Meat tastes better when it’s on a kebab. Imbued with incomparable savor and succulence, our opinion on this flavor matter cannot be shaken.
From a technical standpoint, there is more browning and charring than steaks, chops or burgers because the smaller pieces of meat have more exterior surface.
Then there’s the three-act drama of threading the skewer, flipping it smartly on the grill and, finally, sliding the finished kebab onto the waiting plate or pita.
Drama swirls around the kebab, including the legend that it originated with an ancient soldier who used his sword to skewer some meat (wiping it first, one hopes) and then extending it into the camp’s cooking fire, perhaps while still sitting astride his horse.
It’s possible. The cooking method may have originated in Central Asia or the Middle East. “Shish kebab” is an adaptation of the Turkish şiş kebap, şiş meaning “skewer” and kebap meaning “roast meat.” Note that “shish” refers to the skewer, not the meat. (“Kebab” is another can of worms, variously spelled kebab, kebap, kabab, kabob, kebob.)
Neither term is universal. Skewered meat is called souvlaki in Greece, yakitori in Japan, brochette in France, satay in Indonesia, shashlik in the Caucasus. There’s a whole class of kebabs made, not with pieces, but with minced meat, including Turkish kofte, Afghan chapli, Pakistani seekh. Persian jujeh is made with bone-in pieces of Cornish hen. Chicken hearts, firm-fleshed fish and even eel wind up skewered and grilled.
Pretty much any Turkish, Persian or Afghan restaurant is going to do a great job with kebabs. Here’s a list of 10 Long Island restaurants that do it so well:
Ravagh (multiple locations): Among the dozen skewers at this Persian standby with locations in Roslyn Heights (210 Mineola Ave.) and Huntington (335 Main St.), the jujeh kebab is a savory standout. Be prepared for the server to remind you that it contains bones because it is, essentially, a cut-up Cornish hen that has been marinated in saffron and herbs before being run through and grilled to burnished perfection. There’s no way to eat it daintily, but you will feel a sense of profound satisfaction when all that’s left on your plate is a pile of bones. Rice comes with the kebab; for $3 you can upgrade to the albaloo polo, made with sour cherries. More info: ravaghrestaurants.com
The Cottage by Colbeh
The Cottage by Colbeh (1 The Intervale, Roslyn Estates): At this elegant restaurant, Persian classics are given a modern twist, but no one messes with the kebabs, one of the glories of the Persian kitchen. The appropriately named Colbeh king combo comprises barg (cubed beef), koobideh (ground beef) and jujeh (bone-in Cornish hen), served with grilled tomatoes and lemon. All kebabs — and there are a half-dozen types served singly and in combination — are accompanied by heaps of fragrant basmati rice which comes plain, tinged green with dill or orange with candied carrots. The restaurant is glatt kosher. More info: 516-621-2200, colbeh.com
Kababjees (495 S. Broadway, Hicksville): About half of this newcomer’s menu is devoted to Pakistani-style kebabs, many of which consist of minced meat wrapped around a skewer (seekh), rather than pierced cubes. The inclusion of cheese in the chicken-cheese kebab doesn’t add a great deal of flavor, but rather a silken texture and more even browning. Beef and lamb seekh are also highly recommended; the forceful taste of the latter is brightened by the inclusion of lots of fresh mint. More info: 516-597-5777, kababjeesny.net
Kabul Kabab House
Kabul Kabab House (247 Post Ave., Westbury): Kebabs are front and center not only in the name and on the menu here, but in the layout. Passing from street to the dining room you skirt a glassed-in area that houses an enormous grill across which are laid dozens of flat skewers. They are threaded with all manner of meat and turned periodically until they achieve maximum flavor and succulence. Combo platters abound, presented on metal salvers and accompanied by basmati rice. The brown basmati here, seasoned with onion, cumin and cardamom, is particularly tasty. More info: 516-280-4753, kabulkababhouse.com
Yiasou Yeeros (1060 Old Country Rd., Plainview): Gyros are this modest eatery’s namesake, but the kebabs (souvlaki), are just as good. Succulent pork souvlaki is made from the shoulder and can be had either as a platter or a sandwich. The former teams the pork with tomatoes, red onion, salad, pita and your choice of rice, lemon potatoes or fries. Get the fries. The sandwich, helpfully, includes fries, and you haven’t lived until you’ve bitten into a pita-wrapped mouthful of grilled pork and fried potatoes. More info: 516-490-3480, yiasouyeeros.com
Choopan Grill (1310 Middle Country Rd., Selden): The kebabs at Choopan Grill, a 9-year-old Afghan eatery in a Selden strip mall, are cooked by Rona Mirzai, one of the metropolitan area’s Afghan-cooking pioneers. Skewered and grilled meats play a central role on Choopan’s menu: succulent marinated lamb tikka, tender chunks of chicken breast, plump lamb chops, or beef or chicken kofta (slender ground meat kebabs) spiced with garlic and cumin. The sultani kebab platter combines both the skewered meat (either chicken or lamb) and the kofta, nestled against long-grain basmati rice bronzed with lamb stock and a few dashes of Gravy Master. More info: 631-696-1817, choopangrillofselden.com
LOL Kitchen (2545 Middle Country Rd., Centereach): In northern China, skewered meat grilled over hot coals is an iconic street snack. LOL Kitchen, a bustling spot akin to a Chinese gastropub, has at least 15 skewers, or chuan, to choose from: Bright green barbecued whole chives, dusted with sesame and cumin; Taiwanese pork sausage laced with star anise and Chinese rice wine; bold, juicy chicken wings. And for the more adventurous, this kitchen delivers glistening lamb kidneys or chicken hearts that are deeply savory and robust. More info: 631-615-6313, lolkitchengrill.com
Pasha Kebob and Grill
Pasha Kebob and Grill (656 Rte. 109, North Lindenhurst): Many regions of Turkey have signature kebabs, and Adana, a city in the south, lends its name to one of the best. For Adana kebab, minced young lamb is blended with fresh peppers, smoked chili flakes and sumac (a tart spice) to make a red-tinged mixture that packs heat. At Pasha, Adana kebabs come in lamb or chicken and are served with grilled green peppers. Kofte kebab (patties of ground beef and lamb) are mild, but just as savory. More info: 631-225-7499, kebobtonight.com
Takumi (149-03 Veterans Memorial Hwy., Commack): When it comes to kushiyaki, or Japanese-style skewered and grilled meats, Takumi is one of the rare Japanese restaurants on Long Island to go beyond chicken yakitori. Inside this cozy spot — which does a busy sushi trade — you can also land some unagi kogushi yaki, broiled slices of tender sliced eel glistening with a mirin-rich house sauce. They taste sort of like eel sushi but with smokier flavors from time spent under the broiler. More info: 631-543-0101, takuminy.com
Turkuaz (40 McDermott Ave., Riverhead): Grab a table on the porch with a view of the Peconic River to work through this Turkish restaurant’s rota of kebabs, from juicy white-meat chicken shish kebab to a spicy beyti kebab of ground lamb spiced with garlic, parsley and paprika, adorned with greens and herbs. The mixed kebab (or kerisik) platter is a way to take a tour of multiple kebab textures and flavors: Tender lamb and chicken shish kebab, ground-chicken adana kebab, a meatball, gyro and grilled lamb chops. More info: 631-591-1757, turkuazgrillriverhead.com