The Ancient BBQ
Persia, one of the oldest, continuous civilizations on earth, was incredibly advanced in ancient times and had a history of dynasties that ruled the area throughout time. One constant among the rulers has been the celebration of good food. As a result, the people in this region have been eating well for millennia. Traditional Persian cuisine spread through the Middle East during ancient times, which still holds today. Excavations of the Minoan settlement of Akrotiri on the island of Thera (now Santorini) unearthed elaborate stone supports for skewers used before the 17th century BC. So if you want to become a great BBQ cook, start at the beginning–cooking chunks of meat on a wooden stick is one of the first cooking techniques ever known to humankind.
Kofta, Kafta, Kufta, Koobideh which is it?
Kofta is widely known as seasoned ground beef, lamb, or chicken dish, grilled over an open fire. In Persian, ‘kuftan’ means to beat or grind or is simply a meatball. If you order Koobideh in Iran, it is very similar to Kofta, except the spice is heavier on the sumac or turmeric, but it’s the same idea: minced meat mixed with spices and thrown onto a skewer. The only real difference between Kafta, Kofta, Kufta, or Koobideh is regional dialects and possibly a favorite regional seasoning of one spice or herb over another. It just depends on where you are geographical.
Gas or Wood Charcoal Grill
Undoubtedly, cooking over a wood fire adds depths of flavor to our foods. But, as with everywhere else, the wood readily available is what was used before shipping became an international pastime. Super traditional Persian kebabs use ash, maple, beech, oak, olive, walnut, plum, lilac, alder or fig. Any of these wood charcoals are great to use and certainly add flavor to the finished product. The trick is finding a rack to support steel skewers over the fire. Fortunately, there are dozens of inexpensive kebab racks specifically made for an outdoor grill.
While wood charcoal has its benefits, it’s hard to pass up the ease and efficiency of cooking over a gas grill. For this recipe, I cook the kebabs over a Weber grill with the grates removed, which gets the meat closer to the fire and eliminates any chance of sticking to the grates. If you can’t remove the greatest, there are also plenty of inexpensive kebab skewer racks made for gas grills as well. Check out: Universal BBQ Skewer holder for gas or charcoal grill.
Once you’ve settled on your grill, following set up your fire with three zones: A medium high-heat zone, a low-heat zone, and a holding or no-heat zone. Begin with the skewers over the high-heat area until a light brown crust forms, then rotate the skewer to cook the opposite side. When the kebabs have cooked on each side, move to the low-heat zone and allow to finish cooking while you work the additional skewers gently. This method avoids over-cooking and allows the skewers to keep warm until they all can come off simultaneously.
There are hundreds of skewers available. Having cooked for a very long time, I prefer skewers used for thousands of years. Flat skewers are a must. The flat skewers keep the meat from spinning when rotated on the stand. I use a thick, flat skewer for heavy meats and a small, flat skewer for vegetables or seafood. I typically avoid skewers with wood handles (these inevitably break off) or weird handles that are difficult to grasp with a kitchen towel or hand. Koobideh Persian/Brazilian style 1 inch wide flat skewers are ideal. For a smaller gauge of a skewer, I suggest Koobideh/Brazilian 1/2 inch wide flat skewers. Getting the right equipment will make your task easier and safer. The kebabs will be very hot, right off the grill, so a firm grip is essential.
Wine Pairing: BOURGOGNE ROUGE, 2018, Burgundy, France
Koobideh - Persian BBQ Ground Beef Kabab
- grater or food processor fitted with small/medium grater
- large mixing bowl
- bowl of water
- koobideh skewers (traditional Persian large flat stainless steel skewers)
- maple or plum charcoal (optional)
- charcoal or gas grill
- 3 lbs ground beef (super lean beef will not stick together over the fire) (preferably 60/40, but 70/30 grind will substitute)
- 1 whole onion, white, grated small, and drained (save the onion juice to for Barb Kebab or to baste over the Koobideh)
- 1 ½ tsp salt, kosher, or sea
- 1 ½ tsp pepper, black coarse grind
- 1 tsp turmeric, ground
- 1 ½ tsp saffron water
- 1 whole egg (The egg will help the 70/30 ground beef stick together.)
- 1 whole tomato, grilled
- 1 whole pepper, cored, seeded, and grilled
- ½ whole onion, cored and grilled
- 1 whole eggplant, cut into large pieces, and grilled
- 1 whole lemon halved and grilled
- 1 cup Persian yogurt sauce (Maast-o khiar or Persian Tzatziki Sauce)
- 1 cup rice, cooked
Maast o khimar Persian yogurt/cucumber sauce recipe
- 2 cup yogurt, plain greek style preferably
- 1 whole cucumber, English, quartered and sliced
- 1 whole garlic, crushed and finely minced
- 1 whole shallot, peeled, cored, and finely minced
- 1½ tbsp fresh dill, chopped
- 1 whole lemon, juiced
- To taste salt and pepper
- 1 tsp sumac, ground sprinkled on top
Prep the Onion
- Using a hand grater or food processor with a grating disc, grate one cored whole onion.
- Place the grated onion in a cheesecloth and squeeze out the onion juice. Reserve the onion juice for basting the koobideh on the grill.
Prep the Beef
- Add the 60/40 or 70/30 ground beef to a large mixing bowl. (Super lean ground beef will not stick together when it cooks over an open fire.) Add the onion and mix thoroughly with your hands to combine.
- Add the egg, salt, coarse grind black pepper, ground turmeric, and saffron waters to the meat mixture. Using your hands, mix the beef mixture until well incorporated.
- Cover the bowl with the meat mixture tightly with plastic wrap. Refrigerate for at least 1 hour or 8-12 hours overnight. (Letting the meat mixture rest will allow the flavors to develop fully.) Reserve.
Preparing the Koobideh Skewers
- Start the fire using Maple or Plum charcoal with a chimney starter or preferred method. Once the charcoal is ready, spread evenly over the center of the grill. Leave a small gap at the top and bottom of the grilling area. (You only need lit charcoal under the space that the meat will cook.) If cooking over a live charcoal fire, check to see if your skewers are long enough to rest over the width of the grill before lighting the fire. Alternatively, set up a gas grill by removing the grates and setting the heat on medium to medium-high.Either way, arrange the heat for a low-heat area, medium to high-heat, and a no-heat or holding space. In addition, this technique offers options for you to adjust the heat by moving the skewers to the zones as needed.(If you have to use a grill grate, make sure it is very well oiled before adding the meat so that it won't stick.)
- Pour clean water (or more onion juice) into a medium-sized mixing bowl. Dip your hand in the water to prevent the marinated ground beef from sticking to your hand. Have this bowl next to the beef mixture bowl for easy access.
- While holding the Koobideh skewer with one hand, start loading the ground beef mixture onto the skewers. First, make sure the meat mixture wraps around the skewer on all sides. Next, dip your meat hand in water before adding more ground meat. Repeat this process until the skewer is loaded up (2 large handfuls). Leave approximately 3-4 inches of the lead and bottom of the skewer free from the meat mixture.
- Using a combination of your thumb and forefinger, leave light indentations in the beef. Rotate and do the same on the opposite side. This technique will help even out the meat mixture over the skewer. Repeat the process. Reserve.
- Place the skewer over a gas grill or wood charcoal, 2-3 inches above the source of the heat. Cook over medium until the underside becomes golden brown (4-5 minutes). Turn the skewer over and cook the second side (4-5 minutes).Test the top of the meat by poking with your finger. The seasoned ground beef should feel just firm to the touch. Avoid over-cooking and drying out the kebabs. If you have an instant-read thermometer, the kebabs should read (155°F or 70°C).
- To remove the meat from the skewer, use a fork or tongs. Push on the top or leading edge of the kabab to loosen the koobideh. Once loosened, glide the meat off the skewer. Hold onto a warm serving platter.
- Serve the Koobideh with a mixture of grilled vegetables, rice, and lemon wedges. Maast o Khair or Persian yogurt sauce (Recipe above) is also essential.