Yes, You Really Do Need to Soak Kebab Skewers

updated May 28, 2020
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Credit: Joe Lingeman

What’s not to love about serving dinner on a stick? Skewered foods are quick-cooking, easy to prep, perfectly portioned, and fun to eat. Cut chicken, cheese (yes, cheese!), seafood, steak, tofu, or veggies into kebab-friendly bites and the countdown to dinner is on. But an often-overlooked detail can derail this speedy supper: unsoaked skewers. A dinner that should take less than 30 minutes won’t actually be ready for twice the time when the entire meal waits for the skewers to take a swim.

What is the worst that could happen if you simply skipped the soak? Is this step truly necessary or is it based on kitchen superstition? Leave the skewers dry and brittle, and they are nothing more than culinary kindling. It isn’t a perfect science — the tips and tails of soaked skewers can still often char and blacken over the grill’s searing heat — but soaked skewers will buy you the extra time needed to cook kebabs to perfection. Here are three ways to soak your skewers — in advance and at the last minute.

Credit: Kelli Foster

3 Ways to Soak Wooden Skewers for Grilling

  1. In a dish. The simplest route to saturated skewers is to place the bamboo skewers into a baking dish and cover with warm water. Set the dish aside while mixing marinades and preparing the meats and vegetables. A 30-minute dip is ideal, so the skewers and the items that will be skewered should be ready at approximately the same time. 
  2. In the fridge. If you find yourself forgetting to start the soak at the beginning of dinner prep, then start now and you’ll never be without soaked skewers. Alton Brown suggests sliding several skewers into a plastic water bottle and filling it with water. Stash the bottle in the refrigerator, then give the bottle a squeeze when the grill is hot to remove the skewers. This technique is handy for the occasional kebab-maker, since only a few skewers can soak at a time. Remember to set a weekly alert to refresh the water and the skewers regularly.
  3. In the freezer. The secret to never running out of skewers (at least for the foreseeable
    future!) is to soak and freeze the skewers in bulk. Buy a big package of bamboo skewers and place them all in a 9×13-inch baking dish. Cover with warm water, then set aside for at least 30 minutes. With skewers sufficiently soaked, drain the water; wrap them in aluminum foil or plastic wrap, or place in a zip-top bag or reusable container; and place the skewers in the freezer. That’s it! When ready to grill, remove as many as you need (rolling the skewers between your fingers helps to separate them) and skewer straight from the freezer — no thawing required! It’s the long-term skewer solution that will take you through grilling season (and beyond). 

If soaking skewers — even in advance — isn’t for you, consider investing in a set of high-quality metal skewers. Metal skewers are reusable and require no advance preparation, but know that they retain heat and can be difficult to to maneuver.

There you have it! A bounty of saturated skewers is ready for its role on the grill. By spending a few moments now soaking skewers, you’ll never be left waiting. Are you ready to get grilling? Try one of these recipes. 

More Kebab Recipes from Kitchn