Shawarma vs. Kebab: Unraveling the Culinary Distinctions

Shawarma vs. Kebab: Exploring the differences

Shawarma and kebab are two popular meat dishes that have gained worldwide recognition. While they may seem similar, there are significant differences in their preparation, cooking methods, and cultural origins. In this article, we will explore the nuances of shawarma and kebab, highlighting their distinct characteristics and flavors.

Shawarma: A Middle Eastern Delight

Shawarma is a delicious dish that originated in the Middle East and the Arabian Peninsula. Its unique grilling method involves cooking the meat horizontally on a rotisserie, resulting in tender and flavorful slices. The name “shawarma” itself comes from the Turkish word “çevirme,” which means to turn.
Unlike kebabs, which are usually cooked on skewers, shawarma meat is grilled on a rotating spit, which allows for even cooking and retention of juices. This cooking technique originated in the Ottoman Empire, specifically in Turkey, where it was used to prepare doner kebabs.
In terms of seasoning, shawarma boasts a distinctive blend of Middle Eastern spices, including cumin, turmeric, cinnamon and cardamom. These aromatic spices contribute to the rich and distinctive flavors that shawarma is known for. In addition, baharat, a popular Middle Eastern spice blend, is often used to enhance the flavor profile of shawarma.

Kebab: A Culinary Journey

Kebab, on the other hand, is a diverse dish with many regional variations. Its origins can be traced back to the Ottoman Empire, particularly Turkey, where it became a culinary staple. However, many countries in the Middle East and the Muslim world have adopted the kebab and added their own unique twists to the dish.
The preparation of kebabs varies depending on the specific variety being cooked. Traditional kebabs consist of meat that is either chopped or ground and then skewered on bamboo or metal skewers. The meat can come from a variety of animals, such as lamb, mutton, beef, chicken, or even fish and shrimp, depending on the region and cultural preferences.
One popular type of kebab is the shish kebab, which consists of cubes of meat grilled on a skewer. This type is often associated with kebabs in North America. Another popular type of kebab is the Adana kebab, which is made from ground chicken, beef, or lamb seasoned with herbs and spices.
It’s worth noting that not all kebabs are cooked on skewers. Variations such as shammi kebab and galauti kebab, popular in India, use minced meat formed into round patties and fried. These variations show the diversity and creativity associated with kebab preparation.


While shawarma and kebab share similarities in the cooking method of rotating meat, there are key differences that set them apart.
One significant difference lies in their cultural origins. The doner kebab, which is the inspiration for shawarma, is one of the many varieties of kebab that originated in Turkey. Shawarma, on the other hand, is deeply rooted in the Arab Middle East. This cultural difference contributes to variations in flavors, spices, and garnishes.
Another distinguishing factor is the types of meats used in these dishes. Shawarma has evolved to include a wide range of meats such as beef, chicken, veal, turkey, and even lamb. In some cases, lamb fat is incorporated between the layers of meat to enhance juiciness and flavor. Kebabs have also evolved to include a variety of meats, including mutton, lamb, beef, chicken, goat, pork, fish, and shrimp.
Shawarma and kebabs are also prepared differently. Shawarma meat is typically marinated and seasoned beforehand, then layered on the grill in a cone or barrel shape. The even arrangement of the meat ensures even cooking from all sides. Kebabs, on the other hand, can be prepared in a variety of ways. The meat for shish kebabs is cut into even pieces, while other kebab types may use ground meat or stew-like preparations.
Cooking methods also vary. Shawarma is cooked exclusively on a rotisserie, with the meat shaved from the outer layer after it is fully cooked. Kebabs, on the other hand, can be cooked over a fire on skewers, in the oven, pan-fried, or even stewed, depending on the variety.
When it comes to serving, shawarma is often eaten as street food, either served on a plate with condiments, vegetables, and bread, or wrapped in pita bread for convenience. Kebabs, on the other hand, are usually served on a plate, especially when cooked on bamboo skewers. They can also be wrapped in various types of bread and eaten as sandwiches or wraps.
Finally, toppings and accompaniments play a role in differentiating shawarma from kebab. Shawarma is often served with tahini sauce, garlic sauce, pickles, and a variety of fresh vegetables, which contribute to its vibrant flavors and textures. Kebabs, on the other hand, may be served with yogurt-based sauces, chutneys, grilled vegetables, or rice, depending on regional preferences.


In conclusion, shawarma and kebab may share similarities in being meat dishes cooked on rotating spits, but they have distinct characteristics that set them apart. Shawarma, which originated in the Middle East, is known for its unique grilling method, flavorful spices, and variety of meats. Kebabs, on the other hand, have a wide range of regional variations, cooking methods, and accompanying flavors.
Exploring the differences between shawarma and kebab not only enhances our understanding of these popular dishes, but also allows us to appreciate the cultural diversity and culinary traditions associated with them. Whether you prefer the juicy slices of shawarma or the tantalizing skewers of kebab, both dishes offer a delightful culinary experience that continues to captivate food lovers around the world.


What is the main difference between Shawarma and Döner?

The main difference is the cooking method. Shawarma is grilled on a rotisserie, while kebab is often cooked on skewers over an open fire or in various other ways.

Where do shawarma and kebab come from?

Shawarma has its roots in the Arab Middle East, while kebab has many origins, but is particularly associated with the Ottoman Empire, especially Turkey.

Can you elaborate on the types of meat used in shawarma and kebab?

Shawarma offers a wide range of meats, including beef, chicken, veal, turkey and lamb. Kebabs also include a variety of meats such as mutton, lamb, beef, chicken, goat, pork, fish and shrimp.

Are shawarma and doner seasoned differently?

Yes, the seasoning differs between the two. Shawarma is typically seasoned with Middle Eastern spices such as cumin, turmeric, cinnamon, and cardamom, while kebabs may have their own unique spice blends and seasonings based on regional preferences.

How are shawarma and doner served?

Shawarma is commonly eaten as street food, either served on a plate with condiments, vegetables and bread, or wrapped in pita bread. Kebabs are often served on a plate, on skewers, or in a variety of breads, and may be accompanied by sauces, chutneys, grilled vegetables, or rice.

Are there variations of shawarma and kebab in different countries?

Yes, both shawarma and kebab have variations in different countries. For example, shawarma can have regional variations in the Middle East, while kebabs have different preparations and flavors throughout the Middle East, the Muslim world, and beyond.