Another delicious Shiksa recipe. My family loves it when they see me perusing your blog! My son said he feels like he was transported back to Ben Yehuda street in Jerusalem. Thanks, Tori!

  9. OMG! This recipe is FANTASTIC! I used dark meat turkey and marinated the meat overnight. I served it in a pita with homemade hummus and Israeli chopped salad. My teenage son, aka “PickyEater” and his friend ate it ALL. I had enough for six full size pitas. Easy and quick to make, especially if you marinate over night. Can’t wait to make this again and serve it over basmati rice.

  10. I wanted to make chicken shawarma burgers… do you think your spice mix would work mixed into ground chicken, and then formed into patties? I would appreciate your opinion. Thanks!

  11. Thank you so much for this recipe! Every few months or so I like to have a Mediterranean feast with my best friends, and I’ve never even tried to go for the shawarma… I’m so excited to try it!

  12. I just made this tonight for my husband and I. IT”S AMAZING! I know my shawarma and I must say you nailed it, my dear. I put a little hummus down then put the shawarma right on top. mmmm…just annoyed with myself that I only made 1/2 the recipe.

  13. Wow! Excellent recipe — you’re like a food mechanic, taking things apart and putting back together. Your recipes are on a whole other level. Myself, I don’t really care about cachrout (although, maybe it’s the constraints that are making you think outside of the box?), so I added Greek yoghurt to the marinade, and also had fresh tarragon in the fridge, and added it. For some reason, the anise flavor of the tarragon takes the shawarma-ness to another level.

  14. I was skeptical that it could taste anything like schwarma….. boy was I wrong! It was great and not difficult to make. Do you have a recipe for Lamb or turkey schawarma?
    I added zaatar in the marinade and a bit more salt. Yummm.

    1. Adding zaatar is a great idea when I use this recipe for Lamb Shawarma! I pretty much use the same recipe for lamb or turkey, too.

  15. The Tomato Garlic Fish Dish sounds fantastic! Can’t wait to try this for dinner:) Love your pictures too. Thanks for sharing the recipes, Cindra

  16. Hubby has been playing around with our rotisserie. I jumped on Google when he asked me to try a chicken shawarma.

    You have absolutely nailed it! I used your marinade, then alternated chicken breasts with onions, rotating the breasts as I loaded the skewers. I set the timer for 1.5 hours, but shut it off after about and hour. Fantastic!

  17. I’ve been cooking this 2x a week for weeks, now! The family loves it, and it’s easy to make a double-batch on Sunday, and cook them up on Monday & Wednesday after work. :)

  18. This is THE BEST recipe for Chicken Shawarma I have ever used. I am lazy so I marinate longer and bake all of my chicken pieces in the oven – even tightly packed when I am doing a large serving. EVERYONE compliments me – even people who swear they hate Mid-Eastern food – on this recipe and, aside from making a few little changes (I cut up onions, marinate and bake with the chicken), I use the spices exactly as prescribed. Wonderful. I add to this the accoutrement of Tabouli salad, Saffron rice, lots of Tzatziki sauce and homemade Hummus with both white and wheat pita breads. Some tomatoes on the side along with a nice mix of Greek olives really makes an all around delicious meal.

  19. I have been trying several of your recipes and they all turned out fantastic. The chicken shawarma is out of this world and I had to write something. I followed the recipe exactly and when I took the first bite, it was like being back in Israel. Many thanks for the recipe.

  20. Hi Tori,
    Your website is my go-to recipe finder now.
    I made shawarma, classic baba ghanoush, and tahini accordingly to your recipes last weekend. About 17 lbs of shawarma, for the party of about 40 people (my b-day party). People just went ecstatic about it (there were many Israelis at the party and shawarma available at Mediterranean restaurants locally is, well, subpar). Had to share the recipe with almost everyone:) (I never pretended it’s my own:)

    Thank you so much and please keep posting more. You are so talented!!!

  21. Hi

    I just read your recipe for chicken shawarma. Looks yummy. Am heading straight to the kitchen to try it right away. Will let you how it turns out to be. Thanks for the recipe

  22. Do you use sweet or smoked paprika? I have both, but each have very different flavor profiles. I want to be sure to use the correct kind. :-)

    I recently have had my first chicken shawarma experience, as I had never had it before. I love it!!! I was so happy to find you recipe and I plan to make it tomorrow!

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