Your BBQ, grilling, and outdoor cooking missions will eventually bring you to one of life’s simple joys: meat on a stick. While the traditional wooden or bamboo skewers offer a chance to eat right off the stick, which is always a treat, they also require soaking for at least 30 minutes in advance and can still burn or splinter on a hot fire. If you like to serve your meat and vegetable skewers on-the-stick, I suggest cooking them first on stainless steel metal skewers and then piercing the meat again (in the opposite direction) with a wooden or bamboo skewer for serving. Making the transition to stainless steel skewers has quite a few benefits, while wooden and bamboo skewers have some essential flaws.
Finding the right skewer for your grilling mission is key; skewers come in a variety of lengths and shapes, with handle embellishments and smart features. If you’re using a grill with a lid, make sure you choose a skewer length that will allow you to close the grill lid. Metal skewers now come in flat, round, spiral, or square shapes, and some also have double shafts. A square or spiral shape is especially helpful in keeping foods from sliding off the skewer or spinning around the shaft as you turn them on the grill. If you’re already working with spinning skewers (round metal or wooden), you can try using tongs to cradle the foods as you turn them and keep things grilling evenly.
Wooden skewers, even when soaked, have a hard time handling the heat. Any high-temp grilling items will do better with a metal alternative. If for some reason you have to use wooden or bamboo, choose a thicker skewer. In a jam, you can cover the ends of wooden skewers in foil to form a makeshift handle. You can also use this trick with the foil to raise metal or wooden skewers off of the grill grates when you are cooking foods that are likely to stick.
While metal skewers are more expensive at the start, they are reusable and will save you money in the long run. Keep in mind that meats and vegetables require different cooking times. Make a whole metal skewer of one food type and you can re-pierce them on bamboo later, resulting in no burned veggies or undercooked meats. If service and plating isn’t important for your meal, a nice plate piled high with a lot of color and different foods looks just as delicious to me. You can also partially cook vegetables in advance to even out the time of all your skewered foods on the grill. Don’t forget that since metal skewers retain heat, they cook foods from the inside as the grill does it outside-work.
Remember, spacing matters! On bamboo or wooden skewers, squeezing the food together can help keep the stick from burning, but might result in undercooked foods. On a metal skewer you can space your meats for even cooking, or place them closer together if you like to keep things on the rare/medium rare side. Since the wooden skewers are rough, food is also more likely to stick. That can be great for keeping food where it belongs, unless you’re cooking juicy meats. Prepping wooden skewers with oil can help, but that’s just one more step before you get your food to the grill. Metal skewers have cut out these soaking and oiling steps, and they are less likely to trouble you with food that sticks.
There are new high-end, forged stainless steel options from sellers that include the feature of a sliding disk to help with quick removal. If you opt for this, just remember: that metal is hot! Use tongs to slide the disc down, and you’ll have all the food off the skewer cleanly, quickly, and on your plate where it belongs.