Shashlik (shish-kabob/ шашлык) – authentic Uzbek dish

I have to admit something.  I am a bit of a purist when it comes to certain things and Uzbek food happens to be one of them.  See, some of my friends try to tell me that they make great kabobs and then they go into great detail telling me how they marinate it in vinegar (eek!) and that they use pork (oy!).  I grit my teeth and smile and since “sounds nice”.  But to me, that’s just meat on a stick.  Actually, anything that deviates from the shashlik I grew up with is just meat on a stick.  The recipe that follows is a little unusual, but trust me, if you make it this way, you’ll never call anything else “shish-kabob”. Actually, my friends who have tasted this divine food, are still talking about it longingly, nine years later. We don’t do this often because as you can see, it’s very labor intensive. But it’s SO GOOD AND SO WORTH IT!

But first things first.  The ingredients.  Shish-kabob (shashlik) is made mostly from lamb and sometimes from calf liver.  I can’t remember ever eating chicken shish-kabobs, but I’m sure there are some varieties.  Also, meat can be ground and then shaped around the skewer, but it has a different name then (I forgot what it is).  Then you need spices (salt, cumin, coriander) and seltzer water.

1. You start with a leg of lamb in a quantity that depends on how many people you’ll feed (I’d recommend at least a pound per person).  Cut up the meat and the fat into bite-sized pieces.  Don’t forget the fat.  It’s delicious.  Trust me.

2. Marinate the meat and the fat with the spices and a bottle of seltzer water.  Never use anything sour like vinegar or wine when marinating lamb (at lest for shish-kabobs) since it will make the meat tough.  Be sure to turn the meat all around to make sure it’s evenly marinated.  It’s best to marinate at least 8 hours, but a full 24 hours is better.

3. You need a special grill called mangal (mahn-gahl).  You can use your regular charcoal grill, but it will take longer because a regular grill isn’t as large.  Cook till it’s done.

4. Serve with a tomato salad or with vinegared onions (soak onions in vinegar for a few hours and sprinkle with some paprika).



Close-up of shashlik.  See that fat?  YUM!

Close-up of shashlik. See that fat? YUM!

Mangal emty

Mangal emty

Shish-kabobs on Mangal

Shish-kabobs on Mangal

Served with onions

Served with onions

So, unless your shish-kabobs are like these, though tasty it might be, it’s just meat on a stick to me. 😉


17 responses to “Shashlik (shish-kabob/ шашлык) – authentic Uzbek dish

  1. I like pork kebabs! But, I agree, you need fatty lamb for the best kebob experience.

  2. Made this for some friends from Latvia and Russia. They loved it. You didn’t include measurements for the spices…I did one part coriander, one part cumin, one part salt. No Mangal, but smoked them with hickory wood. Let me know about the measurements you use please.

    • Hi,
      I’m glad this worked out for you. I’m not sure about the measurements since the person who does it, does it all by feel/experience. And it all completely depends on the amount and quality of meat.

  3. You dont know what traditional shashlik is, lol dont use wine are you insane????!!!! Thats just one obvious deviation but you lack insight.

    • And you grew up in Uzbekistan? Eating this every weekend? From people who’ve been doing it for generations, from father to son? Sure, I’ll grant you that other regions have what they refer to as “shashlik”, doesn’t mean it’s Uzbek and doesn’t mean it’s made the way it was made where I grew up. Therefore to me, shashlik is only made the way I described. Anything else, to me, is meat on a stick. Doesn’t mean it’s bad or not tasty, just not authentic Uzbek shashlik that I grew up with.

  4. Hi Anna, I was searching the web for authentic shashlik recipe and I stumbled upon your blog spot. Although I grew up in Eastern Europe (Lithuania), and we have grilled “Shashlik” every other weekend back in the days, the real Shashlik I tried only after a couple from Uzbekistan moved in to live with us here in the U.S. I completely agree with you, everything else is “just a meat on a stick”. Thank you for the great recipe with cool pictures and all! Now I would kindly ask you to gift us all with another authentic Uzbek recipe how to make Plov, real Uzbek Plov!

    • Thank you Alex. I’m glad you agree with me about “meat on a stick”. 🙂
      I would *love* to blog about a real Uzbek Plov. Unfortunately, I don’t have a “kazan” and don’t know where to get one in the US. And as much as I try to make it in an enameled cast iron pot, it’s just not the same.

  5. Anna, where did you buy the mangal?

    • Hi Edward,
      We didn’t. The man whom we hire to do the shashlik and (plov/shurpa/lagman) had it made. It’s his and I don’t know who he had make it for him. He’s very particular about it, and the skewers too.
      I have seen people use a charcoal grill, but it would take a long time to grill the quantity of skewers we usually end up with. And too many of them would be cold while waiting for the other skewers.
      Sorry I couldn’t help.

  6. My hubby keeps promising to weld one, but I’ve managed to at least make the so-called “ljulja-kebabs” on the grill – by rolling little “sausages” by hand and carefully grilling them on my charcoal grill. Still, it’s not the same. The absence of a mangal in my life can certainly be felt.

  7. Sorry – I have an issue with your nazzi-like level of prescription – surely you must know there are variations!

    I grew up in south Uzbekistan and we used white distilled vinegar, diluted in sparkling water to marinade. (diluted until it tastes like 1/2 lemon juice strength) And loads of onions (about same as qty of meat by weight was needed – that’s the tenderizer.

    Other details you’ve missed are that you have to put the meat under a plate with some weight on it. Makes a huge difference to the tenderness too.

    • If you would have read the post carefully, you would have noticed that I said that this is what I grew up with. I didn’t grow up with any other kind of shashlik. If there are other authentic recipes, that’s fine, but they’re not what I’m used and therefore will always be “different” to me.
      And I have an issue with your use of the word “nazzi”. You should look into learning the language and the meaning of words. But perhaps you should concentrate on reading comprehension first.

  8. Just wanted to chime in and add my 2 cents.

    I also grew up in Uzbekistan (Tashkent) and
    I agree with the last persons comments. The recipe that we used does include a bit of vinegar and lots of onions all of which are spiced and covered by a heavy plate in a pot.

    Mangal can be purchased in Queens NY on 108th st around Queens Blvd. I recently purchased a rather large one (4-5 feet) for $70 and the flat Uzbek sticks were around $2 each.

    • Is there a link to this store? Do they sell online? I don’t live in NY and that would be the only way I could buy it.

      • Unfortunately i don’t believe they have a site. Honestly i’ve looked for it for a while and all the ones on the internet are at least double the price. You best bet is try to make it over there.

  9. Please, folks, don’t be so helpless. Find a welder and have him make one for you of 1/8″ or 1/4″ steel, complete with legs, exactly as you want. If you were close to me, I’d make you one for about $50. The skewers? Simple, buy a couple lbs of 1/8″ welding rod. 7014 is cheap. Soak it in water and the flux coating (mostly iron) will flake right off. You can beat them with a ball pein hammer to make them look rustic if you like. Rub them with fat or oil and season them in your oven. They will last a lifetime.

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