For the Best Skewers for Grilling, Look East
Learn from the long traditions of Slavic, Turkish, and Chinese grilling cultures.
When I first started working on a cookbook about seafood, I dreaded the idea of including grilling fish — a notoriously finicky process that more often than not leaves large chunks of the meat stuck to the grate. Then one of the chefs contributing a recipe to the book completely changed my mind: "Skewers were never designed to make direct contact with grill grates," wrote Bonnie Morales, the chef of the much-loved Kachka in Portland, Oregon. Skewers originated in cultures that use grills, often charcoal — like a Turkish mangal or Japanese robata — that keep the skewer elevated above the grate.
But even once you have realized the key is in the grill setup, you still need to choose the appropriate skewer. "A 'good skewer' is one that fits the user's needs," explains Jen Liao, one of the co-founders of Xiao Chi Jie (XCJ), the direct-to-consumer frozen soup dumpling company that recently expanded into shāo kǎo (Chinese BBQ skewers). Because they were offering a ready-to-cook skewer with the meat already on it, they used a standard 10-inch disposable bamboo skewer that had been trimmed — both for ease and because it imitated what they knew from night markets in China. But for home cooks responsible threading the meat on themselves, they found that the most important thing, across all types of skewers, was that it was properly pointy. "Like a sharp knife, you want a sharp skewer," Liao says.
Berk Guldal agrees that sharpness is important: the former sous chef at SingleThread, a Michelin three-star restaurant in Sonoma County now runs a pop-up called Hamdi in Seattle, serving the food of his home country, Türkiye (formerly Turkey), and centered on grilled foods. But to him, the material of the skewer is the most important, while sharpness — along with length and durability — is secondary.
To fully understand the various advantages of each of these variables, we asked Guldal, Morales, and the crew from XCJ to recommend their favorite commercially available skewers and what they like to use them for. Read on to learn more about the best grilling skewers that that will work best for you.
Our Top Picks
- Best Overall: + HOM 1" Wide Skewers
- Best Value: BearMoo V-Shape Metal Barbecue Skewers
- Best for Fish: Bas Metal 28″ Fish and Liver Kebab Stainless Steel Skewers
- Best for Vegetables: Korin Stainless Steel Skewers
- Best for Full Kit: Yavuz Professional BBQ Set
- Best for a Quick Meal: Honshen 8-Inch Stainless Steel Skewers
Best Overall: + HOM 1" Wide Skewers
Material: Stainless steel | Shape: Flat and wide | Length 23.5 inches
- Long and Thick
- Come with case
- No handle, so less comfortable for flipping
Why we chose it: This big, flat, skewer works well for grilling big meat kebaps perfect for parties.
These skewers, Guldal's favorites, are an inch wide and almost two feet long, making it easy to shape ground meat onto them or thread chicken wings and put them over a hot grill. The set of six comes with a handy carrying case to safely store the sharp metal, and the durable material makes them last through heavy use.
Best Value: BearMoo V-Shape Metal Barbecue Skewers
Material: Stainless steel | Shape: V | Length 17-inch
- Twisted loop handle for easy flipping
- Dishwasher safe
Why we chose it: This set makes a low-priced entry point to using better-shaped skewers than the usual round or bamboo versions.
If you're not ready to shell out for the beefy (pun intended) best-in-class version that Guldal recommends, this set of v-shaped skewers shows off the benefits of stainless steel, and offers the v-shape that Morales likes, because it keeps the food from rotating around when you flip it. The looped and twisted handle makes it easier to maneuver on the grill, and allows for hanging the skewers when needed. The downside to the handle formation, though, is that the actual length of the skewer is much shorter than the 17-inches it is listed at — almost five of those inches are not useable for the food.
Best for Fish: Bas Metal 28″ Fish and Liver Kebab Stainless Steel Skewers
Best for Fish
Material: Stainless steel | Shape: V | Length 28 inches
- Good for delicate foods
- Must order from company
Why we chose it: These skewers are heavy duty, but in a way designed specifically for delicate foods, making them an ideal choice for people looking to grill seafood.
If you like to grill fish — or vegetables or softer meats like liver — these hardy skewers are specifically designed to help make sure that the food stays firmly in place as you cook it, even when you have to flip it over. These super sharp skewers will help you thread the fish on (or anything else) without tearing the meat, which would make dropping food more likely, which means you can fill up most of the lengthy skewer. Like the best value ones, the handle is included in the length, but it still gives you basically two feet of food space, plus the twist and loop handle makes it easy to smoothly flip these over.
Best for Vegetables: Korin Stainless Steel Skewers
Best for Vegetables
Material: Stainless steel | Shape: Round | Length 14-inch
- Very affordable
- No handle
Why we chose it: These simple skewers work well for smaller foods and the price makes them worth stocking up on.
These thin skewers have none of the bells and whistles of bigger or more expensive versions. The straight, handleless metal is less than a tenth of an inch thick, and each skewer costs less than a dollar. They make a good alternative to disposable bamboo skewers, as they are the closest thing in both price and shape, but with all of the advantages of metal. Guldal likes these for grilling vegetables as well as seafood and smaller meats, like little cubes of lamb livers.
Best for Full Kit: Yavuz Professional BBQ Set
Best for Full Kit
Material: Various | Shape: Various | Length Various
- Complete grilling set
Why we chose it: This complete professional-level set includes everything you need to get started grilling all types of meats, seafoods, and vegetables on skewers.
Guldal tipped us off to this collection of various sizes and shapes of skewers that covers all the bases, in professional quality. It includes the square skewers that he likes for cubed meats, as well as the broad, flat ones he uses for kebaps, and the thinner style for vegetables, plus they all come in a handy carrying case. The overall result is an easy one-stop purchase for all kinds of skewers and grilling.
Best for a Quick Meal: Honshen 8-Inch Stainless Steel Skewers
Best for a Quick Meal
Material: Stainless steel | Shape: Round | Length 8 inch
Why we chose it: Short and sharp, these skewers make threading on meat a quick job.
The XCJ team liked these skewers best because the sharp points and the short length allowed for rapid threading of the meat for the Chinese-style skewers they make. In the research they did, they learned that people like grilling skewers for parties, but few people want to spend all day putting meat onto the sticks — these ones help solve that problem.
Morales also recommends the website she purchases skewers from for all skewers as well as the mangal — grill — she likes to use.
How We Chose These Products
We asked three experts from a variety of skewer-using culinary cultures to explain how they choose skewers and what their favorite ones are: Bonnie Morales, who cooks the food of her Soviet heritage at Kachka in Portland, Berk Guldal who cooks Turkish food at Hamdi in Seattle, and Jen Liao of Xiao Chi Jie, which sells frozen Chinese-style skewered meats directly to consumers. We researched each element and looked for the best materials, prices, shapes, and lengths for the home cook.
Features to Keep in Mind When Shopping for Skewers for Grilling
Subtle differences in the shape of a skewer make all the difference in the world: our experts work with round, square, flat, and v-shaped skewers, depending on the item that they are working on. By using either a flat and broad or v-shaped version, Morales finds that meats don't spin around on the skewer and that you have much more control. Guldal and Liao both vary their shape depending on what they are cooking. Guldal uses the thinnest skewers he owns for seafood and vegetables, "Mainly because they are more delicate items and easier to overcook. Less surface area touching the fish allows for more control over cooking the inside versus the outside."
Liao points out that if you're having a big party, it can be more fun for guests to serve smaller portions off a bamboo skewer that can then just be tossed out, while it can be easier on the host to just pack meat onto the longest steel skewer you can manage and grill it all at once.
For Guldal, material is the most important thing, and he prefers strong metal skewers, as they help keep the heat even, which in turn results in more even cooking. While bamboo skewers tend to be common for their easy cleaning (or, rather, disposability), the reality is that for good cooking, every one of the experts preferred metal skewers. The ease of cleaning also gets nullified by a higher time commitment on the other end, as wood skewers require soaking prior to cooking.
Variety of Lengths
A lot of the importance of the length of skewers comes from the size of the grill. However, Liao says that "Generally, longer is more versatile." The downside of a longer skewer is that it can prevent you from being able to close the lid of the grill, if you need to during cooking. Shorter skewers can be much quicker to thread though, which is important because XCJ found in their market research that most Americans used skewers for cooking when hosting gatherings, so likely doing a decent quantity. Guldal also says that it depends on the size of the time you are cooking — meat, vegetable, or fish — but he, too prefers longer skewers, as it is more comfortable and safe for your hands, since you are further from the heat.
Cleaning up after bamboo or other disposable wood skewers is infinitely easy: it just requires throwing them out afterwards. That said, they require more time up front, as they need to be soaked, and all of our experts recommend metal skewers for the best results. To clean metal skewers, you just need a scrubber, soap, and hot water. One thing to remember, adds Guldal, is that you don't want to leave them to soak and to make sure to dry them immediately so that you don't get rust on your metal skewers.
Ask the Experts
Q: Should I oil skewers before using them?
"Not needed!" says Guldal.
Q: Do I have to soak skewers before grilling?
Though Guldal mainly uses metal skewers, which don't require soaking, he does advise soaking wood ones to avoid burning or damage during the grilling. Liao also suggests covering the ends in tin foil as an alternate option.
Q: Can I put skewers in the oven?
"Only if you're desperate," says Liao at XCJ. Even then, she suggests using the broiler. And Guldal agrees, saying, "You can if you need to, but the flavors are always better over coals!" If you do need to use the oven, though, he advises making sure you put a tray underneath to catch the juices.
The most important takeaway from our experts was that metal skewers are really the best, and for anyone looking to grill skewers, this is what should be used. The other takeaway was that to really get skewers right, you need to find the one that fits what you plan to grill, and your grill itself. There is no "one-size fits all" answer for the best skewer.