The Onion Hack That's Perfect For Making Shawarma At Home

Shawarma, a word that applies to both a Middle Eastern cooking method and a food similar to döner kebab, has become a go-to international street fare staple. Many people will seek out versions of the dish prepared using the tenets of the traditional cooking method (similar to Greek gyros, but not the same), which calls for a vertical rotating spit.

While stacks of shawarma might be readily available at your local Middle Eastern or Mediterranean spot, it's somewhat difficult to replicate at home. But even with this setback, it's still possible to get as close you can to the real, spit-cooked deal as possible with a fun little trick. And all you need for it is an onion and some wooden skewers available at your local supermarket. 

Skewering thinly sliced layers of marinated meat onto half an onion using those aforementioned skewers creates a firm base before going on a sturdy skillet and into an oven. The trick itself actually resembles a method often utilized for Mexico's Al Pastor, and rightfully so: The origins of the latter can be traced to Lebanese immigrants who settled in Puebla, Mexico, in the early 1900s and brought their cooking processes with them.

Making a vertical spit at home

Aside from how using this onion hack for homemade shawarma helps recreate an authentic taste sans vertical spit, it also utilizes everyday items in your kitchen without a lot of prep work. Start by cutting an onion in half — you don't have to remove the end piece, but you can remove its peel. (That being said, it may be a good idea to leave the onion skin on, as it contains a lot of aromatics and enhances the savory quality of the meat.)

Once done, pierce two large wooden skewers into it about ½ to an inch apart, depending on the size. After that, take each pre-marinaded strip of meat and lance them onto the base. It may take a while, but you're left with a glorious tower of meat for your shawarma dish. 

Different recipes call for various temperature ranges but can go from 350 degrees to 425 degrees Fahrenheit. Still, the important thing is to ensure the internal temp is 145 degrees for beef and 165 degrees Fahrenheit for chicken, per the USDA.

Marinating meat for shawarma

Now that you have the general hack in your pocket, what other components should you keep in mind for making homemade shawarma? Generally speaking, shawarma is made with non-pork proteins like beef, chicken, or lamb. Best practices call for heavily seasoning whatever proteins you choose among them spices like fenugreek, cinnamon, tumeric, cardamom, and cumin.

Using a marinade to enhance these flavors is also a major plus; an ingredient like Greek yogurt is preferable if you go that route, as it contains microbes and lactic acid, both of which denature and tenderize your meat. If you decide to rest your meat in a marinade, let it sit for at least an hour, or even up to two days. After all, you want to infuse the flavors as much as possible, usually around ¼ an inch or deeper.

If you decide to go vegetarian or aren't a meat-eater, the same broad principles for this shawarma onion hack are still generally applicable, depending on what type of veggie you choose to step in as your hero. Portobello mushrooms might be the best choice here, as they're an excellent meat substitute in terms of texture and flavor.