If you love the Trader Joe’s version of shawarma chicken thighs, you’re going to flip out over this homemade Grilled Chicken Shawarma recipe! Warmly spiced with Middle Eastern pantry staple spices and soaked in a marinade, this grilled chicken recipe will instantly go on repeat for your summer menus.
I’m going to preface this whole post by saying that this is not an authentic chicken shawarma recipe. I know this. I recreated this recipe based on the flavors of a store-bought package of chicken thighs marinated in a shawarma-type sauce.
With that said, this grilled chicken shawarma recipe is still one of the absolute best chicken recipes that exists on this site. Heck, I’ll so far as saying that it’s one of the best chicken dishes I’ve ever eaten!
Do I care that it’s not an authentic recipe? Nope.
To say that this grilled chicken recipe is one of the best I’ve eaten definitely says a lot about it. And there’s a short backstory about this chicken. (Backstory negative Nancies: Hit the Jump to Recipe button underneath the recipe name to go straight down to the recipe.)
Trader Joe’s Shawarma Chicken Thighs
My family completely devoured the Trader Joe’s shawarma chicken thighs every time I bought them. I’m talking, even Riley as a 9-month old!
Kyle and I were both floored the first time we watched her eat this chicken and I immediately knew I needed to figure out how to make it at home. So I tested and retested the recipe over the course of a year and then compared it side-by-side with a package from Trader Joe’s.
The difference between my recipe and the packaged version was almost nil and to boot, every single person I served this chicken to utterly raved about it. And as a bonus by making it myself, I was saving about $3 per pound on chicken (marinated chicken is almost always more expensive than plain boneless skinless chicken breasts).
What is Shawarma Chicken
To get technical for a second, shawarma chicken is a classic Middle Eastern street food. Raw chicken is heavily spiced, cut into pieces, stacked into a vertical cone or cylinder, and then roasted over an open fire for hours.
To serve, the cooked chicken is sliced off of the cone/cylinder and usually served as a sandwich inside of a flatbread or pita along with fillings like hummus or tahini, cucumbers, and pickles.
Shawarma vs Gyro
If shawarma sounds a lot like the Greek gyro, it’s because they’re actually very similar, just hailing from different parts of the world. The gyro usually includes a yogurt, cucumber, and garlic-based tzatziki sauce in place of hummus or tahini.
And by the way, if you want a very inauthentic but totally delicious chicken gyro recipe, this recipe is an oldie from the SLH archives but packs a punch for an incredible meal. The equally excellent chicken gyro salad is also a perfect summer meal for hot nights.
How Serve This Chicken
We often go pretty simple with this shawarma chicken. Our meals usually consist of the grilled chicken thighs, rice, chopped cucumbers and cherry tomatoes, crumbled feta cheese, tzatziki sauce, and naan (either plain or garlic naan). The naan is sometimes homemade and sometimes store-bought, depending on how much time I have in a given week.
However, you can go in a bunch of other directions for how to serve shawarma chicken.
- Shawarma Wrap: Chop or slice the grilled chicken up and layer it with your favorite hummus or tzatziki, lettuce, tomatoes, pickled red onions, and feta cheese inside a tortilla wrap, pita, or flatbread.
- Shawarma Chopped Salad: Pile up chopped shawarma chicken on top of a bed of lettuce with mounds of chopped cucumbers, cherry tomatoes, feta cheese, sliced almonds, a sprinkle of chopped cilantro, and a drizzle of tahini dressing.
- Shawarma Rice Bowl: On top of a bed of cooked rice, layer chopped grilled chicken with cucumbers, pickled red onions, cherry tomatoes, crumbled feta cheese, and some garlicky tzatziki sauce.
What We Love Most About this Weeknight Chicken Recipe
What we love so much about this flavor bomb chicken is how versatile it can be.
Because of that, I always play to the likes of my kid with this meal. I know all of the flavors go well together and that she will devour everything on her plate because she adores everything there!
Additionally, no matter how I serve it, I can prep almost everything in advance so that dinner is on the table in a snap. The chicken will need to marinate for a few hours but it only needs to be grilled for a few minutes. So simple!
And lastly, over the years since I first started making this chicken, it’s become my #1 recipe for feeding a large group. With bowls of chopped lettuce and rice, guests can make a big salad or opt for a rice bowl. Or, with the tender naan, a wrap sandwich is always an option.
It’s a meal that plays to everyone’s likes and leaves everyone feeling full and completely satisfied at the end of it. Does entertaining get any better than that?
More Chicken Recipes You’ll Love
- Quick Brined Barbecued Chicken Thighs
- Orange Chicken (Trader Joe’s Copycat Recipe)
- Apple Pecan Chicken Salad
- Herb Grilled Chicken with Creamy Broccoli Orzo
- Dutch Oven Whole Roast Chicken
- Chicken Marsala Pasta
- Lightened Up Orange Chicken
Grilled Chicken Shawarma
Chicken shawarma is a classic Middle Eastern street food that's incredibly simple to modify from roasting over an open fire to making on the grill at home.
- 1 ½ to 2 lbs boneless, skinless chicken thighs (about 6 thighs), trimmed of most of the fat
- Juice of 2 lemons
- ½ cup extra virgin olive oil
- 1 tsp Kosher salt
- 1 tsp freshly ground black pepper
- 1 ½ tsp ground cumin
- 1 tsp sweet paprika
- 1 tsp smoked paprika
- 1 ¼ tsp garam masala
- ¼ tsp turmeric
- 3 cloves fresh garlic cloves, minced OR 1 ½ tsp garlic powder
- 2 or 3 tbsp chopped cilantro, for garnish
- Place the chicken thighs in a gallon-size zip-top bag or bowl with a tight-sealed cover.
- Whisk the lemon juice, olive oil, all of the spices, and garlic in a medium bowl or glass measuring cup. Pour the mixture into the bag, close the bag, and massage it into the chicken. Refrigerate for 2 to 12 hours.
- Preheat a gas grill to medium heat (around 375° F to 400° F) and arrange the chicken on the grill. Close the lid and cook the chicken for around 12 minutes, flipping once halfway through the cooking time. The internal temperature of the fully cooked chicken should be around 170° F. Transfer the grilled chicken to a plate, cover lightly with foil, and let rest for 5 minutes before serving with chopped cilantro over the top.
You can use boneless skinless chicken breast in place of chicken thighs in this recipe. If they are super thick, consider pounding them thinner or slicing them horizontally in half (aka butterflying) to give yourself thinner breast pieces.
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