The trick is to smoke the meat and not make the meat smoke

Grate Foods - Part 2 - Koftas

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This blog entry with the corny name is Part 2 of a series of entries where I discuss items that I”d never heard of or tasted before I began getting serious about grilling. This entry is on the kofta. The kofta is known by various names across the world. Koftas are typically a minced meat such as beef or lamb, highly seasoned and often mixed with onions. There are many variations including fish or vegetable koftas, but I plan to discuss meat koftas. In the Middle East they are often mixed and then hand-shaped into a cylindrical shape around a skewer and they get grilled. Since they are meat on a stick, I have classified them on this site as kebabs. I have made koftas several times know and I can tell you they taste incredible! That part I have down is the flavor. It is getting them to hold together while grilling, is what I am still working on.


You can tell just from looking at the ingredients that this is going to be a tasty kebab.


You can also tell from the look of the meat after browning it, that it is not the right consistency to stay attached to the skewer. Even after it has been refrigerated for an hour. So I choose to loose the skewers and use tongs & a spatula to roll it on the grill to turn the kebabs.

The first kofta I tried to make was a failure in terms of cooking technique, but boy they tasted great. They were LULA KEBABS from Afghanistan by Way of Stephen Raichlen’s Barbecue Bible. I was warmed by someone who regularly makes this type of recipe that I had some problems. The recipe used ground beef and lamb together with several types of chilies, chopped fresh herbs and lots of Middle Eastern spices. I was told the trick was getting this to all hold together. The recipe had you mix the ingredient and partially heat them in a skillet. Then you form the kofta on the skewers and refrigerate them to help them stay on the skewer while grilling. The trick was to get them to hold together long enough to stiffen up once cooking on the grill. Towards that end I had added an egg to the recipe to try and make the mixture thicker and more sticky. I had been warned against the next step of heating the meat mixture on a skillet, but I couldn’t image the recipe could go that far wrong. I ignored what turned out to be good advice, and sauteed the meat mixture for a while on the stove. About all this did was serve to dry out the mixture and made it so it had less “stickage” if you will. I formed the meat onto skewers with great difficulty and I had my fingers crossed that cooling them in the fridge would help things out. Well it really didn’t. I decided the best course of action was to remove the skewers and grill the kebabs up without the skewers. Since these LULA KEBABS were soft and somewhat fragile, I made sure the grill grate was clean and well oiled. These particular kebabs were intended to be direct grilled right on the grates and rolled to form concentric rings of grill marks. This I could do equally well without the kebab skewers. While grilling the kebabs I also grilled up some cherry tomatoes and served it all on a bed of rice.


This was a case where not using the skewers made zero difference in the end product. It tasted just as good, in fact it tasted amazing.

Now I’ve spent some time talking about the problems I’ve had with this ground meat on a stick and before I scare you off completely, I should explain why they are worth making. Of course it’s the taste and what a taste it is. Coming from the Middle East the meat is highly seasoned and flavorful. In a way it reminds me of a sausage, a meatball and a burger all rolled together. It has some of the taste of a highly seasoned sausage, the somewhat crispy outer skin of a meatball after browning and the consistency of a burger. Once again I must mention the flavor: All of the herbs and Middle Eastern style spices give it a wonderful flavor. This is why they are worth a little trouble and will be worth experimenting with some more to get them to hold together on the skewer.


You could tell just from the looks of these Beef & Lamb Koftas that they would taste amazing. What you couldn’t tell for sure is wether they would hold together on the raised skewers wile grilling. The had a better consistency & “stickage” than the Lula Kebabs, but I still wasn’t sure.

My second attempt at ground meat on a stick were BEEF & LAMB KOFTAS, from Morocco, which I made for my Mother’s birthday. She had tried and loved some of the LULA KEBABS I’d made. So when I asked what she would like me to make for her birthday and she said to surprise her, I figured these might be just the ticket. She loves lamb and spicy foods. I had just received my copy of Stephen Raichlen’s PLANET BARBECUE in the mail, so this tasty recipe for ground lamb on a stick jumped out at me. The recipe mentioned that you could use lamb or beef, which solved the problem of what to do about my Dad who is not the biggest lamb fan in the world. Although he is starting to come around the more lamb he tries. I would serve a Moroccan style salad and hot BBQ sauce to go with these. Besides the ground beef or lamb, the koftas called for chopped fresh flat leaf parsley, cilantro & mint, plus onion, hot pepper, cumin, salt & pepper. The ingredients were mixed and then the resulting mixture was formed onto skewers and it was off to the fridge for an hour. While this ground meat mixture seem to have more “stickage” and held together better than the LULA KEBABS, I was still a little worried when I pulled them out of the fridge. One thing I didn’t mention yet is the grilling method was different than the method used for the LULA KEBABS. Instead of sitting right on the grill grates, these koftas get elevated off the grill. This was accomplished by using some foil wrapped bricks to rest the ends of the skewers on. The meat was suspended in the air between the bricks, not making any contact with the grill grates. As I saw things, it was a race against time. Would the refrigerated koftas hold together long enough to firm up from grilling? That was the million dollar question.


This is the way the koftas were supposed to cook, but if you look at the 3rd kofta in the top right corner of the picture you will see it was starting to sag. I had to get a grilling grid to help support the koftas for the second half of the cook.

As I placed the skewers on the fire brick, I had no idea what to expect. The first side turned out ok, but as I turned them onto their second side the koftas started showing signs of “structural failure”. An idea popped into my head from out of the blue and I ran into the Kitchen to grab a gridded grill tray. This gridded grill tray was intended to help hold small objects on the grill and help keep them from falling through the grill grates. I sprayed them quite thoroughly will some PAM for Grilling. I also grabbed my fish spatula and ran back out to the grill. Sure enough some of the koftas were starting to tear loose from the skewers. None had fallen off the skewers yet, but there was little time left. I laid the grill grid on an unheated section of the grill, and began to transfer the koftas. The wide fish spatulas allowed me to support the entire width of the koftas from underneath. I lifted them up and off the bricks and onto the grill grid. Once the koftas were all off the bricks and onto the grill grid, I lifted the grill grid up and put it over the bricks. For the last two sides the koftas were supported by the grill grid and remained intact. Once again I served the koftas with grilled cherry tomatoes on a bed of rice. Once again grilling issues aside, the koftas were a huge hit. My dad liked his beef koftas best of all. He was still talking about how much he liked them in the days and weeks to follow. Both the beef and lamb koftas had wonderful flavor and were a great change of pace. Their flavors were totally different from anything I normally eat. Sure I have some grilling issues to solve, but I have alternate ways of making these until I do solve the problems.


As you can see from the pictures here, the koftas looked (and I can assure you tasted) fine even though they weren’t cooked the “official” way. So until I get the details worked out I just need to have a Plan B cooking method in my back pocket. You should try your hand at these and have a backup cooking plan. You will be in for a real tasty treat.

In terms of solving the issue of getting the meat mixture to hold together on the stick, I have several thoughts. My first idea is to look up similar recipes on the web and see if they use some other ingredient that would help hold the koftas together. I’ve also seen pictures of koftas on the BARBECUE BIBLE MESSAGE BOARD. I will certainly post a question there and I am sure the helpful folks there will have some useful advice. In the meantime you should look into this tasty treat from the Middle East. Try out some recipes of your own. Don’t worry too much about having trouble getting the meat to stay on the stick. If they are supposed to be going on the grill grate anyway, like the LULA KEBABS, the skewer was just a tool to help you turn the kebabs. Make sure the grill grate is well oiled and you can use a spatula and some tongs to turn the meat. If the meat is supposed to be suspended off the grill grates, you can always resort to the grill grid like I did. What you are looking for is the great taste of the meat which you get even if you have to go to a Plan B to do it. The outstanding taste of this form of meat on a stick is worth a little experimentation to discover the recipe and method to pull it off.





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