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A Guide to Chicken Shawarma

06 March 2023

A Guide to Chicken Shawarma

This beloved street food is a spiced, meaty treat - but what is it? And how can you make chicken shawarma at home?

Chicken shawarma is a deliciously spiced dish cooked on a rotisserie, and can be served with rice, salad, a wrap, pita bread or as a topping for different types of bread. Similar to Greek gyros and the Turkish doner, this version isn’t as oniony as doner and not as herby as gyros – it has its own unique character. What does bring the three together is that they’re tricky to recreate at home, but with a little know-how it can be done – even without having to splurge on rotating skewers and big gas burners.

This tasty street food dates back to the 18th or 19th century, originating from the Ottoman Empire, that we know today as Turkey. The word ‘shawarma’ means ‘turning’ in Arabic, and is a way of describing the preparation method of slowly turning the marinated meat on a huge spit over a flame to get a deep, charred flavour. Here’s our ultimate guide to enjoying this Levantine wonder at home.

Chicken shawarma ingredients

Chicken shawarma is marinated in a mixture of natural yoghurt, garlic, ginger, turmeric, ground cumin, garam masala and coriander. You’ll also need the chicken; thighs are a cost effective option and are particularly meaty, and your accompaniment. Some people like to enjoy theirs with flatbreads, rice, salad or even on chips. 

A Guide to Chicken Shawarma

How to prepare the perfect chicken shawarma

Preparing the perfect chicken shawarma at home seems daunting, but it can be straightforward. Make sure you’re marinating the boneless chicken thighs for a good amount of time, this can be anywhere from overnight to 48 hours in the fridge to let those flavours permeate through the chicken and make it wonderfully tender. 

Once you’re ready to cook the chicken, simply slide the chicken thigh fillets onto a metal or water-soaked wooden skewer (to make sure it doesn’t burn in the oven), and get ready to cook. You can do this on the BBQ, turning the skewer every 15 minutes for around 50 minutes or until the chicken is cooked through. If a BBQ isn’t an option for you, then the oven works too. Follow the same sort of technique in an oven preheated to 220C, placing the skewer across a roasting tin to create a homemade spit.

Serving chicken shawarma 

Once you’ve checked the marvellously marinated chicken is cooked through you can serve with the sides of your choice. There’s no need to pull each chicken thigh off individually, instead carve down the skewer to create slithers of chicken that are authentic to the old style of cooking. These are perfect for topping fragrant basmati rice, or loading up a pita bread with hummus and salad sprinkled with pickle and onion slices. 

That’s the best thing about chicken shawarma, once you’ve got the technique mastered, it’s a versatile way of serving up a family feast.

A Guide to Chicken Shawarma

Chicken shawarma FAQs

Can I use other meats besides chicken?

Absolutely, this method of cooking lends itself to other meats like lamb, beef, goat and even turkey. You can marinate the meat, stack them on the skewer and carve once cooked to get the same effect as a traditional shawarma.

How long should I marinate the chicken?

The marinating process results depend on what you put in. Leaving the meat to soak up the spices and yoghurt for up to 48 hours can give you tantalisingly tender chicken full of flavour. You can do this in a big tupperware or even a large freezer bag that can fit into the fridge.

Is it possible to make chicken shawarma without a spit?

You don’t need to buy a spit to make chicken shawarma. You can create your own makeshift one using a skewer and a roast tin, using the method above, to recreate the spit style cooking on the BBQ or in the oven at home.


Making chicken shawarma at home can be so easy and fast become a family favourite. Without the need for a spit, you can enjoy this marinated chicken whenever, and however you like. Explore the flavours with different side dishes and keep the chicken shawarma coming.