First published on 2nd February 2014. Updated on 1st September 2021
For most people, thinking about Turkish cuisine generally conjures countless images of delicious meaty kebabs in mind. But for the most part, these imaginings are limited to the standard döner kebab and shish kebab that the western world are accustomed to. But in fact, the types of kebabs available in Turkey are countless and offer far tastier varieties.
What does kebab mean?
Kebab generally refers to any dish of meat, fish, or vegetables, which are grilled on a skewer or roasted using a rotisserie.
In Turkey, the word kebab extends to include any of these dishes cooked over, or next to, a flame. It consists of both small and large cuts of meat, as well as ground meat.
Kebab in Turkey can be served on plates (known as porsiyon), in sandwiches, or even in wraps (known as dürüm).
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What kind of meat is used for kebabs?
Traditionally, the meat used to make Turkish kebabs is lamb. However, as individual tastes evolved and regional specialties developed, other popular meats used in Turkish kebabs have extended to include beef, chicken, and fish.
Using vegetables in kebabs has also always been popular in Turkey, and most commonly, you’ll find varieties of kebabs made with eggplant, tomato, peppers, and onion.
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Origins of kebabs
It is generally accepted that the first kebabs in Turkey originated from the Erzurum province in Eastern Turkey, as cağ kebab, with meat stacked and cooked on a spit horizontally, rather than vertically as today’s döner kebabs are.
These Turkish kebabs are first mentioned in Ottoman travel books dating back to the 18th century.
The ‘father’ of the modern döner kebab, Iskender Efendi, then wrote that he and his grandfather “had the idea of roasting the lamb vertically rather than horizontally” and invented a vertical rotisserie. It is this dish that is today most commonly recognized throughout the world as ‘kebab.’
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How many different types of kebabs are there?
There are at least 110 different kebabs only in Turkey, and each one has its unique taste. In this blog post, we will be discussing the 20 most popular Turkish kebabs that everyone should try at least once!
Side note: The recipes written in English for Turkish kebabs are sometimes different than the original dish cooked in Turkey. In this post, you will find recipes for famous Turkish kebabs--carefully chosen to recreate the method and flavor of the original.
1. Şiş Kebab (Shish kebab)
A traditional and familiar Turkish kebab of meat and vegetables, generally cubed and threaded onto a skewer before being grilled and served with bread and rice with salads. Çöp şiş is a variety of this popular kebab, made with smaller pieces of meat and generally cooked on wooden skewers, as opposed to iron.
2. Adana Kebab
Hailing from the South-Eastern Turkish province of the same name, Adana kebab is a spicy (read: hot) kebab made from ground mince formed over a wide skewer and grilled over charcoals. A milder version originates from a nearby town and is known as Urfa kebab. Both kebabs are served with grilled vegetables and bulgur pilaf.
Adana kebab recipe: https://myhomediaryinturkey.blogspot.com/2017/08/adana-kebab-best-and-authentic-recipe.html
3. Iskender Kebab
This kebab inspired Iskender Efendi to invent the vertically cooking kebab and originates from his seaside hometown of Bursa. Iskender kebab is essentially döner kebab, served with a slathering of melted butter over a bed of bread, with yogurt on the side.
Related content: Iskender Kebab
4. Cağ Kebab
This kebab is commonly accepted as the predecessor to the modern döner kebab. It is made from lamb meat cooked on a horizontal rotisserie before being sliced off and grilled on a skewer. This grilled lamb is usually eaten with lavash bread. Cağ Kebab is often referred to as a favorite Turkish kebab by visitors on our Flavours of the Old City tour.
5. Patlıcan Kebab (Eggplant kebab)
If you’re an eggplant fanatic, then Turkey is the perfect place for your culinary pilgrimage. There are 2 different types of Patlıcan Kebabı in Turkey.
The first version is made from marinated kebab meat, skewered with aubergines, and cooked on a grill or in the oven. It is usually served with a yogurt sauce.
Alternatively, meatballs or large pieces of lamb, onions, tomatoes are arranged in a large circular tray with chunks of eggplant and cooked in the ovens.
Oven-baked eggplant kebab recipe: https://ozlemsturkishtable.com/2021/07/baked-aubergine-kebab-with-meatballs-firinda-patlican-kebabi/
6. Ciğer Kebab (Liver kebab)
Don’t be put off – this Turkish kebab is more delicious than it sounds! This tasty kebab is made from portions of lamb livers, diced and marinated with herbs, and grilled on a skewer before being served with bread and salads. It is commonly enjoyed in Istanbul by both locals and ex-pats alike for its wonderful flavors.
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7. Döner Kebab
The world-famous Turkish kebab means ‘rotating’ kebab in Turkish. It is made from lamb, chicken, or beef, slowly roasted on a vertical spit, and then thinly sliced off. Döner is served on a plate with salad and rice or potatoes; in bread like a sandwich; or in a wrap known as dürüm.
Döner Kebab recipe: https://www.recipetineats.com/homemade-chicken-doner-kebab/
8. Hünkar Beğendi (Sultan kebab)
This is also known as the Sultan’s kebab because it was the favorite kebab of Ottoman sultans. It is made from sliced lamb meat, served over a bed of creamy pureed eggplant flavored with herbs.
Hünkar Beğendi recipe: https://www.linsfood.com/hunkar-begendi-sultans-delight/
9. Tandır Kebabı (Büryan)
Generally hailing from Central or Eastern Anatolia, this kebab is made from lamb pieces – or even a whole lamb – baked slowly over many hours in a unique traditional oven called a tandır. The result is a tender and tasty meat that is then served with bread and raw onions.
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10. Testi Kebabı (Pottery kebab)
This unique Turkish kebab originated in Central Anatolia and the Black Sea region. It consists of meat and vegetables cooked in a clay pot (‘testi’ means jug, in Turkish) over the fire. The seal of the pot is generally broken at your table, right before eating, and is undoubtedly a fun experience during your visit to Istanbul!
Beyti is a newly invented Turkish kebab that consists of ground beef or lamb, skewered and grilled. It’s then wrapped in lavash and served topped with tomato sauce and yogurt- all the while remaining juicy on both ends.
The dish is named after its creator Beyti Güler, the owner of the famous restaurant “Beyti” in Istanbul.
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12. Çökertme Kebabı
Julienne cut fillet meat is served on thin fried potatoes with garlic yogurt and tomato sauce. Ground cumin, chili pepper, onion, and thyme are all great seasonings to use for Çökertme Kebabı.
This type of kebab is popular on the Aegean coast of Turkey.
Çökertme Kebabı recipe: https://turkishstylecooking.com/cokertme-kebabi-recipe.html
13. Fırın Kebabı (Woodfire oven kebab)
Oven kebab requires only two ingredients: lamb and salt. Only the forearm and ribs of the lamb or sheep are used. The lamb is cooked in the oak wood fire ovens for 4 hours, while the sheep are cooking longer – 8 to 10 hours.
After cooked, Fırın Kebabı is placed on pita bread and served with fresh onions and ayran.
This kebab is popular in Konya and Karaman, which are both parts of the Central Anatolia region.
14. Kağıt Kebabı (Paper kebab)
Kağıt Kebabı is one of the main dishes of Malatya cuisine. It is prepared by first cutting the lamb meat into manageable pieces before marinating it with spices and wrapping them in oiled paper. Tail fat is placed on these papers to keep the meat juicy.
It is cooked in wood fire ovens for 8-12 hours before being served.
15. Kilis Kebabı (Tepsi Kebabı)
The ingredients of this kebab are flavorful but straightforward. It is made of ground lamb meat, red peppers, onion, and garlic. Marinated lamb mince is given a flat shape by kneading in a tray and cooked in ovens with sliced tomatoes and peppers on the side of the tray.
This kebab takes its name from Kilis, the city where it originates.
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16. Tavuk Şiş Kebab (Chicken shish kebab)
One of the most popular kebabs in Turkey is chicken shish kebab. The dish consists of cubes of chicken that are marinated, then skewered and grilled. It is usually made of chicken breasts marinated in yogurt, milk, and tomato paste.
At most restaurants, it is served with bulgur pilaf, grilled tomatoes, and green peppers.
Chicken shish kebab recipe: https://www.deliciousmagazine.co.uk/recipes/turkish-chicken-shish/
17. Tokat Kebabı
Tokat kebabı is a traditional Turkish kebab originating from the Tokat region in Turkey. It has been prepared locally for hundreds of years and became popular all across the country due to its rich flavor, which comes from a blend that includes fresh lamb meat, potatoes, eggplants, tomatoes, green bell pepper, garlic, olive oil, and other spices all cooked with onions.
18. Yoğurtlu Kebap (Kebab with yogurt)
Minced meat is kneaded with salt, black pepper, and red pepper flakes (Aleppo pepper). Mincemeat is then placed on skewers and cooked on charcoal grills. The pita bread is soaked with the oils of the cooking meat and softened. The bread is placed on a plate, and freshly whipped yogurt is poured over the bread. Cooked meats are placed on yogurt and served with melted butter on top.
19. Orman Kebabı (Forest kebab)
Not all kebabs are prepared on skewers, but sometimes they can be cooked in pots as a stew. One of these pot kebabs is Orman Kebabı, which originated from Ottoman cuisine and is a dish unique to Turkey’s Bolu region. This dish is primarily made from lamb and cooked with various vegetables, such as celery, eggplant, peppers, carrots, and peas.
One of the distinguishing features of Orman Kebabı is that it includes peas in its recipe.
Orman Kebabı recipe: https://turkishfoodie.com/orman-kebabi/
20. Soğan Kebabı (Onion kebab)
Onion kebabs are an ingenious Turkish dish made with ground lamb kofte placed inside onion slices and flavored with pomegranate sauce and freshly ground black pepper. This recipe is easy to prepare and cook.
The red-skinned winter onions are used in this dish. They should be small and fresh for the best flavor.
Soğan Kebabı recipe: https://chefjar.com/sogan-kebabi/
I hope you learned that there is more to kebabs in Turkey than just döner and shish kebabs. Now that you know the different types of kebabs and their recipes, it’s time to visit Turkey, where these different types of kebabs taste the best! If you happen to find yourself in Istanbul, do not forget to book one of our food tours, exploring the delicious Turkish kebabs as well as the rest of Turkish cuisine!
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