Jump to RecipeJump to VideoLeave a ReviewPin Recipe

Disclosure: This post may contain affiliate links. I may earn a small commission for my endorsement, recommendation, testimonial, and/or link to any products or services from this website.

A family favorite! Roast or grill this easy chicken shawarma recipe, a popular Middle Eastern street food with a flavorful, garlicky marinade, soft pita bread, and a cool and creamy yogurt sauce. Garnish each serving with fresh veggies, pickled red onions, feta cheese, and olives, and pair it with a side of rice pilaf. The satisfying, healthy dinner always wins rave reviews!

Overhead shot of a platter of chicken shawarma in pita bread

Shawarma Chicken

Chicken shawarma is a popular Middle Eastern street food consisting of meat cut into thin slices, stacked in a cone-like shape, and roasted on a slowly-turning vertical spit. It was originally made with lamb or mutton, but these days you’ll find it with chicken, turkey, beef, or veal as well. Thin slices of chicken are shaved off of the rotating cone as it cooks, and then served as a sandwich or wrap, in a flatbread such as pita or laffa. Chicken shawarma is typically served with garlic sauce, tahini sauce, or mango sauce, as well as fries, and pickles. The sandwiches may be garnished with diced tomatoes, cucumbers, onions, pickled vegetables, and hummus.

Chicken Shawarma Origin

The shawarma technique — grilling a vertical stack of meat slices and cutting it off as it cooks — first appeared in the 19th-century Ottoman Empire, in what is now Turkey, in the form of doner kebab. Greek gyros and chicken shawarma are both derived from this dish. Shawarma has now become one of the world’s most popular street foods, especially in Egypt, Iraq, the Arabian peninsula, and the rest of the Middle East.

Why is it called chicken shawarma?

Shawarma is an Arabic version of the Turkish word çevirme [tʃeviɾˈme], which means “turning.” This refers to the turning of the vertical rotisserie or spit that cooks the shawarma meat.

Close up side shot of a chicken shawarma pita

What does chicken shawarma taste like?

There are many different versions of chicken shawarma, but the marinade spices often include garlic, cumin, cardamom, cinnamon, turmeric, and paprika. The grilled or roasted meat has a complex flavor that’s a delicious combination of tangy, warm, and smoky. Pair it with a creamy yogurt sauce (like the tzatziki shown here), soft pita bread, and crisp, fresh veggies, and you’ve got the perfect explosion of flavors and textures!

Is a chicken shawarma healthy?

Yes! This is a very healthy meal, as the chicken marinates in olive oil and spices. Grilling or roasting doesn’t add any extra fat to the dish, and each serving can be piled high with nutritious and satisfying fresh vegetables. Calories are difficult to calculate, as they will vary greatly depending on the size and type of pita used, and on the specific toppings added to each individual sandwich. About 1/6 of the chicken shawarma meat and marinade has 353 calories, 3 grams of carbs, 30 grams of protein, and 25 grams of fat.

Marinating chicken thighs in a plastic bag

Ingredients

This is just a quick overview of the ingredients that you’ll need for a chicken shawarma recipe. As always, specific measurements and step-by-step cooking instructions are included in the printable recipe box at the bottom of the post.

  • Extra virgin olive oil: the fat in the marinade, which helps transfer fat-soluble flavors onto the meat and also helps the meat retain moisture.
  • Lemon juice: the acid that tenderizes the chicken thighs and adds fresh flavor to the meat.
  • Garlic: a classic component in any shawarma marinade.
  • Sugar: just a touch of sweetness balances the savory ingredients and adds complexity to the dish. It also helps the meat char.
  • Spices: the shawarma spice mix includes a blend of cumin, smoked paprika, turmeric, ground coriander, cardamom, cayenne pepper, and allspice.
  • Boneless, skinless chicken thighs: the thighs stay incredibly tender and juicy — you can’t mess them up! That said, you can substitute with boneless, skinless chicken breast if you prefer (you just might need to adjust the total cooking time).

Plus, don’t forget the yogurt sauce (homemade or store-bought), as well as pita pockets or other flatbread, rice, iceberg or romaine lettuce, tomatoes, pickled red onions, feta cheese, olives, cucumbers, and any other toppings that you might enjoy.

Stirring together tzatziki yogurt sauce

Tzatziki Sauce

A common condiment for Greek and Middle Eastern foods, and one of the most delicious options that you can add to the meat, is a cool, creamy, sauce called tzatziki. Tzatziki includes Greek yogurt or other strained yogurt mixed with cucumbers, garlic, salt, olive oil, sometimes with vinegar or lemon juice, and herbs such as dill, mint, parsley, and thyme. You can make your own tzatziki sauce at home (find the recipe below), or keep it really simple and just purchase a container at the store. I typically find tzatziki sauce in a refrigerated case in the deli section of my grocery store, not far from the hummus.

Grilling chicken thighs

How to Make Chicken Shawarma

You can grill or roast the chicken thighs, whichever you prefer. Grilling yields the most flavorful, smoky char, while the oven roasted pan method is very convenient.

  1. Combine the olive oil, lemon juice, garlic, sugar, and spices in a large bowl or Ziploc bag.
  2. Add the chicken and toss to coat.
  3. Cover and refrigerate for at least 3 hours, or up to 24 hours.
  4. Stir together the tzatziki sauce.
  5. Grill the chicken over indirect high heat for 30 minutes. Then move the chicken to the direct flame and cook for about 3 more minutes, flipping halfway through. The meat should reach an internal temperature of 165°F.
  6. Thinly slice the chicken.
  7. Serve the thin slices of meat with pita bread, yogurt sauce, and any other toppings of choice.
Overhead shot of grilled chicken shawarma

What to Serve with a Chicken Shawarma Wrap

Serve the chicken shawarma wrap or sandwich in pita bread, lavash, or other flatbread, or offer the meat on top of rice or salad greens. Pair it with homemade or store-bought tzatziki sauce, and garnish with lettuce, chopped red onions or quick pickled red onions, tomatoes, cucumbers, feta cheese, hummus, or olives. On the side, pair the chicken shawarma with a side of rice pilaf, couscous or quinoa, couscous salad, a Greek saladrosemary roasted potatoes, French fries, or crispy baked potato wedges.

Overhead shot of hands holding a chicken shawarma pita

Storage

Once assembled, enjoy the chicken shawarma sandwich or wrap immediately (before the bread gets stale and soggy). Leftover chicken will keep in an airtight container in the refrigerator for 3-4 days. To extend the life of your shawarma chicken, store the leftovers in an airtight container in the freezer for up to 3 months. Thaw in the refrigerator overnight.

How to Reheat

Place the cooked chicken in a skillet on the stovetop. Cover with a lid and warm over low heat, just until the meat reaches the desired temperature (stirring regularly). You can also reheat individual servings of the chicken in the microwave for about 60 seconds.

Recipe Variations for Chicken Shawarma Sandwich

  • Serving a larger group? Double all of the ingredients.
  • Instead of the fresh lemon juice, substitute with red wine vinegar or fresh lime juice in the marinade.
  • Season the finished chicken with additional salt and pepper. Garnish with chopped fresh herbs, such as basil, oregano, thyme, rosemary, or fresh dill.
  • For a stronger garlic flavor, use 2-3 cloves garlic. If you don’t have fresh cloves of garlic, you can substitute with about ½ teaspoon garlic powder.
  • Take a shortcut and purchase a container of store-bought tzatziki sauce.
Horizontal overhead image of a tray of chicken shawarma

Tips for the Best Chicken Shawarma Recipe

  • Use either boneless, skinless chicken breasts or boneless, skinless chicken thighs for this recipe. We find that the dark meat thighs stay juicier and have more flavor, but the white meat is also fine.
  • Marinate the chicken for at least 3 hours (or up to 24 hours). This gives the spices plenty of time to penetrate the meat.
  • Be careful not to overcook your chicken. Since the total cooking time varies depending on a number of different factors (the size and thickness of your meat, the temperature of your oven or grill, and the temperature of the meat when you start cooking it), a thermometer is always the best way to know when your chicken is done. The meat is ready when it reaches an internal temperature of 165°F.
Close overhead shot of a chicken shawarma pita on a tray with yogurt sauce and veggies

More Chicken Thigh Recipes to Try

Close up side shot of a chicken shawarma pita on a tray

Chicken Shawarma {Grilled or Roasted}

Prep: 15 minutes
Cook: 33 minutes
Marinating Time 3 hours
Total: 3 hours 48 minutes
Servings 6 people
Calories 353 kcal
A family favorite! Roast or grill this easy chicken shawarma recipe, a popular Middle Eastern street food with a flavorful, garlicky marinade, soft pita bread, and a cool and creamy yogurt sauce.

Ingredients
  

FOR THE MARINADE:

  • ½ cup olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons lemon juice
  • 1 large clove garlic, minced or pressed (about 1 teaspoon)
  • 1 tablespoon cumin
  • 1 tablespoon smoked paprika
  • 1 teaspoon turmeric
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • ½ teaspoon coriander
  • ½ teaspoon cardamom
  • ¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • teaspoon allspice

FOR THE CHICKEN:

  • 2 lbs. boneless, skinless chicken thighs (or sub with chicken breast)
  • Kosher salt and ground black pepper, to taste

FOR THE TZATZIKI SAUCE (Optional, or purchase store-bought tzatziki sauce for serving):

  • 1 cup plain Greek-style yogurt
  • ½ of an English seedless cucumber, peeled, grated and squeezed dry
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • Juice from 1 lemon
  • 1 clove garlic, minced or pressed
  • 1 teaspoon minced fresh dill
  • Dash of pepper
  • Optional, for serving: cooked rice, pita bread, chopped lettuce, sliced tomato, sliced red onion, sliced olives, feta cheese, or pickled red onion, hummus

Instructions

MARINATE THE CHICKEN:

  • In a large bowl or large Ziploc bag, combine all of the marinade ingredients.
  • Season the chicken liberally on all sides with salt and pepper. Add the chicken to the marinade and toss to make sure that all of the meat is well coated. Cover the bowl or seal the bag. Refrigerate for at least 3 hours, or up to 24 hours.

PREPARE TZATZIKI SAUCE:

  • While the chicken marinates, prepare the tzatziki sauce. In a bowl, stir together the tzatziki ingredients. Cover and refrigerate until ready to serve.

GRILL THE CHICKEN:

  • Preheat your grill to high heat (about 500°F).
  • Remove the chicken from the marinade. Grill the chicken over indirect heat (with the lid closed) for 30 minutes. Move the chicken directly over the flame and continue grilling for 1 ½ minutes per side (3 more minutes total) to give the meat a nice char. Tip: Keith says to keep the thighs folded up while cooking (rather than flat) so that they cook evenly. The meat is done when the internal temperature in the thickest part of the thigh reads 165°F.

ALTERNATE METHOD — ROAST THE CHICKEN:

  • Preheat oven to 450°F. Line a large, rimmed baking sheet with foil.
  • Remove the chicken from the marinade and arrange in a single layer on the prepared baking sheet. Discard the marinade.
  • Roast the chicken for 10-13 minutes, until the meat reaches an internal temperature of 165°F. For a crispier, charred exterior, transfer the baking sheet to the broiler for another 1-2 minutes. Let the chicken rest for a few minutes on a cutting board, and then slice into strips and serve with tzatziki sauce and pita bread, rice, and other optional toppings of choice.

Notes

  • Use either boneless, skinless chicken breasts or boneless, skinless chicken thighs for this recipe. We find that the dark meat thighs stay juicier and have more flavor, but the white meat is also fine.
  • Marinate the chicken for at least 3 hours (or up to 24 hours) so that the spices have plenty of time to penetrate the meat.
  • Be careful not to overcook your chicken. Since the total cooking time will vary depending on a number of different factors (the size and thickness of your meat, the temperature of your oven or grill, and the temperature of the meat when you start cooking it), a thermometer is always the best way to know when your chicken is done. The meat is ready when it reaches an internal temperature of 165°F.
  • Serving a larger group? Double all of the ingredients.
  • Instead of the fresh lemon juice, substitute with red wine vinegar or fresh lime juice in the marinade.
  • Season the finished chicken with additional salt and pepper and plenty of chopped fresh herbs, such as basil, oregano, thyme, rosemary, or fresh dill.
  • For a stronger garlic flavor, use 2-3 cloves garlic. If you don’t have fresh cloves of garlic, you can substitute with about ½ teaspoon garlic powder.
  • Take a shortcut and purchase a container of store-bought tzatziki sauce.

Nutrition

Serving: 1/6 of the meatCalories: 353kcalCarbohydrates: 3gProtein: 30gFat: 25gSaturated Fat: 4gPolyunsaturated Fat: 3gMonounsaturated Fat: 15gTrans Fat: 0.03gCholesterol: 144mgSodium: 138mgPotassium: 435mgFiber: 1gSugar: 1gVitamin A: 659IUVitamin C: 2mgCalcium: 29mgIron: 2mg
Keyword: chicken shawarma, grilled chicken thighs, shawarma chicken
Course: Dinner
Cuisine: International, Middle Eastern
Author: Blair Lonergan
blair

Hey, I’m Blair!

Welcome to my farmhouse kitchen in the foothills of Virginia’s Blue Ridge Mountains. Inspired by local traditions and seasonal fare, you’ll find plenty of easy, comforting recipes that bring your family together around the table. It’s down-home, country-style cooking!

Read More

Square overhead shot of hands serving a chicken pot pie recipe with biscuits
Overhead image of a bowl of chili mac on a dinner table with cornbread
Hands serving a platter of sheet pan sausage and potatoes

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published.

Recipe Rating




This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.