Homemade Chicken Shawarma

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Shawarma is vastly popular across the middle-east, especially in Lebanon. Now a popular street food as well, chicken shawarma has quickly garnered appreciation across the globe.

The best part is that this chicken shawarma dish is quick and easy to make, so you can enjoy it as a side dish for brunch or for evening snacks whenever the mood strikes!

Chicken Shawarma is usually cooked on a rotating spit but we achieve the irresistible charred effect by grilling the chicken instead – but I’ve also included instructions on how to bake the chicken as well – whatever is easiest for you!

If you’re craving classic shawarma but don’t want to hut the streets or a local takeout joint, try making this chicken shawarma recipe at home!

What Is Shawarma?

Shawarma (pronounced shuh·wor·muh) is a Middle Eastern dish consisting of stacked, spice-marinated meats – lamb, turkey, chicken, beef, or a mix of meat – that is cooked on a slowly-rotating, vertical spit in front of a rotisserie for hours.

As the meat cooks, it self-bastes in its own seasoned fat and juices which creates lusciously juicy, flavorful meat and beautifully crisp and caramelized outside edges.

It looks a lot like Gyro but still differs in so many ways.

Where Does Shawarma Come From?

Although many countries have their own signature rotisserie meats, the method of grilling stacks of meat on a spit and continuously shaving it off as it cooks (and not just grilling a single piece of meat) dates back to the 19th-century Ottoman Empire, in what is now Turkey.  This Turkish shaved meat is known as the doner kebab.

Both shawarma and Greek gyros come from the doner kebab, which in turn, led to the famous Mexican Tacos Al Pastor as Lebanese immigrants brought the cooking method with them to Mexico in the early 20th century.

Today, shawarma is one of the world’s most popular street foods in Egypt, Levant and other Middle Eastern countries – and soon you will taste why!

Shawarma Vs Gyro

Both shawarma and gyros are popular street foods consisting of a marinated cone of stacked sliced meats (most often lamb) that are roasted on a rotating spit then thinly shaved off to order.  Where they differ, however, are the seasonings and toppings.

The main difference between shawarma and gyro is the meat. Unlike gyros, the packed-down shawarma meat can be anything from chicken to lamb to veal to goat.

Another difference between shawarma and gyro is the preparation; shawarma is more about the flavor of the meat than the plethora of toppings on it.

What Is Shawarma Made Of?

Shawarma can be made of lamb, turkey, chicken, beef, or a mix of meat, but I’ve kept this recipe simple using easy, economical, accessible, approachable, kid friendly and delicious chicken.

The chicken can be grilled, cooked on the stove or baked then made into wraps, salads, sandwiches or bowls.  If you would like to use other proteins, this Shawarma marinade would be fabulous on anything- it makes EVERYTHING better!

Sauces For Shawarma

Shawarma is often served with a yogurt, lemon garlic sauce. It is lusciously creamy, tangy, super flavorful and a MUST to cut through the robust chicken. It can also be served with a tahini sauce, but I don’t find it as refreshing with the Chicken Shawarma.

Yoghurt Sauce Ingredients

For this yogurt sauce, I amped up the greens and added plenty of cilantro and parsley. The sauce is easy to make in your blender or you can skip the herbs and just whisk the rest of the ingredients together in a bowl (mincing the garlic first of course). You will need:

  • Greek yogurt: You must use Greek yogurt verses regular yogurt because Greek yogurt is much thicker.  You may use either Greek whole-milk yogurt, low-fat or non-fat yogurt and they will all produce excellently thick, creamy results.
  • Lemon juice: Fresh lemon juice is preferred, but you may substitute with bottled lemon juice.
  • Cilantro: fresh, tangy, citrusy, and zesty.  Use the top of the cilantro bunch no need to separate the leaves from the stems.
  • Parsley: clean, slightly peppery with a touch of earthiness and almost anise-like.  Use the top of the bunch, no need to separate the leaves from the stems.
  • Garlic: I use 2 garlic cloves for but you are welcome to add more or less to taste.
  • Seasonings:  Salt, pepper and ground cumin round out the flavor profile. Use more or less to taste.

Tahini Sauce

If you would to make tahini sauce, then substitute ¼ cup tahini in place of ¼ cup yogurt in the sauce recipe.  You can also omit the yogurt and add ¼ tahini and about ¼ cup olive oil and ¼ cup water, more or less to reach desired consistency.

Is Chicken Shawarma Healthy?

Chicken Shawarma can be part of a well-balanced diet.  Chicken Shawarma Wraps are stuffed with chicken, veggies, and healthy Greek yogurt sauce.

The chicken is an excellent source of protein, low in sodium with zero carbohydrates; the veggies are packed with vitamins and minerals and the yogurt sauce is high in protein, packed with calcium and also an excellent source of potassium, protein, zinc, and vitamins B6 and B12.

If you want to lose weight by cutting down on carbs and achieving a healthy body, the Chicken Shawarma is an excellent choice. It is a healthy snack if you skip the bread and just eat it with some salad and cucumber dressing.

What Spices Are In Chicken Shawarma?

Chicken Shawarma has such a strong flavor that you’ll find yourself making only Chicken Shawarma. It immerses your taste buds in four essential cooking elements: salt, fat, acid, and heat, all combined with exotic Middle Eastern spices.

There are a lot of spices going on in this Chicken Shawarma recipe to create its signature well-rounded profile, but the most dominant ones include:

  • Cumin:  warm, earthy, nutty, with a hint of both sweet and bitter
  • Coriander: earthy, tart, and sweet
  • Cardamom:  minty, citrusy, herbal and spicy
  • Smoked paprika: rich, mild, sweet, and smoky made from smoked pimento peppers dried over oak fires
  • Cinnamon and cloves or allspice:  strong, spicy, warm and sweetly pungent with peppery overtones and hints of juniper and peppercorns

The Chicken Shawarma recipe is further rounded out by lemon juice and balsamic for essential acid, cayenne pepper for heat as well as salt, garlic powder and onion powder.

How To Make Chicken Shawarma

This Chicken Shawarma recipe will leave you completely satisfied, whether you serve it plain, as a wrap, salad or bowl, because the flavors are so extraordinary. It is very simple to make, you start off by marinating your chicken. After that you make your yoghurt sauce, chop your veggies, cook your chicken and then serve your chicken shawarma.

How Long Do I Marinate The Chicken?

You will want to marinate the chicken for 8 hours up to overnight.  You can get away with marinating it for less time, but the longer you marinate the chicken, the more flavorful it will become.

What Cut of Chicken is Best?

You can use chicken breasts or chicken thighs in this Chicken Shawarma recipe, you will just need to adjust the cooking time accordingly.  That being said, I highly recommend boneless, skinless chicken thighs for the most authentic tasting, juiciest chicken.

Chicken thighs are dark meat which means they are inherently juicier, richer tasting and produce far more tender chicken than chicken breasts.  They are also harder to overcook and stay tender for days with a more palate pleasing texture, even when reheated for leftovers.

Can I Use Chicken Breasts?

Absolutely!  You can still use chicken breasts in this Chicken Shawarma recipe and they will still be juicy and flavorful from the aromatic marinade.

If you choose to use chicken breasts then take care to pound them to an even thickness before marinating.  If your chicken breasts are extra-large, slice them through the equator to create fillets so the marinade has time to flavor the chicken through and through, and so there is more surface area to grill and char.

How Long Will Chicken Shawarma Recipe Last In The Fridge?

The marinated, cooked chicken can stay fresh in the fridge for 3-5 days and is ready to use when needed!

The fresh components should be stored separately so the tomatoes don’t make the other ingredients soggy and stay as fresh as possible.

How To Cook Chicken Shawarma

The method of cooking is entirely up to you but I prefer either grilling or a cast iron skillet as opposed to the oven for more of the characteristic charred flavor.

How To Cook Chicken Shawarma On Stove

  • Heat one tablespoon vegetable oil a large cast iron skillet or grill pan over medium high heat.
  • Working in batches, add chicken in a single layer and cook for 4-5 minutes.  Turn chicken over, cover, and reduce heat to medium.  Cook approximately 3-5 additional minutes (depending on thickness of chicken), or until chicken is cooked through.
  • Transfer chicken to a cutting board and let rest 5 minutes before slicing.

How To Cook Chicken Shawarma On The Grill

  • Grease and preheat the grill to medium high heat, 375-450°F.
  • Grill chicken, covered, for 5-7 minutes per side, or until chicken is cooked through and an internal temperature reaches 165 degrees F.
  • Transfer chicken to a cutting board and let rest 5 minutes before slicing.

How To Cook Chicken Shawarma In The Oven

  • Line a baking sheet with foil and spray with cooking spray.
  • Add chicken to baking sheet in a single layer so they aren’t touching.
  • Bake at 425 degrees F for 20-25 minutes or until an internal temperature reaches 165 degrees F.
  • Transfer chicken to a cutting board and let rest 5 minutes before slicing.

Tips For Making Chicken Shawarma

  • Pound Chicken. Whether you use chicken breasts or chicken thighs for this Chicken Shawarma recipe, you will want to pound the chicken to an even thickness.  Pounding chicken to an even thickens not only helps tenderize the chicken but ensures the chicken cooks evenly. Even cooking eliminates dryness caused from overcooking the chicken in order to make sure the thickest part is cooked at the peril of the thinnest.
  • Use chicken thighs.  For the juiciest, most flavorful chicken with greater caramelization, use chicken thighs.
  • Marinate chicken.  The longer you marinate the chicken, the more flavorful it will become but don’t marinate longer than 24 hours.
  • Use a meat thermometer.  Always use a meat thermometer so you don’t undercook, OR overcook the chicken.
  • Let chicken rest.  After chicken is finished cooking, transfer it to a cutting board and let rest 5-10 minutes before slicing so it has time to reabsorb the juices that have pushed towards the outside of the chicken. If you cut into the chicken immediately after cooking, valuable, moisture-giving juices will run out.
  • Prep the sauce with the chicken. The Yogurt Sauce is very best after being refrigerated for at least one hour so the flavors have time to meld; so, make the sauce right after you add the chicken to the marinade if possible.
  • Don’t skip the sauce!  The yogurt sauce is a key component in this Chicken Shawarma recipe.  Its creamy consistency is needed to marry all of the ingredients together and its refreshing tanginess cuts through the earthy flavors of the chicken.  If you don’t want to make the sauce, you can use Greek yogurt instead, it just won’t be quite as good.
  • Customize Chicken Shawarma ingredients.  The topping ingredients are simply suggestions- you can use add/swap any ingredients for your favs such as bell peppers, olives, artichoke hearts, avocado, sun-dried tomatoes, etc.
  • Use warm pitas.  Use pita flatbread and not pita pockets. Warm pitas are softer and roll easier without tearing.
  • You don’t have to make a wrap!  Turn this Chicken Shawarma recipe into anything you want – grain bowls, salad, pasta salad, sandwiches, even pizza!

How To Serve Chicken Shawarma

Chicken Shawarma is practically a meal in itself when served as wraps or bowls stuffed with protein and veggies.  It is traditionally served in two ways: as Wraps or as Plates.
My favorite shawarma dishes are non-traditional, such as Shawarma Bowls & Chicken Shawarma Salad. 
  • Chicken Shawarma Wraps:  chicken served in flatbread with lettuce, tomatoes, red onions and tahini or yoghurt sauce with optional hummus, chili sauce, amba and pickled turnips.
  • Chicken Shawarma Plates:  chicken served on plates with a side of rice such as Mejadra or salad such as Tabbouleh Salad, Chickpea Salad or a simple green salad.
  • Chicken Shawarma Salad: is like a deconstructed Chicken Shawarma Wrap.  It combines the lettuce, tomatoes, cucumbers and any other veggies your heart desires along with the yogurt sauce to make a salad.
  • Chicken Shawarma Bowls:  can be grain bowls or I like to combine lettuce for a grain and greens bowls. The bowls can be topped with fresh, uncooked vegetables such as tomatoes, onions, and cucumbers.

If serving as plates, the shawarma is fantastic with:

  • Grains:  lemon rice, plain rice or lentils or Mejadra (Middle Eastern lentil rice)
  • Salad
  • Potatoes
  • Fruits
  • Veggies

Storage and Reheating

Yes!  You can freeze the uncooked marinating chicken or cooked chicken.

  • Freeze chicken in marinade.  Add the chicken to the marinade ingredients and freeze.  Freeze for up to 3 months.  When you’re ready to use, the chicken will marinate as you defrost the chicken in the refrigerator.
  • Freeze chicken.  You can also freeze cooked Chicken Shawarma for easy meal prep or use-as-you-go individual wraps. After you have cooked the chicken, let it cool completely then transfer it to an airtight container or plastic freezer bag and squeeze out any excess air. Freeze for 2 to 3 months.

To Reheat;

  • From frozen:  thaw cooked Chicken Shawarma in the refrigerator overnight.  You can also defrost in the microwave but take care to defrost slowly so your chicken doesn’t become rubbery.  Use any of the below methods to reheat.
  • Skillet:  reheat in a skillet over medium low heat until warmed through, adding a splash of water for added moisture.
  • Microwave:  reheat in the microwave at 30 second intervals, taking care not to overcook.
  • Oven:  reheat in the oven for 10 minutes at 350 degrees F or just until warmed through.

If you liked this Easy Homemade Chicken Shawarma recipe, you may also like some of my chicken recipes:

Homemade chicken shawarma

Homemade Chicken Shawarma

Shawarma is vastly popular across the middle-east, especially Lebanon. Now a popular street food as well, chicken shawarma has quickly garnered appreciation across the globe.
Prep Time 30 minutes
Cook Time 1 hour 45 minutes
Total Time 2 hours 15 minutes
Course Brunch, Side Dish
Cuisine Middle Eastern


For the Shawarma Bread

  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • ½ cup warm water
  • 1 tbsp active dry yeast
  • cups all purpose flour
  • ½ cup plain yogurt
  • 1 tbsp oil
  • some oil for greasing the skillet
  • 1 stick butter

For the Chicken and Vegetables

  • 2 lbs chicken thinly sliced
  • 2 tbsp cumin
  • 2 tbsp paprika
  • 1 tbsp ginger powder
  • 1 tbsp salt
  • 2 tbsp garlic powder
  • ¼ cup lime juice
  • 2 large onions one thinly sliced and one whole
  • 1 green bell pepper thinly sliced
  • 1 orange bell pepper thinly sliced
  • 1 red bell pepper thinly sliced
  • big mushroom sliced
  • ¼ cup olive oil


For the Shawarma Bread

  • In a small bowl, add the sugar, warm water, and yeast together. Stir to combine well. The yeast should be activated when it becomes foamy, about 10 minutes.
  • Mix the flour, yeast mixture, yogurt, and oil, knead the dough until the surface becomes smooth and shiny, about 10 minutes. Cover the dough with a damp cloth and let it rise in a warm place. The dough should double in size, about 1 hour.
  • Divide the dough into 8 equal portions. Roll the dough to a 8” circle using a rolling spin.
  • Heat up a skillet (cast-iron preferred) over high heat and lightly grease the surface with some oil to avoid the dough from sticking to the skillet. Place the dough on the skillet. When it puffs up and bubbles and burnt spots appear, flip it over and cook the other side. Repeat the same until all dough are done.
  • Brush the naan with the melted butter, serve warm.

For the Chicken and Vegetables

  • Preheat oven to 425 degrees.
  • In a large bowl, add chicken, cumin, paprika, salt, garlic powder and ginger. Pour in the lime juice. Massage onto chicken until coated. Set aside.
  • Cut onion in half and place one side down in the center of a rimmed baking sheet. Place a large bamboo skewer in the center of the onion. Layer the chicken up the skewer and top with remaining half of onion.
  • Lay out sliced mushroom, onion and peppers on the baking sheet and drizzle with salt.
  • Bake 35 to 40 minutes or until cooked through.
  • Remove from oven and slice the meat.
  • Add meat to a warmed previously made bread. Top with peppers and onions and garnish with cilantro and fresh lime juice.
Keyword Chicken, Shawarma, Snacks
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