Grilled chicken shawarma with yogurt sauce – an easy version of the classic Middle Eastern street food which is usually cooked on a vertical, rotating rotisserie. In this version, we are cooking it horizontally in a pan, on the BBQ or on a tabletop grill. That’s right! You do not need a special rotisserie or spit to make chicken shawarma at home.
What is shawarma?
This famous street food is basically marinated meat or poultry, layered together on a vertical rotisserie or spit where it is slow-roasted until tender and flavourful. Then it is shaved off the spit and piled up in a warm pita pocket with fresh toppings or served as a “shawarma plate” with rice and salad. As for the sauce, you can expect a good drizzle of tahini or yoghurt sauce.
What spices are used for chicken shawarma?
Shawarma includes a handful of spices — give or take. Some versions of the spice mix are quite simple and others quite extensive. Generally you can expect to cumin, cinnamon, turmeric, paprika, and cardamom. Some versions, even add a little allspice, baharat, or even ras el hanout. For my version, I have decided to add fresh garlic and ginger, as well as cayenne pepper for a little heat, and sumac, which is completely optional. You will also find olive oil and lemon juice in my marinade. All of which infuses the chicken with exotic Middle Eastern flavours.
What equipment do you need to make this shawarma recipe?
In this easy homemade shawarma recipe, you have a couple options on how to prepare the chicken. You can use a large skillet or cast iron grill pan to prepare the chicken on the stove, or you can take the cooking outside and grill it on the BBQ. My choice is to enjoy the weather and cook outdoors using my glass ceramic tabletop grill from ELAG. It’s perfect for city dwellers like myself who like the convenience of indoor/outdoor grilling. And the fantastic thing about their new model is that it has a duel cooking zones, which means you can prepare food at different temperatures within the same cooking surface. Meaning, you can grill the chicken on one side while warming the pita or tortilla on the other side!
Key chicken shawarma ingredients
Chicken – the best choice for grilling is of course chicken thighs as they are must juicer that chicken breasts, however my personal preference is chicken breast, as I simply prefer the lighter meat when eating poultry.
Lemon juice – Adds a little extra freshness!
Olive oil – fat equals flavour, and it necessary to balance out the citrus so that the acid of the lemon juice doesn’t “cook” the chicken ahead of time.
Spices – I kept my spice choices quite ordinary, with the exception of sumac, which imparts some extra citrusy flavours. It’s optional. And if you do happen to have cardamon in stock, you could add 1/2 teaspoon of cardamon to the spice mix. As for the heat factor, I like to add cayenne pepper to this recipe. If you don’t want it spicy, either reduce or skip it altogether.
How to serve chicken shawarma
There are two main ways to serve a chicken shawarma recipe.
Pitas & Wraps
You could either fill a pita pocket or create a shawarma wrap (like Gyros and Döner kebabs) and add fresh toppings like tomato, cucumber, red onion, lettuce, and top with a simple tahini sauce or yoghurt sauce.
Simply skip the flat bread or wrap and serve on a plate with tabbouleh, a Persian cucumber and tomato salad, or rice and your choice of salad on the side, plus some tahini sauce, yoghurt sauce or hummus.
For the marinade:
- 1 large garlic clove, minced
- 1 teaspoon peeled and grated fresh ginger
- 1 teaspoon ground cumin
- 1 teaspoon coriander
- 1/2 teaspoon paprika (sweet)
- 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon (Ceylon)
- 1/2 teaspoon turmeric
- 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper, or to taste
- 1 teaspoon sumac (optional)
- 1/2 teaspoon sea salt, or to taste
- Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
- Freshly squeezed juice from 1 lemon
- 4 tablespoons olive oil
For the chicken:
- 4 skinless boneless chicken breasts (800 g)
For the vegetable kebabs:
- 2 small bell peppers, cut into 2,5 cm chunks
- 1 small red onion, quartered
- Handful of cherry tomatoes
- Olive oil, to coat
For the yoghurt sauce:
- 250 g greek yogurt
- 1 small garlic clove, minced
- 2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
- 1/2 mini cucumber, seeded and finely chopped or grated
- 2 tablespoons chopped fresh mint
- Flatbreads (Lebanese or pita bread or tortillas)
- Tabouleh or salad of choice, (such as lettuce and tomato)
- Hummus (store-bought or homemade)
In a large bowl, whisk together the garlic, ginger and spices (cumin, coriander, paprika, cinnamon, turmeric, cayenne, sumac, salt and pepper). Add the lemon juice and olive oil and whisk to combine completely.
Transfer the chicken to the bowl with the marinade and stir with a spoon to evenly coat the chicken with the marinade. Cover the bowl and place in the fridge to marinade for at least 1 hour or up to 24 hours.
Meanwhile, make the yoghurt sauce. In a small bowl, whisk together all sauce ingredients (yoghurt, garlic, lemon juice, cucumber and mint). Refrigerate until ready to use.
When ready to cook, prepare the kebabs. In a medium bowl, toss the vegetables (peppers, onion and tomato) in a little olive oil, then thread them onto skewers. (Note: If using wooden skewers and a, soak in water for at least 30 minutes).
Heat a grill (alternatively use a cast-iron grill pan on the stove top) over medium-high heat (for the LeMax Grill level 9). Grill the chicken breast for 3-6 minutes on each side, basting with any extra marinade, until golden-brown and fully cooked (time will vary depending on thickness of the pieces; for 2,5 cm thickness, plan about 5-6 minutes per side). Remove the chicken from the grill and let rest for 5 minutes.
Meanwhile, grill the vegetables kebabs for approximately 8-10 minutes (for the Lemax level 8), rotating a few times until nicely browned and slightly charred on each side. Remove the kebabs from the grill. Warm the pitas or tortilla on the grill for approximately 30 seconds per side, until toast marks begin to develop.
Once the chicken has rested, slice it thinly, across the grain and pile it onto platter alongside the vegetables kebabs and flatbread. Serve with yoghurt sauce, hummus and salad (such as tabbouleh).
To make a wrap, spread some hummus and yoghurt sauce on the flatbread, top with some of the grilled chicken shawarma, and lettuce and tomato (or tabouleh). Roll up and enjoy!
- If using larger chicken breasts, then lightly pound to even thickness.
For a relaxing atmosphere in the kitchen I recommend my personal Elle Republic: Chilled Out Kitchen Tunes Playlist on Spotify.
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