Shashlik (Russian Shish Kebabs)

NOTE: An updated version of this recipe appears in my cookbook, The Ancestral Table.

Shashlik (Шашлык) is a type of shish kebab commonly found in Russia and the former Soviet republics. It was likely brought to Moscow from Central Asia in the 19th century. Today, it’s a popular summer food cooked over an open fire at social gatherings. It’s traditionally prepared with lamb, but chicken, pork, and beef variations are becoming increasingly prominent. With summer in full swing throughout the country right now, I thought it would be a great time to share this tasty dish!

There are a few tricks that I came up with when developing this recipe that I think are pretty sweet. While the dish is traditionally marinated in either vinegar or lemon juice, I found that the combination of lemon juice and apple cider vinegar gives the meat a tangy and subtly sweet flavor. Secondly, leaving the salt out of the marinade and saving it for the last stage of the recipe provides for a really great complementary texture to the tender and juicy meat.

You’ll Need:
1/2 lamb shoulder (2 lbs)
2 medium onions, blended
6 cloves garlic, blended
4 bay leaves
1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
1/4 cup water
juice of 1/2 lemon (2 tsp)
1 tbsp black pepper
1 tbsp oregano
1 tsp sea salt

I had my eye on this beautifully-marbled lamb shoulder from Lava Lake Lamb for a while now, and it was the perfect cut of meat for this dish. It’s such a versatile cut of meat that I actually only used half of it (two of its four pounds) so that I could save the rest for another creation!

Don’t forget that I’m giving away a $100 Lava Lake Lamb gift card this week; it’s easy to enter! See here for details.

Cut the lamb into 2″ chunks, and place in a ziploc bag.

In a blender or food processor, blend the onion, garlic, and water. Combine with the bay leaves, apple cider vinegar, pepper, oregano, and lemon juice and pour everything into the ziploc bag. Marinate in the fridge for four hours.

After four hours, skewer the lamb pieces (if using wooden skewers, soak them for 30 minutes first) and warm up your grill on med/high heat.

Grill on direct heat, rotating the skewers with a pair of tongs every few minutes, and sprinkle the salt over the skewers as they cook.

When you have a hard time looking at the skewers because they are so delicious, remove them from the grill. Should take about 10 minutes altogether.

Let the shashlik rest for five minutes and serve. This dish is commonly served outdoors in Russia, with fresh, lightly-salted vegetables like tomato, mushrooms, or cucumbers as its only accompaniment. Enjoy!

49 thoughts on “Shashlik (Russian Shish Kebabs)

  1. This looks great. I don’t know anything about Russian food, but I just started working for a company with a large Russian engineering team that loves to BBQ. I am going to have to ask them to make this now.


  2. We were in Kazakhstan a few years ago & miss Shashlik. We had pork, chicken, beef & lamb. Do you think the marinade would go well with other meats (or have you tried it with other meats) like beef & pork? Thanks!


  3. I was a Peace Corps volunteer in the Republic of Moldova. Shashlik was the specialty of one of the restaurants in town, and I probably ate it at least once a week. Thank you for a recipe that will let me reminisce a little this coming weekend!


    1. I remember these from Moldova as well. In Orhei, they would add sour cream to to the lemon juice marinade, and it was incredibly delicious. They would also marinade overnight. Have you noticed a difference with a longer marinade?


  4. I truly loved eating this when I live in Russia!!! They layered the huge chunks of lamb between chunks of onion and you always paid by the weight. One HUGE Shashlik would cost about 4 bucks and it was traditional to eat it with ketchup. Hahaha!! I’m so happy you shared this as I have yet to find anyone here in the states come close to the taste and delicate texture.


  5. I marinated this over night and will cook it this evening for some Kazakhs. Hopefully they’ll consider me one of them when they taste it! :) thanks for this recipe


  6. My wife is from Russia. She told me all about this when we were dating. We had it in Baltimore at an Uzbek restaurant while visiting Russian friends. We are having it tonight at our home in Missouri. Thank you for sharing.


  7. I love Shashlik’s. They are my favorite summer food. My Grea -Grandparents from Russia used pickeling spice instead of vinegar. They put lemon and onions to marinate for at least 2 days . The flavor is out of this world and does not taste like lamb at all. You know that mutton taste.


  8. I lived for a year with friends from Azerbaijan here in the US. The husband would make shashlik for us. It was a special treat and we would always beg for more! Here’s an interesting side note: a friend of mine from Turkmenistan said that many times, women wouldn’t make shashlik because their changing hormones from month-to-month compromised the meat in some way! So he would never let me marinade the meat.


  9. These Shashlik look amazing! Is it too much of a sin if we also add some tzatziki on the side?:)
    Great work Russ, these will definitely be a hit in one of our next BBQs:)
    Thanx for the wonderful recipe.
    Panos and Mirella


  10. I had the best shashlik somewhere at this little roadside restaurant outside Almaty, Kazakhstan. Open grills and great food. I’ve made this recipe before and loved it and am making it again tonight.


  11. I made these the other night. Honestly, the best shasklik I’ve had since leaving Russia back in 2002. Tasted just like I remember – delicious! I used both chicken (thighs and breast) and pork (pork butt), and both worked great. Thanks for the recipe!


  12. this recipe is a joke. Only people from Russia cook like that.
    Uzbeks NEVER use vinegar – onion, coriander, cumin, a little of black pepper, SALT – since meat is marinated for at least a day – salt instead of driving moisture out – tenderizes the meat, chili powder may be.
    That recipe is just as “authentic” as fries called “French”, or half sour pickles believed to be Jewish invention, but came from Poland…

    Speaking of Голубцы – that is Hungarian dish… as well as Gulyash and Parikash


  13. I grew up eating shishliki, as it is called in our little area of Saskatchewan. We marinade the meat with larger chunks of onion, lemon juice is optional. Just let it sit for 3-7 days, stirring it daily or turning the Ziploc bag over. The shishliki is ready to be skewered and cooked when the onions are translucent. About 3-7 days. I’m trying this variation of yours today though!


  14. I meant ….is there a better cut of lamb to use that is not so chewy?…..I normally braise lamb shoulder….well my hubby does , and he was extremely sceptical of cooking shoulder even though it was marinated for 7 hours on the barbecue !!!…he was right, it was so tough…..suggestions??


  15. I have had shaslik in Tajikistan, Russia (Mykop), and in Kyrgyzstan. Loved them all. Take off the grill, fold a flat bread around them, add onions….very good


  16. Calling shashlik ‘Russian shish kebabs’ would be like calling Jollof Rice a ‘British’ dish, simply because the latter had at some point brutal’ occupied the former (afore subsequent’ withdrawing), ’tis wrong from an historical point of view, wrong from a culinary point of view, and just rather lazy, or uniformed.


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