I'm wondering about the origin of souvlaki. Was it only something of a convenience (easy to cook lots of pieces together)? Or does this way of grilling lead to better results, as opposed to just placing the pieces on the grill? If the latter (at least for some type of meat), how is it justified that it leads to better results (e.g., small pieces, rotating)?

Also, you would expect that puncturing the meats makes it easier to lose its juices, but it doesn't seem to be the case.

  • Placing small pieces of meat on a grill seems like a good way for them to end up in the fire. Does grill mean something different to you than to me?
    – Cascabel
    Jul 10, 2015 at 17:45
  • @Jefromi probably different meaning. I meant this encrypted-tbn2.gstatic.com/… Jul 10, 2015 at 17:55
  • Nope, that's what I'm talking about. It's not solid, so small things can fall through. Even the asparagus there looks like a kind of bad idea. Nudge it to the side, it'll catch on the grate, end up lined up, and easily fall through. I don't know if that's the kind of grill people were using when souvlaki was invented, so it's not really a full answer to your question. I was just surprised to see you asking why you wouldn't just throw little pieces on the grill.
    – Cascabel
    Jul 10, 2015 at 17:57
  • @Jefromi there are other ways to ensure they don't fall off, like this: firestuff.gr/Portals/0/productimages/242_03444.jpg. This for example is typically used for ribs, pork steaks, kebabs, in Greece and other countries. But I'm mostly interested on why grill the meat pieces on a stick (just convienence, better cooking, more even,...). Jul 10, 2015 at 18:04

2 Answers 2


Historically, the practice of skewering meat had several advantages over building a rotisserie and cooking a single large piece of meat. Think about the advantages of cooking over a primitive camp fire, rather than a modern grill:

  • Cooks quicker, saving time but more importantly fuel for the fire (think desert or other difficult terrain)
  • Did not require plates or forks and knives to carry around if you were nomadic
  • Still cooks over a spit so can avoid falling into the coals

These days there are some other more modern advantages like:

  • Can use cheaper, tougher cuts effectively
  • Marinates/brines faster
  • Makes it easier to turn or flip on a grill
  • Skewers are fun

Puncturing the meat prior to cooking does not cause a large loss of meat juice during the grilling process. Maybe if you removed the meat from the skewer immediately after taking it off the grill you would lose more juice than had you never skewered the meat at all, but it's not like the original puncture will expose the center of the meat and allow everything to spill out. Leaving meat on the skewer to rest will be as effective as grilling a single unpunctured piece of meat.

  • Agreed - just the fact that it holds the meat out of the fire seems like more than enough reason to me. You might want to also address the losing juices part, though it's not really a big deal. (It just... isn't an issue. Meat isn't a bag of water that all leaks out when it gets punctured.)
    – Cascabel
    Jul 10, 2015 at 19:37

When you say "place the pieces on the grill", you seem to be missing the concept that a lot of kebabs aren't actually grilled on what we call a "grill" in America (and a lot of the world)... meaning a open surface like the one you posted an image of:

Grill image

When I've seen "grills" they are simply open coal spaces with a rack for holding the skewers, so the meat is suspended directly over the coals and the skewers are required for holding them up. Here are some images of this sort of grill.

This one's a really old style: Really old style Grill

The ancient Mycenaeans have a reputation as palace-builders and warriors, but they were also quite sophisticated cooks. More than 3,000 years ago, they used portable grill pits to make souvlaki and non-stick pans to make bread, new cooking experiments suggest. [...]

The Mycenaeans left behind amazing palaces and gold-littered tombs at sites like Pylos and Mycenae, but in these places, archaeologists also have found less glamorous artifacts, such as souvlaki trays and griddles made from gritty clays.

The souvlaki trays were rectangular ceramic pans that sat underneath skewers of meat. Scientists weren't sure whether these trays would have been placed directly over a fire, catching fat drippings from the meat, or if the pans would have held hot coals like a portable barbeque pit. The round griddles, meanwhile, had one smooth side and one side covered with tiny holes, and archaeologists have debated which side would have been facing up during cooking.

This one is mechanical and will actually turn the spits for you while it cooks: Modern style grill

So, as you can see, without the sticks, you'd be putting the meat directly in the coals, and no one wants that!

  • You certainly also see grills with a metal grate over them too in countries from the Balkan and Black Sea regions, after all you need a way to grill pirzolas and keftes too. So I don't know if this type of grateless grill was the cause or the consequence of souvlaki popularity. Still, good point.
    – rumtscho
    Jul 10, 2015 at 22:22
  • All that said, skewers are very helpful even on a modern grill!
    – Cascabel
    Jul 10, 2015 at 22:30
  • As @rumtscho says, we do use metal grate for other stuff (sheftalia, kebab). And we do use a rotating mechanism (electrical) and that's why I tend to think its a matter of convenience. Jul 11, 2015 at 8:14

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