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BBQ Without Borders: Xinjiang Lamb Skewers

xinjiang lamb skewers bbq barbecue

When looking for a satisfying late-night snack, nothing beats the savory taste of grilled meat served in manageable bite sizes along with a cold, refreshing beer. As it were, this is the best way to describe Xinjiang Lamb Skewers, a type of BBQ that comes to us all the way from China and represents one of the country’s most-beloved street-side foods.

Served straight off the grill and accompanied by a crackling sizzle, Xinjiang Lamb Skewers have become well-known throughout China. As much as it has become a staple of the back alleys surrounding Beijing, this barbecue actually originated from China’s West.  Also known as spicy lamb skewers or Chinese lamb skewers, this recipe comes from the area’s Uighur population and showcases their culture’s love of spices.

The appeal of these lamb skewers comes down to their simplicity. Simple ingredients, simple cooking technique, simple enjoyment. Best of all, Xinjiang Lamb Skewers are something you could make at home yourself!

What type of grill is needed to make Xinjiang Lamb Skewers?

Chinese lamb skewers are a very versatile BBQ food that can be made on just about any kind of grill; in fact, they can even be made in your oven as long as you use a rack to hold the skewers. They can be made without hassle on your backyard grill, giving your home access to this exotic treat! 

What are Xinjiang Lamb Skewers?

Xinjiang Lamb Skewers are small cubes of lamb meat that are assembled on a skewer and then barbecued over a small grill. Each skewer is made to be around half a foot long and is able to hold 4 to 5 pieces of lamb. Despite this small serving size, Xinjiang Lamb Skewers are commonly consumed in large quantities; the small size makes them easier to cook in batches, and are designed to be served sizzling hot right off the grill.

What’s so special about a traditional Xinjiang BBQ?

With a rectangular body measuring about 5″ deep and over 2′ wide, the traditional barbecue used for making Xinjiang Lamb Skewers is a unique device. Capable of producing dozens of skewers every few minutes, the traditional Xinjiang BBQ has the distinction of not having a grill; instead, the skewers sit on the edges of the barbecue pit as their meat cook in the middle.

The secret behind this BBQ is to designate different zones for cooking:

  • First, there is a single layer of coals to allow for regular cooking; 
  • Then, to one side, is the hot zone where the BBQ lamb receive their searing; 
  • Lastly, there is a cool-off zone without active coals where the food can rest before being served.   

One important note to make about this type of cooking is that flare-ups are common. Stand back if the fat from the lamb drips onto the hot coals below! At the same time, the resulting smokiness remains a heady flavor that can be tasted in the finished product.

How can I make Xinjiang Lamb Skewers at home?

The basics are things that you’ve probably figured out by now: a BBQ (preferably charcoal), skewers, lamb cut into small 1/2″ chunks. You’ll also need cumin and chili powder, and a lot of it. From the marinating to the barbecuing, you’ll need to sprinkle copious amounts of these essential spices onto the skewers, giving them the life and vitality that make them so beloved.

Pro Tip:

  • To overcome their leanness, the traditional way to prepare Xinjiang Lamb Skewers is to attach a thin piece of lamb fat in between each piece on the skewer. As the meat cooks, the fat melts away, adding additional flavor to the skewer.
For best results, use a ThermoPro meat thermometer to ensure your cooked food is safe and ready to eat.

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