Savory, spicy, and sweet, these Chinese Lamb Skewers are tender, juicy, and easy to eat. Just a handful of ingredients and 30 minutes are all you need!
Yang Rou Chuan are spicy, Chinese lamb skewers. A street food that’s popular for both its flavor and convenience, they’ve become a fast barbecue favorite of mine — and all of my friends and family as well!
The flavors seem complex, but it’s really rather simple to prepare. A 6-ingredient dry rub and the right cut of lamb is all you need. Even if you’re not familiar with cooking lamb, I’ve laid out step-by-step instructions on how to achieve perfectly charred, flavorful skewers. All of this in less than 30 minutes!
I first had these in Beijing walking around, jet-lagged and hungry after a long flight. They were absolutely delicious and I even saw a few street vendors dipping hot dogs on a stick in the spice blend as well, but opted for the real deal.
While this dish is fun to eat on its own, I like to serve them alongside my earthy, healthy Bok Choy Stir Fry. But if you want to shake things up a bit, you can give these skewers some Middle Eastern or Mediterranean flair with homemade Pita, Hummus, and Tahini.
INGREDIENT NOTES AND SUBSTITUTIONS
- Lamb - A popular Eastern meat for its strong, robust flavor and tender bite. It’s also one of the healthier proteins out there.
- Cumin Seeds - This spice is very rich and warm, with notes of citrus and earthiness that are both sweet and bitter. Whole coriander, caraway seeds, or fennel seeds are three possible substitutes.
- Black Peppercorns - A standard in dry rubs across the board, these add a bold, full-bodied crust to meat once grilled or pan-fried.
- Red Pepper Flakes - Spicy crushed red chili peppers for a nice hint of heat. Cayenne pepper or paprika would work as well, depending on the type and intensity of heat that you prefer.
- Caraway Seeds - You’ll find this seasoning in sweet and savory meals alike. It has a taste that’s similar to anise. You can swap out caraway seeds with an equal amount of fennel, if preferred.
- Salt & Sugar - A bit of sweetness and saltiness to balance the earthy and pepper flavors provided by the other spices in the dry rub.
HOW TO MAKE LAMB SKEWERS
1. Grind the Spices. Use a spice or coffee grinder to grind all of the spices together. Don’t finely grind them — leave a few whole spices intact.
2. Preheat. Heat your grill to 425°F. If using a charcoal grill, move all of the coals to one side. If using a gas grill, leave the burners off on one side.
3. Apply Dry Rub. Transfer the meat into a large bowl. Pour the spice rub into the bowl and massage into the meat, pressing into the surface.
4. Make Skewers. Slide the cubes onto the skewers, leaving gaps between the meat to ensure each piece cooks evenly and forms a crust. Lightly drip olive oil over each skewer prior to grilling.
5. Grill. Grill each skewer over the direct heat. Once the side being grilled browns and has clear char marks, turn onto the next side. Repeat until each side charred — roughly 4 minutes. Once cooked, transfer to the cool side of the grill and allow to cook in the indirect heat until the meat is as done as you’d like it, about 4 minutes until medium rare.
6. Rest and Serve. Serve after the meat rests off of the heat for at least 5 minutes.
How do you tell when lamb is done cooking?
The safe internal temperature of lamb is 170ºF. As long as it reaches that temperature, then it can be enjoyed rare or medium-rare.
If you want your meat cooked totally through, then wait until it reaches a gray-brown color throughout.
What cut of lamb is used for skewers?
I recommend using a boneless lamb shoulder. This cut is easiest to cube and will have a good amount of fat. 1 ½ lbs of meat will yield around 8-12 skewers when cubed and grilled.
If you can’t find a shoulder cut, then sirloin is your next best choice.
How long are lamb skewers good in the refrigerator?
Like most cooked meats, you don’t want to wait longer than 3 days to eat these Chinese lamb skewers.
If you want to prepare the meat cubes in bulk, you can always freeze them and then thaw once you’re ready to grill. Frozen, raw cuts will keep for up to 9 months. If you cube beforehand, then don’t freeze for longer than 6 months or so.
When ready to cook, allow frozen meat to thaw in the fridge and then come to room temperature before grilling.
Grilled Lamb Skewers (Yang Rou Chuan)
- 1 ½ lbs boneless lamb shoulder cubed
- olive oil
Yang Rou Chuan Spice Rub
- 1 tablespoon cumin seeds
- 1 teaspoon black peppercorns
- 2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
- 2 teaspoon caraway seeds
- 2 teaspoon sugar
- ½ teaspoon kosher salt
- In a spice or coffee grinder coarsely grind cumin seeds, peppercorns, caraway seeds, red pepper flakes, sugar and salt until only a few whole spices remain. This will be a coarse spice rub.
- Clean and heat grill to 425°F, indirect heat (for a charcoal grill, bank coals on one side of grill; for a gas grill, leave one or two burners off on one side).
- In a bowl or plastic bag add cubed lamb and spice rub. Massage lamb, pressing spice blend onto the meat with your hands to coat.
- Thread lamb cubes onto 8-12 skewers, leaving a small gap between each piece of meat. Drizzle with olive oil.
- Grill lamb over direct heat, turning every minute or so, until browned and you see visible char marks, about 4 minutes. Move to cooler side of grill and continue to grill until lamb is cooked to desired doneness, about 4 minutes longer for medium-rare.
- Allow to rest for 5 minutes on platter before serving.
*The information shown below is an estimate provided by an online nutrition calculator. It should not be considered a substitute for a professional nutritionist's advice.