shashlyk recipe history culture origin

Shashlyk prepared to be eaten with traditional tkemali sauce.

All About Shashlyk (BBQ from the Caucasus)

Published: August 4, 2018

Shashlyk (шашлык) is considered to be one of the very first dishes humans invented and most likely hails from the place the first modern human likely appeared – the area covering Iran, Iraq, Lebanon, and the Caucasus.

How “Shashlyk” Got Its Name

(Почему он так называется?)

The word “шашлык” was adopted into Russian in the 18th century. It may have come from Crimean Tartar. In that language “шыш” means “piece” and “шышлык” means “in pieces.”

However, it may also have come from Turkish where “шыш” is a skewer and “шышлык” is something on the skewer.

Interestingly, both languages are related to Persian, from where English adopted the phrase “shish kabab.” From Persian, this translates to “pieces of roasted meat.”

Shashlyk was eaten in Russia before the 18th century, but was most often called “верчёное мясо” which basically means “rotated meat” and was called so because it was usually roasted “на вертеле” (on a spit). Today, shashlyk is most often cooked on skewers, which Russians call “шампуры.”

There is evidence to suggest that “шампур” is related to the word “шомпол,” or “ramrod,” as that is what soldiers would often use as skewers to cook their meat in the field.

shashlyk recipe history culture origin
Classic pork shashlyk being cooked over coals.

How and When to Eat Shashlyk

(Как правильно есть шашлык?)

Shashlyk is most traditionally made from lamb. The best cuts to use are нога “барана” (leg of lamb), “печень” (liver), and “почка” (kidney). “Говяжья вырезка” (beef tenderloin) and “телятина” (veal) are also considered traditional. However, today shashlyk is most often made from “свинина” (pork), probably because it is naturally “сочная” (juicy) and relatively “недорогая” (inexpensive).

Shashlyk is a national tradition in Russia and its cooks can be as passionate as barbequers in the US.

Shashlyk is occasionally made from more exotic meats such as “птица” (poultry) or “рыба” (fish). To better enhance the flavor, “лук” (onions), “помидоры” (tomatoes), “баклажаны” (eggplants), and/or “грибы” (mushrooms) are sometimes cooked on the skewers with the meat.

shashlyk recipe history culture origin
Raw shashlyk prepared with spices and vegetables.

For many people in Russia, shashlyk is not just a dish, but an event. Shashlyk is best prepared and eaten “на улице” (outside) or “на природе” (outdoors, such as when camping) with family and friends and especially on occasions such as birthdays or holidays. It is usually prepared by men who, as a rule, are reluctant to entrust the important process to women. While the shashlyk is being cooked, those gathered talk, joke, and wait for it as the “grand finale.” Usually there is bread and “салаты” (salads) as well, usually prepared by the women. The meal proceeds slowly with toasts and conversation that can last well into the night.

Drinking a lot of alcohol with shashlyk is not recommended; it is best with “немного сухого или полусухого вина” (a little dry or semidry wine) or “немного водки” (a little vodka). “Пиво” (beer) is not recommended by aficionados as it can overpower the taste of the shashlyk. A lot of vodka is also not recommended, as “после этого, никто ничего не чувствует” (after that, nobody feels anything).

How to Prepare Shashlyk

(Как правильно готовить шашлык?)

The meat should be “свежее” (fresh), never “замороженное” (frozen). Ideally, the meat should still be “на кости” (on the bone). “Шейка” (neck meat), “ребра” (ribs), and “корейка” (brisket) are generally good choices.

For beginning Shashlyk makers, try neck meat or “курица“(chicken). Both of these are fairly forgiving, cook quickly and generally stay tender.

shashlyk recipe history culture origin
Shashlyk cooked with improvised means. Note the color and quality of the ideal coals beneath the meat.

Cut the meat into cubes of about one to two inches. “Мясо нужно мариновать” (the meat needs to be marinated) “от двух часов до суток” (for two to 24 hours).

First, “пересыпать мясо крупной солью” (sprinkle the meat with coarse salt). This will absorb the excess juices and add flavor. Now, “пересыпать крупными размятыми горошками перца” (sprinkle the meat with coarsely ground pepper), and then finally add onion slices. If the meat is fresh, this will suffice for the “маринад” (marinade).

You can also then add almost any “кислые жидкости” (acidic liquids) as additional marinade. “Вино” (wine), “лимонный сок” (lemon juice), “гранатовый сок” (pomegranate juice), and “кислое молоко” (sour milk) are some good choices.

Never marinate in an aluminum pot: the aluminum oxide the meat absorbs from the pot can be toxic.

Shashlyk should be cooked on a fire made from “лиственных пород деревьев” (hardwood). “Виноградные лозы” (grapevines) can also be burned to make excellent shashlyk. Much of the street shashlyk in Russia is cooked over “уголь” (coal – not charcoal), which is also delicious.

There should be no fire under the meat, only white-hot embers. Allow the fire to burn through the fuel, then stir the embers to evenly spread them (and the heat). Now, place the meat above the heat, at a distance of about six inches.

Rotate the skewers frequently, but keep them close together so that the meat traps the smoke underneath.

Let’s Cook!

(Давай приготовим!)

See below for a free recipe for shashlyk. See also the free videos online. If you are interested in cooking from Russia, Ukraine, Georgia, and other places in Eurasia, make sure to see our other resources! You might also be interested in the following specialized cookbooks we’ve enjoyed:

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Шашлык классический Classic Shashlyk
  • 1 кг баранины,
  • 5–6 луковиц,
  • 1 пучок зелёного лука,
  • 3–4 помидора,
  • крупная соль
  • перец горошком
  • 1 лимон,
  • зелень – по вкусу.


  1. Корейку или заднюю ногу баранины нарезать кусками, сложить в посуду, посолить, посыпать молотым перцем, добавить мелко нарезанный репчатый лук, лимонный сок и перемешать. Посуду накрыть крышкой и на 2–3 часа поместить в холодное место для маринования.
  2. Куски мяса нанизать на металлический вертел вперемежку с репчатым луком, нарезанным кольцами.
  3. Жарить шашлык на мангале над горячими углями без пламени 10–15 минут, поворачивая вертел так, чтобы мясо равномерно прожаривалось.
  4. На гарнир подать зелёный лук, нарезанный кольцами лимон, соус ткемали, помидоры.
  • 1kg of lamb (pork, chicken, beef)
  • 5-6 onions
  • 1 bunch of green onions
  • 3-4 tomatoes
  • Coarse salt
  • Coarse pepper
  • 1 lemon
  • Fresh herbs (to taste)


  1. Cut the brisket or leg of lamb into cubes, place them in a dish, sprinkle with salt and pepper, add finely chopped white onion and lemon juice and mix well. Cover the dish and let it marinate in a cool place for 2-3 hours.
  2. Place meat pieces on metal skewers, interspersed with slices of white onion.
  3. Cook the shashlyk over hot coals with no flames for 10-15 minutes, turning the skewers so that the meat is evenly cooked.
  4. For garnish, serve with green onions, fresh herbs, lemon slices, tkemali sauce,* and/or tomatoes.

*tkemali sauce is a traditional sauce from Georgia made with cherry plums, pepper, and spices. If you can’t find any, spicy ketchup can also be used.

Шашлык из курицы с острым соусом Chicken Shashlyk with Spicy Sauce
  • курица — 1 кг.
  • масло растительное —50 гр.
  • уксус виноградный —40 гр.
  • лук репчатый —2 шт.
  • перец чёрный и красный молотый — по вкусу
  • соль — по вкусу


  1. Курочку разрезать на одинаковые куски по 60 грамм, сложить в посуду, добавить мелко нашинкованный лук, чёрный и красный молотый перец, соль, виноградный (винный) уксус и оставить мариноваться в прохладном месте 2-3 часа. Затем нанизать кусочки мяса на шампуры и жарить над раскалёнными углями, смазывая шашлык растительным маслом и сбрызгивая оставшимся маринадом.
  2. К шашлыку приготовить острый соус, смешав сметану, толчёный чеснок, аджику и томатную пасту. Подать шашлык горячим на блюде, а соус отдельно в соуснике.
  • 1kg chicken
  • 50 grams cooking oil
  • 40 grams wine vinegar
  • 2 onions
  • Red and black ground pepper (to taste)
  • Salt (to taste)


  1. Cut chicken into 60-gram pieces, place them in a dish with finely chopped onion, red and black ground pepper, salt, and wine vinegar and let it marinate in a cool place for 2-3 hours. Then, place the pieces on skewers and cook over white-hot coals, intermittently brushing them with cooking oil and the rest of the marinade.
  2. To make the spicy sauce, mix sour cream, crushed garlic, adjika sauce,* and tomato paste. Serve the shashlyk hot on a platter and the sauce in a separate dish.

*Adjika is a traditional Georgian sauce made with tomatoes, peppers, and spices. If you can’t locate any, try Frank’s Red Hot or a smooth salsa.

Our Favorite Shashlyk Videos

An excellent way to make shashlyk – from an English-speaking woman from Latvia.


This Persian-style shashlyk goes a bit more exotic on the spices…


Galileo, a Russian popular science show, investigates the science of making good shashlyk.

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About the author

Josh Wilson

Josh Wilson

Josh lived in Moscow from 2003, when he first arrived to study Russian with SRAS, until 2022. He holds an M.A. in Theatre and a B.A. in History from Idaho State University, where his masters thesis was written on the political economy of Soviet-era censorship organs affecting the stage. At SRAS, Josh assists in program development and leads our Internship Programs. He is also the editor-in-chief for the SRAS newsletter, the SRAS Family of Sites, and Vestnik. He has previously served as Communications Director to Bellerage Alinga and has served as a consultant or translator to several businesses and organizations with interests in Russia.

Program attended: SRAS Staff Member

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Andrei Nesterov

Andrei Nesterov

Andrei Nesterov leads SRAS' Research Services, performing remote archive research and consultations for researchers around the globe. Andrei graduated from Ural State University (journalism) and Irkutsk State Linguistic University (English). He also studied public policy and journalism at Duke University on a Muskie Fellowship and taught Russian at West Virginia University. As a journalist, he has reported in both Russian and English language outlets and has years of archival research experience. He has travelled Russia extensively and penned many stories on the “real Russia” which lies beyond the capital and major cities. Andrei also contributes news, feature stories, and language resources to the SRAS Family of Sites.

Program attended: SRAS Staff Member

View all posts by: Andrei Nesterov