Chicken Shawarma

EASY CHICKEN SHAWARMA RECIPE FOR WRAPS, PLATES OR BOWLS PACKED WITH FLAVOR MADE AT HOME!

Chicken Shawarma is a Middle Eastern chicken recipe that is healthy, juicy and bursting with exotic flavors that will have you drooling.  The tenderizing lemon juice, a plethora of hand-picked spices and my secret ingredient all work together to create the most dynamic chicken you ever tasted. 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!  My step-by-step tutorial and video (below) show you exactly how to make this Chicken Shawarma recipe and how to turn it into Chicken Shawarma Wraps or Bowls with roasted vegetables and hummus – all complete with Cilantro Yogurt Sauce OR Green Tahini! This Chicken Shawarma recipe is excellent for meal prep, make ahead lunch/dinners, entertaining and leftovers – all instructions included.

How to Make Chicken Shawarma Recipe Video

showing to make chicken shawarma recipe by layering flatbreads with lettuce, tomatoes, red onions and chicken

CHICKEN SHAWARMA RECIPE

I first fell in love with Chicken Shawarma on my trip to Europe years ago as it is a popular street food.  Since then, I’ve been trying to perfect this dynamic, irresistible chicken – mission accomplished.

 This Chicken Shawarma recipe is one of my all-time favorite marinades and the one I crave and make the most often.  I never get tired of the complex flavors that somehow taste new with every bite. 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. Here are just a few reasons to love this Chicken Shawarma recipe:

  • Easy.  Marinate the chicken, whip up the yogurt sauce and chop some veggies.  At this this point, you can wrap up the goods to make Chicken Shawarma Wraps or throw the veggies on a baking sheet to make Chicken Shawarma Bowls.
  • Flavor and texture.  This Chicken Shawarma recipe is every bit as delicious as your favorite restaurant – and then some.   The bold, juicy chicken, cooling creamy cilantro yogurt sauce, the fresh crisp veggies and juicy tomatoes all wrapped in warm pita bread is out of this world. And then there’s the bowls – SO good. 
  • Prep ahead.While the chicken marinates, you can prep the yogurt sauce and chop the veggies, so all you have to do is cook the chicken at dinner time, and if making bowls, just toss the veggies in the oven.
  • Meal prep or make ahead.  You can cook the chicken ahead of time then divide the ingredients between containers for meal prep or have everything ready to go at lunch or dinner time.
  • Versatile.  This is one of my favorite aspects of Chicken Shawarma.  You can serve the marinated chicken plain with whatever sides you desire or serve as wraps, bowls, or salads.  I will often make a big batch of marinated Chicken Shawarma on Sunday and serve it countless ways throughout the week.  
  • Family friendly.  Everyone can assemble their own Chicken Shawarma Wraps, plates or bowls with their favorite ingredients. 
  • Healthy.  This Chicken Shawarma recipe can be devoured guilt free and you’ll love every bite.  The chicken is so flavorful that it’s the perfect complement to fresh, roasted or sautéed veggies – and makes them taste even better.
  • Easy to double.  You can double or triple the recipe for entertaining, for purposeful leftovers or to freeze.
  • Freezer friendly.  The marinated chicken is freezer friendly for an easy make ahead dinner.  You can also freeze the pitas as well.
  • Great for entertaining. You can prep all of the wrap or salad ingredients ahead of time then just grill while your guests chat it up and then everyone can assemble their own Chicken Shawarma Wraps.  This makes YOUR life easier and THEIR wraps or salads perfect for them!

What is chicken 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. The shawarma is thinly shaved off the spit to-order and is either served on its own, or in a sandwich or wrap along with lettuce, tomatoes, red onions, cucumber and either tahini or garlic yogurt sauce.

Even though we don’t all own a rotisserie, we can still make Chicken Shawarma recipe at home, or more accurately, Shawarma-Style Chicken. To replicate this favorite, I’ve marinated chicken thighs in the same intoxicating spices, grilled and then thinly sliced.  The resulting chicken boasts a tantalizing charred exterior while the inside remains splendidly juicy and flavorful. Use the chicken in wraps, as rice bowls, in salads or sandwiches. No matter how you serve it, you will love this new easy favorite.

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!  

showing to make chicken shawarma recipe by adding chicken to rice, lettuce, tomatoes and bells to make salad bowl

What spices are in Chicken Shawarma?

Chicken Shawarma is so intensely flavorful you will find yourself making Chicken Shawarma and only Chicken Shawarma.  It immerses your taste buds in the four essential elements of cooking: salt, fat, acid, and heat 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.

What’s the difference between a gyro and Shawarma?

At first glance, a gyro and a shawarma wrap can look almost identical, so how are they different?  First of all, shawarma isn’t always a wrap; it can also be served as a plate and is specified as a “Shawarma Wrap” when wrapped in flatbread. Gyros, on the other hand, imply they are a wrap.

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 (AKA flavor!) and toppings.

The Greek gyro is primarily seasoned with a blend of lemon juice, oregano and garlic with a few additional herbs for a strong, bright lemon/oregano flavor.  Shawarma is seasoned with cumin, cardamom, turmeric, cinnamon and cloves to create a warm, earthy, smoky, pungent flavor.  

Another main distinction between Greek gyros and Chicken Shawarma Wraps are the toppings. While they both can be garnished with lettuce, red onions and tomatoes, Greek gyros are always finished off with tzatziki sauce – a yogurt-based sauce seasoned with cucumbers, garlic and dill. 

Chicken Shawarma Wraps can also be finished with a yogurt sauce but it doesn’t contain dill or cucumber, simply lemon juice and garlic; but shawarama can also be finished with hummus, or tahini.  In fact, in Israel, shawarma is almost always served with tahini because yogurt sauce would violate the Jewish dietary restriction of not eating milk and meat together.  Chicken Shawarma Wraps are also often served with pickled mangos known amba and pickled turnips. 

What is the Difference between Shawarma and Doner?

Shawarma and doner, also known as döner kebab, share many similarities. As previously discussed, Turkey invented the method of grilling stacks of meat on a spit, in fact, doner got its name from the Turkish word “dön-mek” which means “spins.” Shawarma is the Arab/Middle Eastern version of it.

Both shawarma and doner are street food made from meat shaved off of a rotisserie.  Shawarma is most typically served as wraps using flatbreads such has lavash or pitas.  The doner, however, is served as wraps, sandwiches, or with rice.  What sets the two apart is the exact method of roasting.  While shawarma is roasted on a horizontal spit, doner is cooked on a vertical rotisserie in an inverted cone shape.   

The toppings for shawarma and doner can be similar or vary – which also makes telling them apart confusing. When serving as a wrap, shawarma can be served with all sorts of toppings from simple lettuce, tomatoes and cucumbers to tahini, hummus, amba, and pickled turnips. Most often, however, it is topped with a lemon-garlic tahini sauce.

Doner is most often served with simple toppings such as tomatoes, onions, and cucumbers. etc. but in some wrap shops in Istanbul, it can be served with hot sauce, mashed potatoes and even French fries much like my favorite California Burrito. In countries such as Germany in which Turkish immigrants brought the doner kebab over, it is often served with a mayonnaise based sauce.

showing how to serve shawarma by drizzling chicken shawarma wraps with yogurt sauce

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! 

The Chicken Shawarma marinade combines:

  • extra virgin olive oil
  • lemon juice
  • balsamic vinegar
  • ground cumin
  • ground coriander
  • smoked paprika
  • ground cardamom
  • ground turmeric
  • allspice
  • garlic powder
  • onion powder
  • cayenne pepper
  • salt and pepper

I know it is a lot of spices, but they each play a crucial role in the complex flavor profile and the marinade takes just minutes to whisk together.  I love marinades because it is the easiest way to tenderize chicken and infuse otherwise boring chicken with tons of flavor. The resulting symphony of flavors ensures our shawarma – and consequently our Chicken Shawarma Wraps and Bowls – aren’t flat/one note but seeping with a chorus of robust, earthy, warm flavors.  And bonus, by marinating chicken, all the work to create a flavorful bite is already done for you when it’s time to eat.   All you have to do is cook the chicken and devour!

In addition to the spices in the marinade, both the lemon juice and balsamic infuse the chicken with FLAVOR as well as tenderize the chicken.  The balsamic isn’t a traditional ingredient, but after using it in my Greek Chicken marinade with spectacular results, I decided to try it in this Chicken Shawarma recipe.  I can attest after making the shawarma both with and with the balsamic, it is far better with and that secret ingredient that will elevate your chicken to restaurant delicious and edge out all the other shawarma recipes.

showing to make chicken shawarma into bowls by adding cumin, coriander, paprika, turmeric, cayenne, onion powder, garlic powder, salt and pepper to a bowl

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 TO SERVE CHICKEN SHAWARMA?

There are two traditional ways Chicken Shawarma is served – as Chicken Shawarma Wraps or as Chicken Shawarma Plates.  But my favorite ways to devour shawarma are non-traditional – as Shawarma Bowls and 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 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, but I prefer to roast my vegetables (instructions to follow).
  • 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.
showing to make chicken shawarma into bowls by adding chicken, roasted cauliflower, bell peppers, tomatoes and zucchini to a black bowl with rice and lettuce

INGREDIENTS FOR CHICKEN SHAWARMA WRAPS

Chicken Shawarma Wraps begin with the intoxicating marinated grilled chicken then are topped with crisp lettuce, juicy tomatoes, zippy red onions, fresh cucumbers, and fresh, cool, cilantro yogurt sauce all cocooned in warm pita bread.

FLATBREAD

There are many types of flatbreads, but for Chicken Shawarma Wraps, you want pita flatbread, which is also known as Arabic bread, Lebanese bread, or Syrian bread.  It is a soft, slightly leavened flatbread baked at high temperatures, so it puffs up in the oven.

You can make your own flatbread for the Chicken Shawarma Wraps (there are tons of recipes online) or purchase it at your grocery store or Amazon.  When purchasing flatbread, look for soft, thin pitas as opposed to pitas with pockets because the thinner flatbreads will wrap more easily.  You’ll know if the pita bread has a pocket or not because it will usually say “pocket” in the name verses “pita flat bread” or “authentic pita bread.”  I like Greca Pita brand.

VEGGIES

  • Romaine lettuce.  Use the inner leaves so they are fresh and crunchy.
  • Tomatoes. Please use ripe tomatoes for the best flavor and texture. 
  • Cucumber.  I use an English Cucumber so there is no peeling required but you can also use a slicing cucumber and peel. 
  • Red onions.  You’ll want to thinly slice the red onions for the best texture and even flavor.  Use more or less to taste.  You can also pickle the red onions – yum!

OTHER TOPPINGS

  • Hummus.  I don’t find hummus necessary with the yogurt sauce, and prefer the cooling yogurt sauce in contrast with the robust chicken so I recommend using the yogurt sauce or the yogurt sauce with hummus, but not just hummus.
  • Amba.  Is a tangy mango pickled condiment made of pickled green mangos, vinegar, salt, turmeric, chili and fenugreek.  If you can get your hands on it, it is fabulous or you can make our own.  A less traditional, accessible option would be mango chutney.
  • Pickled turnips.  Are described as the pickle of the Middle East with their vinegary bite of heat and contrasting crunch.  They can be found at some grocery stores, Asian markets and always on Amazon.  

NON TRADITONAL TOPPINGS

  • Bell peppers.  You can use red, yellow or orange bell peppers – whatever you have on hand.  They are also delicious sautéed for a minute or two OR use roasted red bell peppers – yum!
  • Olives. Kalamata olives boast a dark, rich intensely fruity flavor.
  • Chickpeas.  Roasted chickpeas tossed in some olive oil, garlic, salt, pepper and a pinch of cayenne add a fun flavor/texture pop.
  • Artichoke hearts.  I love their tanginess!  Make sure to rinse and drain if you purchase them in oil.
  • Sundried tomatoes. Same as above -rinse before using.  I also like to chop them into bite-size pieces.
  • Avocado. Their luscious creaminess is always a welcome addition.

 What Sauce 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. 

YOGURT 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.

HOW TO MAKE CHICKEN SHAWARMA

STEP 1: MARINATE CHICKEN

  • Whisk all of the Marinade ingredients together in a large bowl or freezer size plastic bag. 
  • 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. 
showing to make chicken shawarma by whisking spices together with lemon juice and olive oil to marinate chicken

STEP 2: MAKE YOGURT SAUCE

  • Make the yogurt sauce while the chicken is marinating so the flavors have time to build and meld.
  • Add Greek yogurt, cilantro, parsley, lemon juice, cumin, salt and pepper to a blender.
  • Blend until the herbs are chopped, scraping down the sides of the blender as needed. If you would like a thicker sauce stir (don’t blend) in additional yogurt.
  • Cover and chill in the refrigerator until you’re ready to assemble the Chicken Shawarma Wraps.
a collage showing to make chicken shawarma recipe by adding lemon garlic yogurt sauce ingredients (cilantro, parsley, garlic Greek yogurt) to a blender and blending until smooth

STEP 3: CHOP VEGGIES

  • At any point while the chicken is marinating and yogurt sauce is chilling, chop the lettuce, onions, tomatoes and cucumbers for the wraps, or the bell peppers, cauliflower and zucchini for the bowls. Refrigerate separately.
showing to make shawarma by chopping tomatoes, lettuce, red onions and cucumbers

STEP 4: COOK CHICKEN

  • When ready to cook, let chicken sit at room temperature for 20-30 minutes.  This will ensure the chicken cooks evenly.
  • You can grill the chicken outdoors or in a grill pan indoors, cook it in a cast iron skillet or bake per recipe instructions below. 
  • Once the chicken is cooked, wait 5-10 minutes before slicing so the juices can redistribute throughout the chicken. 
showing to make chicken shawarma recipe with a top view of grilled shawarma

STEP 5: SERVE CHICKEN SHAWARMA

  • Now the fun part! Warm the pitas in the microwave by stacking together and covering with a damp paper towel.  
  • Top warm pitas with lettuce, tomatoes, cucumbers, red onion, thinly sliced chicken, and a generous amount of yogurt sauce.
  • Alternatively, serve Chicken Shawarma recipe as plates, bowls or salads.

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 THE 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.
showing to make chicken shawarma wraps by slicing chicken shawarma thinly

HOW TO MAKE CHICKEN SHAWARMA BOWLS

Chicken Shawarma Bowls are how I most often devour my Chicken Shawarma recipe. The fragrant juicy chicken, crunchy lettuce, textural rice, and roasted juicy tomatoes, curry cauliflower, sweet bell peppers and crisp-tender zucchini – I just can’t get enough of the textures together!  You’ll start the bowls the same way as the wraps – marinate the chicken, chop the veggies and cook the chicken.  Just before you cook the chicken, start baking the veggies:

ROAST VEGETABLES

  • Preheat oven to 425 degrees F. Line a large baking jelly roll pan (15 x 21) with foil and spray with cooking spray. Add cauliflower and toss with 3 tablespoons olive oil, 1 teaspoon curry powder, ½ teaspoon salt and ¼ teaspoon pepper.   Roast for 10 minutes. 
  • Remove from oven and push cauliflower to one side of the pan.  To the other side, add bell peppers, zucchini and tomatoes.  Drizzle with 1 tablespoon olive oil, ½ teaspoon salt and ¼ teaspoon pepper.   Spread vegetables into a single layer.  Return to the oven and bake an addition 10-15 minutes depending on how crisp tender you like the vegetables.
showing to make chicken shawarma recipe by roasting cauliflower, bell peppers, tomatoes and zucchini in a pan

ASSEMBLE BOWLS

  • Layer the bowl with cooked rice or lentils, lettuce, roasted vegetables, chicken, hummus and drizzle with yogurt sauce.  The bowls are also amazing with feta, sliced almonds and avocados.
showing to make chicken shawarma into bowls by adding chicken, roasted cauliflower, bell peppers, tomatoes and zucchini to a black bowl with rice and lettuce

TIPS FOR MAKING CHICKEN SHAWARMA RECIPE

  • 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!

WHAT SHOULD I SERVE WITH CHICKEN SHAWARMA RECIPE?

Chicken Shawarma is practically a meal in itself when served as wraps or bowls stuffed with protein and veggies.  If serving as plates, the shawarma is fantastic with:

showing how to make shawarma by slicing chicken thinly and adding to a platter to serve

IS CHICKEN SHAWAWRMA 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’re looking to make your Chicken Shawarma recipe even healthier, use chicken breasts instead of chicken thighs, whole wheat pita bread or low carb flatbread like Flatout Flatbread.

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. 

CAN I PREP SHAWARMA IN ADVANCE?

Chicken Shawarma and Chicken Shawarma Wraps make excellent meal prep.  If you are meal prepping for at home, then you can easily store all of the ingredients in separate containers in the refrigerator. If you are meal prepping for on the go lunches, I consolidate the ingredients. I prefer warm Chicken Shawarma, so I divide the chicken from the fresh ingredients. Here’s how: 

  1. Divide chicken between desired number of containers. Don’t close containers until chicken has cooled.
  2. Combine lettuce, and red onions in bag and combine tomatoes, and cucumbers in their own separate plastic bags (so they don’t make other ingredients soggy) and place bags on top of chicken.  Store yogurt sauce in a bag or small container.
  3. When ready to serve, warm chicken in the microwave and then assemble the wraps.

CAN I FREEZE SHAWARMA?

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.

HOW TO REHEAT CHICKEN SHAWARMA

  • 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.

HELPFUL TOOLS TO MAKE CHICKEN SHAWARMA

  • Cast iron skillet:  A quality cast iron skillet is a must in your cooking arsenal!   It is perfect for searing and creating a deeply golden exterior on everything from roast, to pork to chicken and seamlessly transitions from the stove to the oven. I love my super high quality Staub and Le Creuset.  Their enamel interior
  • Instant-read thermometer:  you need an instant-read thermometer for the juiciest chicken, steak and pork AND for perfectly fried everything! It allows you to cook any protein to the perfect temperature every time and allows you to heat oil to the correct temperature for frying.
  • Large Jelly Roll Pan (15”L x 21:W x 1”H): I use this pan all the time for sheet pan meals and roasting vegetables.   You don’t want your veggies to overlap or they will steam instead of caramelize.  This pan is commercial grade, 18-gauge aluminum for great strength and durability and can hold your heaviest food without warping.
  • Quality Knives: a chef’s knife will be your most used kitchen tool by far!  Quality knives make prep time much quicker and are important for safety as well.  If you’re concerned about moola, please remember that your best chef knives, depending on how hard you use them and how well you take care of them, can easily last 25 years or more. I love my Wusthof but there are hundreds of less expensive knives with great reviews such as this one.
  • Cutting Board:  I use my big solid cutting board daily so it’s worth the investment.  This extra-large cutting board allows you to prep all your veggies on one surface and the bamboo is easier on knives than plastic.
showing to make chicken shawarma recipe by wrapping chicken, cucumbers, tomatoes and red onions in a flatbread

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Chicken Shawarma

Chicken Shawarma is a Middle Eastern chicken recipe that is healthy, juicy and bursting with exotic flavors that will have you drooling. The tenderizing lemon juice, a plethora of hand-picked spices and my secret ingredient all work together to create the most dynamic chicken you ever tasted. 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! My step-by-step tutorial and video (below) show you exactly how to make the chicken marinade and how to turn it into Chicken Shawarma Wraps or Bowls with roasted vegetables – all complete with Cilantro Yogurt Sauce OR Green Tahini! This Chicken Shawarma recipe is excellent for meal prep, make ahead lunch/dinners, entertaining and leftovers – all instructions included.
Servings: 6 -8 wraps

Ingredients

CHICKEN MARINADE

  • 2 pounds boneless skinless chicken thighs pounded to an even thickness
  • 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons lemon juice
  • 1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
  • 1 TBS EACH ground cumin, ground coriander
  • 2 tsp EACH smoked paprika, ground cardamom, salt
  • 1 tsp EACH garlic powder, onion powder, ground turmeric
  • 1/2 tsp EACH cayenne pepper, allspice, pepper

CILANTRO YOGURT SAUCE

  • 1 cup Greek yogurt
  • 1/3 cup packed cilantro
  • 1/3 cup packed parsley
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 2 tablespoons lemon juice
  • 1/2 tsp EACH ground cumin, salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon pepper

FOR WRAPS

  • 6-8 pitas
  • Romaine lettuce chopped
  • Roma tomatoes sliced
  • cucumbers thinly sliced
  • red onions thinly sliced
  • 1 recipe hummus (or store-bought, optional)
  • amba optitonal
  • pickled turnipis optitonal

Instructions

MARINATE CHICKEN

  • Whisk all of the Marinade ingredients together in a large bowl or freezer size plastic bag. Add chicken and turn to coat. Marinate in the refrigerator 8 to 24 hours. Let chicken sit at room temperature for 20-30 minutes before cooking.

YOGURT SAUCE

  • Make the yogurt sauce and prep your toppings while the chicken is marinating. Add all of the Sauce Ingredients to a blender and blend until the herbs are chopped, scraping down the sides of the blender as needed. If you would like a thicker sauce stir (don’t blend) in additional yogurt. Cover and chill in the refrigerator until you’re ready to serve.

HOW TO COOK CHICKEN ON THE 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 ON THE GRILL

  • Grease and preheat the grill to medium 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 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.

ASSEMBLE WRAPS

  • Top warmed pitas with lettuce, tomatoes, cucumbers, red onions, chicken and Cilantro Yogurt Sauce.

Video

Notes

Don’t miss the “how to make” recipe video at the top of the post!

HOW TO MAKE BOWLS

You’ll start the bowls the same way as the wraps by marinating the chicken, making the sauce and chopping the below veggies. Just before you cook the chicken, start baking the veggies.

INGREDIENTS FOR BOWLS

  • rice or lentils
  • chopped romaine lettuce
  • 1 head cauliflower chopped into florets
  • 2 bell peppers (red, orange or yellow) sliced 1/2-inch thick
  • 1 medium zucchini, halved and sliced 1/4-inch thick
  • 1 pint cherry tomatoes
  • olive oil
  • curry powder
  • salt and pepper

INSTRUCTIONS

  • Preheat oven to 425 degrees F. Line a large jelly roll pan (15 x 21) with foil and spray with cooking spray. Add cauliflower and toss with 3 tablespoons olive oil, 1 teaspoon curry powder, ½ teaspoon salt and ¼ teaspoon pepper.   Roast for 10 minutes.
  • Remove from oven and push cauliflower to one side of the pan.  To the other side, add bell peppers, zucchini and tomatoes.  Drizzle with 1 tablespoon olive oil, ½ teaspoon salt and ¼ teaspoon pepper and toss to coat.
  • Spread vegetables into a single layer.  Return to the oven and bake an addition 10-15 minutes depending on how crisp tender you like the vegetables.
  • Layer the bowls with cooked rice or lentils, lettuce, roasted vegetables, chicken and drizzle with yogurt sauce.  The bowls are also amazing with feta, sliced almonds and avocados.

GREEN 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 cup tahini and about ¼ cup olive oil and ¼ cup water, more or less to reach desired consistency.

TIPS AND TRICKS

  • 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!

STORAGE & HOW TO REHEAT

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. 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.

PREP AHEAD

Chicken Shawarma and Chicken Shawarma Wraps make excellent meal prep.  If you are meal prepping for at home, then you can easily store all of the ingredients in separate containers in the refrigerator. If you are meal prepping for on the go lunches, I consolidate the ingredients. I prefer warm Chicken Shawarma, so I divide the chicken from the fresh ingredients. Here’s how:
  1. Divide chicken between desired number of containers. Don’t close containers until chicken has cooled.
  2. Combine lettuce, and red onions in bag and combine tomatoes, and cucumbers in their own separate plastic bags (so they don’t make other ingredients soggy) and place bags on top of chicken.  Store yogurt sauce in a bag or small container.
  3. When ready to serve, warm chicken in the microwave and then assemble the wraps.

HOW TO FREEZE 

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.

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28 Comments

  1. Natalie says

    We have a fire pit with a rotisserie. If I used your recipe with a whole chicken what would the cook time be? Thanks

    • Jen says

      That is awesome! I have honestly never done it before so I would google instructions. Enjoy!

  2. Naomi says

    This looks delicious! My husband likes wraps and I like salads, so this will be perfect for us. We always have chicken in the freezer and this will be a nice change. Can’t wait to try it!
    Jen, I hope that you are well and will be safe during this “sheltering in place” duration.

    • Jen says

      I’m so pleased this fits the bill for both you and your husband – I’m excited for you to try it! I am definitely hibernating during this crazy time and praying hard! Thank you so much for your concern and kind words. I pray safety upon your family as well!

  3. Heather says

    Yay! Thanks so much for putting out this recipe! I’m SO excited to try it!!!!

    • Jen says

      You’re so welcome – I can’t wait to hear what you think! It’s one of my absolute favs!

  4. Annette says

    Oh man, these sound fabulous!!!!

    However, there are 2 members of my family who have that weird “cilantro tastes like soap and even the smallest amount immediately ruins everything” issue.

    So, for the yogurt sauce, what should I substitute it with – dill? That brings it back into Greek, but I will be adding Kalamata olives because, well, olives. So maybe the dill would be ok?

    Thank you so much! We love all your stuff!

    • Jen says

      haha! I totally get it – it’s definitely a real genetic disposition. You can just use 1/2 cup parsley and leave the cilantro out or add 1 tablespoon chopped dill (you don’t need much). It’s totally fine to mix cuisines in my book! You could even serve with my tzatziki sauce: https://carlsbadcravings.com/tzatziki/

  5. Carolyn says

    This looks wonderful, Jen! Once I go through my stockpile of food I will give this a try — your recipes have never let me down and I’m always looking for another reason to grill chicken thighs!

    If you’re ever visiting SLC be sure to try Curry Fried Chicken at 660 South State, their Shawarma wraps are wonderful, as is everything else we have tried there. Plus you get to watch Bollywood while you’re eating 🙂

    • Jen says

      Thank you so much Carolyn, I’m excited for you to try it and see how it compares! SLC has so many great restaurants – I’ll definitely have to give that one a try – thank you!

  6. Margaret says

    We made these for dinner last night and they were so flavorful and delicious! I will be using the leftover chicken for the bowls next. We will be making this again soon! Thanks for the recipe!

    • Jen says

      You’re so welcome Margaret, I’m so pleased they were a winner!

  7. Laura says

    Loved this! Both the chicken marinade and the cilantro yogurt sauce were delicious. Devoured by family, not a drop left, fighting to scrape the last drop of yogurt sauce from the bowl. Great, distinct flavors. Thank you, Jen, for another great recipe.

    • Jen says

      Thank you for your awesome comment Laura! I LOVE hearing how much your entire family loved this Chicken Shawarma!

  8. Stephanie says

    Grilled this chicken last night and so glad I doubled the recipe for leftovers! Used chicken breast pounded thin, the chicken was so tender and the marinade was like a thick decadent paste that stayed on during grilling for so much juicy flavor. Just plated the sliced chicken and served with the herb yogurt sauce, your lemon rice recipe which was a perfect side dish and some veggies. Will use the leftovers for round 2 in wraps. This was so delicious the kids went back for seconds. We love your recipes so much.

    • Jen says

      Thank you for always making my day Stephanie! I’m so pleased this Chicken Shawarma was a winner with everyone and I love that you doubled the recipe for leftovers – smart women!

  9. Carole says

    I made this for my family, and no one wanted to share! An immediate favorite that we will be making often. Thank you

    • Jen says

      Yessss! I LOVE hearing this Chicken Shawarma was such a hit with the entire family, thank you!

  10. Rebekah says

    These were so delicious! I made homemade naan to wrap them in. I also pickled the red onions, and we felt like the tanginess really complemented the cilantro-yogurt sauce. It was the perfect summer meal! Will definitely be making again.

    • Jen says

      Thanks so much Rebekah, I’m so pleased you loved this chicken shawarma and your homemade naan and pickled red onions sound fantastic!

  11. Theresa says

    These wraps were perfect for a light dinner on a very hot and humid evening. My husband said this went to the top of his list of favorites. Looking forward to trying the bowl recipe next. Thank you!

    • Jen says

      You’re so welcome Theresa! I’m honored this made the list of favorites!

  12. Joddi says

    Another amazing recipe! Thank you! These were delicious and so easy!

    • Jen says

      You’re so welcome Joddi! I’m so happy they were a hit! Thanks for taking the time to comment!

  13. Willis says

    I’m using chicken breast. Can they marinate for longer than 24 hours?

    • Jen says

      I would not marinate chicken breasts longer than 24 hours as you run the risk of them becoming mushy. Sorry!

  14. Teresa says

    I only had 5 hours to marinade and didn’t have coriander,…… OMG the chicken was absolutely the best… tender, flavorful, and delicious. I’m afraid to make it the “correct” way. How could it be better? Thank you for sharing this recipe.

    • Jen says

      LOL! I’m thrilled you loved it so much Teresa! Thank you!