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Kebab vs. Shawarma: What's the Difference?

Edited by Aimie Carlson || By Janet White || Updated on October 22, 2023
Kebab generally refers to skewered, grilled meat, while Shawarma is a Middle Eastern dish made of thinly sliced, seasoned meat that is stacked in a cone-like shape and roasted on a slowly-turning vertical rotisserie.

Key Differences

Kebab, which traces its origins to Middle Eastern cuisine, typically consists of various meats that are marinated, skewered, and then grilled to perfection. Shawarma, on the other hand, while similarly boasting roots in Middle Eastern culinary traditions, involves stacking seasoned meat slices on a vertical rotisserie, which then turns and cooks the meat with radiant heat. Although both dishes utilize meat as their primary ingredient, the preparation, cooking method, and presentation significantly differ.
In terms of ingredients, Kebab, encompassing a wide variety of meats such as chicken, beef, or lamb, tends to be somewhat more versatile. Shawarma traditionally focuses on lamb but has seen variations including chicken, beef, and turkey. While both Kebab and Shawarma use meat, their respective marinations and seasoning profiles distinctly vary, with Shawarma often incorporating a blend of warming Middle Eastern spices and Kebab being more adaptable to regional interpretations.
In terms of serving style, Kebabs are often presented on the skewer or removed and served alongside rice or inside a flatbread. Shawarma, conversely, is often shaved off the rotisserie and typically served in a pita or other type of flatbread, sometimes being adorned with various sauces and vegetables. Both Kebab and Shawarma can be enjoyed with an array of side dishes or condiments, yet the traditional presentations contrast notably.
When considering vegetarian alternatives, certain Kebab variations allow for vegetables to be the star, with mushrooms, potatoes, and paneer (a type of Indian cheese) often taking the place of meat. Shawarma, though traditionally a meat-centric dish, has inspired vegetarian and vegan versions utilizing tofu, seitan, or jackfruit in lieu of the standard meat, adapting to the diverse dietary preferences present in today's culinary landscape.
From a global perspective, the Kebab has permeated various cultures, adapting to local tastes and available ingredients, resulting in a plethora of variations, from the shish kebab of Turkey to the spiced seekh kebabs of India. Shawarma, whilst still deeply embedded in Middle Eastern culinary traditions, has also found global recognition, being particularly appreciated in Western fast-food culture. Both dishes, though rooted in specific regions, have successfully transcended borders, being embraced and reinvented by diverse cultures worldwide.

Comparison Chart

Cooking Method

Grilled on skewers.
Cooked on a vertical rotisserie.

Serving Style

On skewers or with rice/flatbread.
Sliced, often in a pita or wrap.

Traditional Meats

Varied: beef, chicken, lamb.
Traditionally lamb, also chicken.

Vegetarian Options

Often available (e.g., vegetable, paneer kebabs).
Less common, but available (tofu, seitan).

Global Variations

Extensive, adapted to many cuisines.
Widely recognized, less varied.

Kebab and Shawarma Definitions


A fast-food dish often enjoyed after a night out in many Western countries.
They stopped at a food stall for a kebab before heading home.


Often served inside a flatbread, such as pita, frequently accompanied by tahini.
The shawarma was delicious, with a generous drizzle of tahini.


A metaphor or slang in online gaming, meaning to skewer or defeat multiple enemies in a row.
With a swift move, he managed to kebab three opponents.


A popular fast-food item in various countries, including a number outside the Middle East.
Shawarma stands in the city offer a variety of toppings.


A term used in various cultures, with variations including shish kebab, seekh kebab, and doner kebab.
The menu featured a seekh kebab as a special today.


A Middle Eastern dish of thinly sliced, seasoned meat cooked on a vertical rotisserie.
I ordered a chicken shawarma wrap for lunch.


A dish of pieces of meat, fish, or vegetables roasted or grilled on a skewer or spit.
He ordered a kebab with a side of rice and salad.


Sometimes compared to or confused with the Greek gyro, though the spices and preparation differ.
While similar to a gyro, the shawarma has its unique blend of spices.


A culinary method that involves grilling or roasting the ingredients, often served with flatbreads.
The kebab was cooked to perfection, with a slightly charred exterior.


Has inspired various adaptations, including vegetarian and vegan versions.
The vegan shawarma made with jackfruit was surprisingly meaty and flavorful.


Shish kebab.


Meat, especially beef, chicken, or lamb, that is marinated, roasted slowly on a spit, and cut in thin slices, often wrapped in pita bread and served with various vegetables and tahini sauce.


(British) A dish of pieces of meat, fish, or vegetables roasted on a skewer or spit, especially a doner kebab.


A Middle Eastern sandwich-like wrap of shaved lamb, goat, chicken, turkey, beef, or a mixture of these.


(AU) A hand-held dish consisting of pieces of meat roasted on an upright skewer mixed with fresh vegetables and sauces and rolled up in a round piece of unleavened bread.


(US) A shish kebab or any other food on a skewer.


A restaurant that sells kebabs
Let's go to the kebab after the club.


(chemistry) The outward growing portions of a shish kebab structure.


A Muslim, usually of southern European, Middle Eastern, or North African descent.


The vulva.


(GUI) menu icon of three vertical dots


(transitive) To roast in the style of a kebab


To stab or skewer


See kabab and kabob.


Cubes of meat marinated and cooked on a skewer usually with vegetables


Where did kebabs originate?

The concept of skewering and grilling meat is ancient and widespread, but kebabs are often associated with Middle Eastern, Mediterranean, and Central Asian cuisines.

What is shawarma?

Shawarma is a Middle Eastern dish made of thinly sliced marinated meat (often lamb, chicken, or beef) that is stacked in a cone shape and roasted on a slowly-turning vertical rotisserie or spit.

Are there vegetarian versions of kebabs?

Yes, there are various vegetarian kebabs made using paneer (Indian cheese), mushrooms, or even mixed vegetables.

Is shawarma similar to the Greek gyros?

Yes, both dishes involve stacking seasoned meat that's roasted on a vertical spit, but they differ in spices and serving styles.

What's the primary difference between kebab and shawarma in terms of preparation?

Kebabs are typically skewered chunks or minced meat that are grilled, while shawarma is layers of thinly-sliced meat roasted on a vertical rotisserie.

What are some popular types of kebabs?

Some popular kebabs include Shish Kebab (skewered meat chunks), Doner Kebab (sliced meat from a rotisserie), and Kofta Kebab (grilled ground meat).

Is shawarma a type of kebab?

While both involve grilled meat, they are distinct dishes. However, shawarma can be considered a type of rotating kebab.

What kind of bread is traditionally served with shawarma?

Shawarma is often served with pita or laffa bread.

What is a kebab?

A kebab typically refers to skewered and grilled or roasted meat, which can be served on the skewer, in bread, or on a plate.

Why is it called a "kebab"?

The term "kebab" is derived from Arabic "kabāb", which means "to fry" or "to burn".

Can shawarma be made with fish?

While less common, there are versions of shawarma made with fish, especially in coastal areas.

Is shawarma spicy?

Shawarma can be spicy depending on the marinade and spices used, but it's generally flavorful rather than overly hot.

Is it necessary for shawarma to be cooked on a vertical rotisserie?

Traditional shawarma is cooked on a vertical rotisserie, but there are adaptations using ovens or grills for a similar effect.

Do all kebabs use skewers?

While many types of kebabs are skewered, not all require skewers. For instance, Chapli Kebab is a type of patty that's not skewered.

What types of meat are commonly used for kebabs?

Common meats for kebabs include lamb, beef, chicken, and fish, though the specific meat can vary by region.

Are kebabs healthy?

Like any dish, the healthiness of a kebab depends on its preparation. Grilled lean meats with vegetables can be healthy, but heavily marinated or fried versions might be less so.

Are kebabs always made of meat?

While traditionally made of meat, there are vegetarian and vegan kebab versions using alternatives like tofu, seitan, or vegetables.

Is shawarma traditionally wrapped or plated?

Both. Shawarma can be served wrapped in bread as a sandwich or plated with accompaniments.

Are sauces served with shawarma?

Yes, shawarma is often accompanied by sauces like tahini, garlic sauce, or hummus.

What side dishes are commonly served with shawarma?

Shawarma is often served with pickles, tomatoes, cucumbers, and sometimes french fries.
About Author
Written by
Janet White
Janet White has been an esteemed writer and blogger for Difference Wiki. Holding a Master's degree in Science and Medical Journalism from the prestigious Boston University, she has consistently demonstrated her expertise and passion for her field. When she's not immersed in her work, Janet relishes her time exercising, delving into a good book, and cherishing moments with friends and family.
Edited by
Aimie Carlson
Aimie Carlson, holding a master's degree in English literature, is a fervent English language enthusiast. She lends her writing talents to Difference Wiki, a prominent website that specializes in comparisons, offering readers insightful analyses that both captivate and inform.

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