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Chicken shawarma

Cooking Shawarma on a Vertical Spit: Fun, Delicious, and Temperature-Perfect

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Thermal tips and recipe for vertical-spit chicken shawarma. Adapted from a recipe at


For the chicken

  • 1 tsp ground cumin
  • 1/2 tsp ground coriander
  • 1/2 tsp paprika
  • 1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
  • 1/4 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 4 Tbsp olive oil, divided
  • 1 1/2 tsp kosher salt
  • 1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper
  • 3 lb boneless, skinless chicken thighs, trimmed

For the sauce and the service

  • 1 large red onion
  • 2 C full-fat Greek-style yogurt
  • 3 Tbsp tahini
  • 2 cloves grated garlic
  • 1 tsp finely grated lemon zest
  • 8 Tbsp fresh lemon juice, divided (some for salad, some for sauce)
  • 4 Tbsp olive oil
  • 4 Tbsp coarsely chopped dill, plus more for serving
  • 4 Tbsp coarsely chopped mint, plus more for serving
  • 1 large English cucumber, cut into 1/4″-slices (about 1 C)
  • 4 C shredded romaine lettuce
  • 11/2 C small cherry tomatoes, cut in half (about 5 oz)
  • 2/3 C thinly sliced red onion
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 6 pitas

Chicken shawarma ingredients


  • Combine the ingredients for the chicken marinade: the cumin, coriander, paprika, cayenne, cinnamon, salt, pepper, and olive oil.

Making marinade

  • Toss the chicken thighs together with the marinade and allow to sit, refrigerated, for an hour, or up to overnight. (We opted for an overnight soak in the marinade.)
  • Set up your grill for two-zone cooking by heating half of it—with charcoal in one area or by turning on half your burners, depending on your grill. If you’re using a kamado that can’t do two-zone, set it up for indirect cooking using the deflector plate.
  • Preheat the grill so that the indirect-heat zone is heated to 350–375°F (176–191°C). Monitor the heat using the air probe on your Smoke.
  • Cut the large red onion in half equatorially and skewer half of it on the vertical spit, cut-side up. 
  • Start layering the meat onto the spit. Skewer one thigh, spread out, with the spit going through the center.
  • Layer the next thigh on at 90° to the first one. Continue layering, changing the chicken direction by 90° each piece, all the way up until you run out of chicken. Top with the other half of the onion, cut-side down. 

Preparing to probe the chicken spit

  • Place the roaster in the cooker over indirect heat and probe with an optional straight probe inserted into the center of the chicken stack. Set the high-temp alarm on your Smoke to 165°F (74°C). 
  • Close the lid on your smoker. Set your timer for 30 minutes and cook. 

Setting the timer for the meat to cook before turning it

  • After 30 minutes, turn the roaster 90° (180°F if your cooker can’t fit the handles of your roaster at that orientation). Reset the timer for 30 minutes and continue cooking, turning every 30 minutes. The total cook time should be about 2–2.5 hours. 
  • When the high-temp alarm sounds, verify the internal temperature of the chicken with your Thermapen ONE. If you find any temps lower than your target, move the leave-in probe so your Smoke reads that lower temp, and continue to cook. If you find no temps lower than your pull temp, remove it from heat. 

While the chicken cooks, prepare the sauce and salad, and prepare for service

  • For the sauce, combine the yogurt, tahini, grated garlic, 4 Tbsp lemon juice, lemon zest, and chopped fresh herbs. Mix and season with salt and pepper. Set aside to mellow. (Sauce can be made up to 2 days ahead of time.)

Mixing the yogurt sauce

  • Make the salad by tossing together the shredded romaine, halved tomatoes, sliced cucumber, sliced onion, lemon juice, and olive oil. Salt and pepper to taste. 

Squeezing lemon into topping salad

  • When you remove the chicken from the smoker, quickly toast the pitas over the direct-heat side of your cooker. 
  • Slice the meat from the spit by making vertical cuts, about 1/2″ in from the edge, rotating the spit after each vertical cut. You’ll end up with a beautiful moat of meat in the plate of the roaster. 
  • Serve everything, making sandwiches with warmed pita, yogurt, chicken, and salad. 
  • Enjoy! You can wrap each shawarma to give it more of a street-food feel and to keep things from falling out the back of the sandwich.