Yes, you can make a delicious doner kebab at home! My simple recipe is my adaptation of a popular Turkish kebab I had in Istanbul a few years ago. Juicy chicken thighs are tossed in his marinade, a thick yoghurt rich in lemon juice and warm Middle Eastern flavors. This chicken doner kebab recipe is perfect in wraps, platters, bowls, or your favorite salad.
If you’ve ever eaten shawarma or gyro, you probably know doner kebab (more precisely, doner kebab).
The history of doner kebab dates back to the Ottoman Empire in the 19th century. Today, it is a popular Turkish street food with many delicious variations in the Eastern Mediterranean and Middle East (and even Berlin, Germany).
Ever since I had a delicious Turkish kebab in Istanbul a few years ago, I’ve been hooked! We’ve recreated a delicious kebab with juicy chicken in a yogurt marinade.
The Maidner Kebab recipe is a close version that offers an attractive, thinly shaved grilled he chicken that can be served in a wrap, on a platter, or with your favorite salad (I recently tried it at Fattoush).
What is döner kebab? And how is it made?
There are two main types of döner: et döner and tavuk döner.
Classic döner kebab, et döner, consists of a heavily seasoned mixture of beef and lamb that is pureed into a paste, shaped into a log, and finally slow-roasted for hours on a vertical spit to juicy perfection. (Tail fat is often added to the meat mixture to keep it juicy and moist while it roasts.)
Today, chicken shawarma or tavuk shawarma is equally popular in Turkey. The chicken is also seasoned in the same way, marinated in a flavorful yogurt-based marinade, skewered and slowly grilled.
To serve the doner kebab, use a large, sharp knife to scrape the outer layer of charred meat thinly off the skewer from top to bottom. Yes, the meat or chicken just melts in your mouth at that moment. Add heat pillowy pita bread and flavorful sides to make it even more perfect.
Is doner kebab the same as gyro or shawarma?
You’ll find some similarities in the preparation of doner kebabs, shawarma, and gyros. In fact, the names of these dishes mean similar things. Döner comes from the Turkish word dönmek, which means “to turn” or “to rotate”, shawarma means “to turn” in Arabic, and gyro means “round” in Greek.
But since all three come from different parts of the Mediterranean and Middle East, there are a few key differences.
Aside from their different geographical origins, each of these popular street foods has its own unique flavor profile. To my palate, the seasoning for doner kebabs is a tad more generous on cumin, paprika (I like smoked paprika here), and red pepper flakes or Aleppo pepper.
Shawarma seasoning does utilize cumin, supported by other warm Middle Eastern spices often including coriander, turmeric, and ground cloves. Gyro seasoning is Greek-style, with a hefty amount of dried oregano.
You can serve all three dishes in platters or wraps with varied fixings, pickles, and sauces: tahini with shawarma; tzatziki with gyro; and, for doner kebabs, some skip the sauce, while others will use a red sauce or a garlicky yogurt sauce.
What cut of chicken to use for chicken doner?
Boneless and skinless chicken thighs give the best results in this chicken doner kebab recipe.Also, don’t cut the chicken into smaller pieces, as layering larger pieces on the skewer will give a juicier and tastier result.
The marinade for this doner kebab recipe
The flavorful marinade is by far the most important part of this homemade doner kebab recipe. It infuses the meat (or chicken, in this case) with loads of flavor while also working to tenderize it.
My yogurt-based marinade for this chicken doner recipe consists of whole milk yogurt, fresh garlic, lemon juice, bold Eastern Mediterranean spices, and a little tomato paste, which is responsible for the beautiful red hue and also helps deepen the flavor with good tang and umami.
While the seasonings may vary from one doner kebab recipe to another, my marinade is closest to some of the Turkish and Eastern Mediterranean flavors I experienced when I visited Istanbul. Here is what you need for the marinade:
- Whole milk yogurt – Yogurt-based marinades are very gentle on meat. With its lactic acid and calcium content, yogurt gently breaks down the proteins in the chicken, giving you perfectly tender, juicy results.
- Tomato paste – You’ll need 6 to 7 tablespoons (or a small 6-ounce can), to give the chicken its deep red color and plenty of umami.
- Lemons – Zest and juice 2 lemons to give the chicken doner kebabs bright acidity, and to work with the yogurt to tenderize the meat.
- Garlic – You don’t want to skimp on the garlic here. I used 8 minced cloves to add enough nutty, garlicky flavor to this marinade.
- Spices – Baharat spice blend, ground cumin, Aleppo-style pepper (if you like it spicy, you can include a dash of cayenne pepper as well), and smoked paprika, which adds a deeper, smoky taste that mimics the flavor of a slow-grilled chicken.
How to make doner kebab
These grilled Turkish kebabs aren’t that complicated. Only the chicken skewers promise to take a little more time. If you have time, wait a few hours for the chicken to marinate. I will show you two ways to cook doner kebab. grill or oven.
Please note that this recipe can feed a group of up to 8 people. (Or you can save leftovers to enjoy the next day!)
Here’s how to make tavuk döner kebabs:
- Marinate the chicken thighs. Start by making the marinade in a large bowl by combining ½ cup whole milk yogurt, 6 to 7 tablespoons tomato paste, the zest and juice of 2 lemons, 8 minced garlic cloves, 2 ½ teaspoons baharat, 2 teaspoons cumin, 1 teaspoon Aleppo pepper (or more if you want it spicier), and 1 teaspoon smoked paprika. Pat dry 2 to 3 pounds of whole boneless skinless chicken thighs and season them with kosher salt and black pepper on each side. Then, toss the chicken in the marinade. If you have time, refrigerate the chicken in the marinade for 3 hours up to overnight. If not, let it sit at room temperature for about 30 minutes. But know that your chicken will definitely taste better if you let it marinate for a few hours.
- Skewer the marinated chicken. Thread half of the chicken thighs onto three metal skewers. (Using 2 or 3 metal skewers helps to steady the chicken as you rotate the skewers over. Essentially, the 3 skewers mimic a big spit.) Make sure the chicken is quite snug on the skewers. To make it easier, prop the skewers on the edge of a pan or bowl. If the thighs are very large, you can fold them in half before threading them through the skewers. Repeat with the rest of the chicken thighs, using 3 more metal skewers. Once you’ve prepared the doner skewers, you have two options for cooking them: on the grill or in the oven.
To cook doner kebabs on the grill
Heat the grill to 400 degrees Fahrenheit (medium to high heat on mine).Place the skewers on the grill and close the grill. Bake for 10-15 minutes until browned, then flip over and bake for another 10 minutes. Cook the chicken. The internal temperature of cooked chicken is 165 degrees Fahrenheit, so kebabs are typically removed from the grill when they reach 160 degrees Fahrenheit. This is because the chicken continues to cook while it rests. Double check that the internal temperature has reached 165 degrees Fahrenheit before serving.
Cooking chicken döner kebabs in the oven
This method requires a large baking sheet with edges or walls. Line the pan with the skewers so that the metal skewers hang over the edges of the pan. Use a slightly deeper pan, as there will be a gap between the chicken and the bottom of the pan. Bake in middle rack at 400 degrees Fahrenheit for 30 to 35 minutes, until golden brown and lightly browned. Remove the baking pan from the oven, flip the skewers over (wear oven mitts for this step!), and spread the gravy over the top of the chicken. Bake for about 20 minutes until the chicken is almost fully cooked (about 160 degrees Fahrenheit as described above), then remove from the oven and let rest for 5 to 10 minutes.
How to carve doner meat or chicken
Hold the skewer vertically at a slight angle and hold it with your non-dominant hand. Using a sharp knife with your dominant hand, carefully slice the meat from top to bottom into thin slices. If this is too difficult, unskewer the chicken thighs first. Then place it on a cutting board and cut it into thin, small slices. It looks the same, but the taste is still delicious. Doing it safely is of utmost importance.
Ways to serve these Turkish kebabs
You can serve doner kebabs a few different ways: in wraps, platters, or salad bowls. I’m partial to doner wraps in warm pita, but here are some more ideas for how to serve doner kebabs:
- Doner wraps: Warm up some pita bread. Then add the meat, and top with fresh tomatoes and onions or my Mediterranean cucumber and tomato salad. Add some pickles (cucumber or turnip, if you like). For a sauce, you can do a yogurt sauce or tahini (not traditional, but delicious). Fold the pita to form a wrap, and enjoy!
- Bowls: You could make a doner kebab plate or bowl. Simply spoon some salad and sliced chicken onto a plate or into a bowl with some sauce. While researching this recipe, I discovered that this is similar to the way döner is served in some areas of Turkey! It is common to serve a large plate of meat with thinly sliced onion and tomato on the side. Both are liberally sprinkled with sumac), and you’ll also have flatbread, pickles, and a little arugula. It’s not unusual to see doner kebab served alongside some French fries, either!
- Doner over rice (called pilav üstü döner in Turkey): This is where you serve the chicken or meat doner on a bed of Turkish rice. In my house, we sometimes serve it over a little golden Middle Eastern rice pilaf with some salad and sauce on the side.
Leftovers and storage
Leftover chicken kebabs can be stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 4 days. To reheat, place sliced chicken on a large baking sheet. Heat in a 350°F oven until warm.