A few tips and tricks on how to skewer your ground meats (Koftes, Nem Nuong or Adana Kebabs etc) so that they stay put and don't fall apart when you cook them.
Whether you're skewering Koftes (Grilled Turkish Meat Balls), Nem Nuong (Grilled Vietnamese Pork Sausage) or Adana Kebabs (Grilled Turkish Minced Meat Kebab), getting the meat onto a skewer and having it stay put or not break during the cooking process is definitely one of the more trickier tasks to do.
Over the years, I have had my fair share of frustrations and flops with skewering ground meat but the silver lining to all the flops was I picked up a few tips and hacks along the way. 🙂 These are methods and tips that I use every single time I have to skewer these little guys. I hope these tips help you as much as they help me in the kitchen. 🙂
Make Sure The Meat (and Your Hands) Are Always Cold
When the ground meat is not cold, it's mushy and slippery which is not a good foundation to start with when you want the meat to be solid and stay put on the sticks. Stick the meat in the fridge to cool for at least 1 hour before you start the skewering process.
If you're like me and your body temperature always runs hot, this can also affect the temperature of the meat since you will be using your hands to handle it by making meat ball shapes with it. Depending on how fast you work, your hot hands will melt the meat and make it mushy and slippery. To combat this, I run my wrist (not your hands) under cold (or cool) water for a minute before starting to skewer. This drops your temperature temporarily and the bonus is your hands are moist enough to start the skewering now as well! 🙂
It is also important to always grease your hands before you start as well. You can use a bit of oil or water.
Mix Well and Remove Air Bubbles In the Meat
A denser ground meat is more likely to hold its shape better on skewers. It doesn't have the air bubbles within the meat to move around and during the cooking process it makes for a denser result. Whenever I skewer any type of ground meat, I like to stick it in a ziploc bag and then I firmly smash the meat onto the counter top or cutting board (make sure you have a reliable and sealed bag or it will fly everywhere!). Smashing the meat against something solid, forces all the air bubbles to the surface.
Salt Is Your Best Friend
Adding salt before you mix your meat will help break down the meat protein which will give your meat a more gluey consistency which will help the meat hold together better. (This is also how you get that springy chew to the meat as well.) So I like to salt my meat before I knead and mix the meat.
Don't be afraid to over knead or mix the meat as well. The more you mix it the more the 'meat glutens' come out.
Have A Good Seal On The Meat When Skewering
When you are skewering, make sure the opening and closing points on the sticks are sealed.
I find any small hole gives the meat a chance to move or jiggle on the stick which eventually will make the hole bigger and then the meat will either rip off the stick or the meat will just fall off.
To make a good seal on each piece of meat, I pinch the ends of the meat and twist it slightly and then slide my fingers down slightly towards the meat to push the twisted meat down onto itself.
Double Up The Skewers (and Don't Put Too Much Meat)
Skewers are thin, so sometimes I use 2 sticks instead of 1 to give myself a thicker stick to work with. Just make sure you grab both sticks when you are cooking it or it will pull the meat in half 😛 .
I also found that there is such thing as too much meat. Don't skewer more than what your stick can hold. For thin sticks, I like to use about 1 tablespoon of meat per ball. For a thicker skewer like the Adana Kebab metal flat skewers you can use a bit more meat like ⅓ cup of meat.
Leave The Meat Alone When You Grill It (and Use A Lid)
When you first put the meat onto the grill (or pan), don't touch it. Close the lid of your BBQ or put a lid on your pan and let the meat cook for a little (3-4 minutes). This will 'steam' and cook the meat more thoroughly in the center which will make the meat more solid and easier to work with when it is ready to be flipped.
When you are ready to flip it, test how solid it is by poking it, if it's super mushy it's not ready to be flipped and moving it might rip the skewers right out of the meat. If it feels like it is a bit more solid, you can flip it. At this point, you no longer need to use the lid, and instead will want to keep the lid off so you can brown the meat better. 🙂
Note: If you can't flip the meat easily off the grill, use a metal spatula to scrape the bottom of the BBQ grate to gently loosen it first before flipping it.
If All Else Fails, Don't Use Skewers 🙂
Who said it was a hard rule that we have to use skewers? Make meat balls or patties and slap it right on the grill or pan! Sure its a lot more flipping since you'll be flipping each meat ball one by one but that's not really such a big deal is it? 🙂