The 5 Best Grill Skewers, According to a Kebab Expert
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The 5 Best Grill Skewers, According to a Kebab Expert

Aug 16, 2023

Here's why pros prefer metal skewers.

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Greg Dupree

Roasting food on sticks is a way to connect with your primordial side. As a way to cook small pieces of meat over a fire, it was just a natural step in the evolution of cooking. We usually do it wrong, though, cutting the food either too big or small and not matching the vegetable sizes to the meat sizes, resulting in under- or over-cooked vegetables and meat, either scorched on the outside and raw on the inside or underdone all around.

Cooking disciplines unto themselves, kebabs or churrasco requires a balance between the foods on the skewer for even cooking. Part of improving your technique, however, comes down to using skewers that won’t set you up for failure. We asked chef Shamim Popal, co-owner of Lapis in Washington, D.C., what to look for in the best grill skewers.


Take these Grillart skewers as a prime example of what to look for. They’ve got easy-grip handles to grab while you remove the food, plus a slider to aid in that. At 17 inches long, they have plenty of space to skewer food without overcrowding, without being inconvenient to store. They’re flat, so food doesn’t roll when you move them, and the angled tip helps thread meats and denser vegetables.

Price at time of publish: $22


I’m not easily swayed by things like fancy handles, preferring functionality over form. But the OXO skewers got me. The handles are molded in a way that your thumb fits into a groove for better gripping to move, turn, or remove food from them. That, of course, is provided the handles are cool enough to hold, but they also make gripping them with tongs easier. And the thumb groove serves another purpose: the skewers nest, which reduces kitchen drawer chaos. Moving on from handle fandom, the OXO skewers are serviceably long with a flat design and sharp, wedge-shaped tip, making food easier to skewer and less likely to rotate when moving or flipping.

Price at time of publish: $14


The Norpro skewers are good entry-level pieces. They are ¼ inch wide and flat, which means less rolling, while a wedge-shaped end makes skewering easy. We’d like to see some more girth, however, to help prevent food from rotating when you move the skewer. Besides the circular grip at the end, these skewers are as straightforward as they come, with no sliders or extra “features.” But they do exactly what they’re supposed to do. The stainless steel construction is easy to clean and conducts heat well, helping food cook more evenly. Yes, the market has better skewers, but the construction and price make these a good value set.

Price at time of publish: $9


The + HOM skewers are the skewers for those done mucking about with thinner models. At almost two feet long and an inch wide, these skewers are made for larger pieces of meat, large cuts of vegetables, or whole vegetables and are ideal for wrapping ground or minced meat around. If you’re considering churrasco cooking or traditional kebabs, these might be the tools for you. These skewers have zero frills, just strong, flat, sharpened stainless steel that you thread your food onto and place on the fire. Because of their size, they have excellent heat conductivity, helping cook your food from the inside and outside. Because six big pieces of metal are unwieldy to store, the skewers come in a tubular carrying case for storage and organization.

Price at time of publish: $37


When you’re buying bamboo skewers, one of the most important things to look for is a smooth finish to reduce the chances of splintering. Although soaking helps the situation, starting from a good place is best, with a uniform finish and pre-inspected for cracks. The Garsum skewers provide exactly that. The BBQ Sticks are made from natural, renewable bamboo, have a sharp point for easy skewering, and are long enough (16 inches) to keep the blunt end out of the fire while still providing ample room for food.

Price at time of publish: $10

I’m not going to whitewash this: you want metal skewers. Bamboo is fine if you’re only going to grill a few things on sticks occasionally, feed a larger group that outnumbers your available metal skewers, or toast marshmallows. If you must use bamboo, look for a smooth finish, sustainably-sourced bamboo, and read reviews about their rigidity and compare that to the weight of the food you’ll be threading onto them. Stainless is easy to clean, has a reasonably long life expectancy, and conducts heat.

Consider some pieces of chicken threaded onto skewers. You put the skewers on your grill grate, and the chicken's exterior starts cooking. You may end up with a charred mess before your chicken cooks if your fire is too hot. A stainless steel skewer will be heating at the ends at the same time the food is cooking. Steel being what it is, that heat will travel along the skewer and start cooking the chicken from the inside as well. Longevity and ease of cleaning off the table, that conductivity is what steers me towards stainless.

Popal, who serves an extensive selection of kebabs in her restaurant, has strong skewer opinions. “The flatter or wider the better, as it helps retain the juices while also cooking the meat evenly for any minced meat,” she says. “For any novice cooks, you can get skewers with a nice wooden grip to make it easier on you. If not, an all-steel one works best.”

One of the annoyances of cooking with round skewers is the food succumbing to gravity and freely rotating as you try to flip or move them. For that reason alone, I’d recommend a flat skewer, too. Wide skewers make it easier to fit large pieces of meat or vegetables onto them, which minimizes prep time from cutting them into small pieces. A wide skewer is also easier to wrap ground or minced meat around. A sharp tip is important when threading proteins or hard vegetables onto your skewer. Two-prong skewers are a thing, and they help stop food from rotating, but they present challenges in evenly threading the food onto them in a way that doesn’t bend them and allows the food to fully lay flat on the grill.

With those considerations out of the way, your skewers should be easy to handle, feel good in your hand, store in a drawer without causing chaos, and take minimal effort to clean. Skewers with little tabs at the handle end to help slide food off are handy, but they provide hiding places for food residue and are hard to clean thoroughly.

A wooden skewer is single-use – throw it away or toss it into the fire when finished with it. With a metal skewer, the more curves, swerves, designs, sliding pieces, and handle junctions you have, the more surface you have to pay extra attention to in cleaning to ensure you’ve removed all food residue. That doesn’t mean you can’t have these with a spartan, straight piece of metal as your only choice, but it does bear consideration for your level of cleaning dedication.

This question really comes down to a question of your intent. If you’re only going to use skewers occasionally, wood is fine. If you’re not a fan of detailed cleaning, wood is fine. If you’re serious about cooking food on sticks, invest in some stainless steel skewers. “I prefer stainless steel skewers all the way,” says Popal. “It makes it not only ideal for conducting heat evenly but also is very easy to clean.”

You should soak wooden skewers for 30 minutes, minimum. Overnight is even better, but no need to obsess over that if you didn’t plan or just forgot. Don’t leave skewers soaking for more than 24 hours, though. Through an unfortunate episode of forgetfulness, I learned the hard way that bamboo ferments when left soaking for too long, and that’s not a smell anyone wants to encounter.

You’re not making your skewers fireproof by soaking them. All you’re doing is increasing the time before they dry out and catch fire. Not soaking will mean flaming skewer ends (the wrong type of burnt ends) and bits of carbon in your food. It’s not a preferable situation, but not the end of the world, either. So, soak if you can, but don’t panic if you don’t.

Wooden skewers, no. If you’ve soaked them, the oil will clash with the water they’ve absorbed, and if you haven’t, the oil will merely be a flame accelerant. Oiling metal skewers makes the threading and removal of food easier and is a natural heat conductor. “You do need a sharp tip to be able to skewer the meat easily, and we oil our skewers beforehand,“ Popal says.

Grilling on skewers is a fast cooking method, so you want to avoid cuts with large amounts of connective tissue that require slow cooking to break down. As far as what you should use, according to Popal, “the more marbleization the better to get that juicy-ness, but the marination also is key. We actually use filet mignon, which has barely any marbleization, but the quality and the technique take center stage for a cut like this. Ribeye is another great alternative.”

Greg Baker is an award-winning chef, restaurateur, and food writer with four decades of experience in the food industry. His written work appears in Food & Wine, Food Republic, and other publications. For this article, he interviewed Shamim Popal, executive chef and co-owner of Lapis in Washington, D.C.

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