This post may contain affiliate links and I may receive a commission if you make a purchase using these links. Affiliate links will always be identified as such in the post.
With this beef skewers recipe, we are trying to capture the essence of Cambodian street food and bring it to your kitchen. In Cambodia, these beef skewers are a dinnertime staple that can be found at most street food stalls, whether you’re in the heart of the city or along the side of the highway. Once the dinner hour rolls around, you can expect these skewers to disappear quickly, as they are immensely popular among the locals, who usually eat them with a helping of green papaya salad. That said, you don’t need to wait for dinner to indulge your senses. These smokey beef sticks work just as well as an appetizer (which pairs well with a light pilsner or a bold red wine).
These beef skewers are the Cambodian answer to the widely known beef kabobs, and follow a similar preparation process that involves marination and grilling. The ingredients are simple and widely available in supermarkets across the US. And, you’ll find that the prep time and cook time aren’t long at all. We hope that the recipe below will help you recreate this popular (yet amazingly simple) dish.
Grilled Cambodian Beef Skewers
- 1 Butcher knife must be sharp
- Bamboo skewers
- 500 grams beef
- 2 stalks lemongrass
- 5 cloves garlic
- 5 leaves lime tree leaf
- 3/4 inch galangal
- 1/2 inch turmeric
- 50 grams sweet chilli dried
- 1/2 tbsp MSG optional
- 1 tbsp sugar
- salt to taste; soy sauce or fish sauce work well, too
- Soak the wooden skewers in water for at least 2 hours before grilling. Doing so will prevent the skewers' ends from burning on the grill.
- Wash and soak the sweet chilli peppers in room-temperature water for 15 minutes.
- Wash the meat, the cut into 1-inch cubes and set aside in a large bowl.
- Tenderize the lemongrass stalks with the flat side of the butcher knife on top of a cutting board.
- Slice the softened lemongrass into thin rings using the butcher knife and put in the mortar.
- Cut galangal into thin slices and place into the mortar.
- Clean the garlic cloves and place them into the mortar.
- Shred lime tree leaves into narrow strips with a knife and place the strips into the mortar.
- Remove the turmeric skin with a knife and place the turmeric into the mortar.
- Crush the lemongrass, lime tree leaf, garlic, galangal, and turmeric inside the mortar until you're left with a homogenous paste.
- Mince the soaked sweet chilli peppers into a paste using the butcher knife.
- Add the paste from the mortar, and the chilli pepper paste into the bowl with the beef.
- Add MSG, sugar, and salt (or fish sauce) to the mix.
- Mix the beef and all the other ingredients evenly in the bowl, and marinade ingredients for at least 30 minutes (the longer the better!)
- Thread the beef onto the skewers.
- Preheat the grill to 300F and put the skewers in and cook for 15 minutes, or until an internal temperature of 145F. Rotate the skewers with tongues every 2 minutes.
- Serve the beef skewers with vegetables of your choice -- we'd recommend this green papaya salad!
What cut of beef is best for beef skewers?
A fattier cut of beef is best for skewers — especially if you want to achieve this recipe’s authentic taste. In Cambodia, where this beef skewer recipe originates, street food hawkers actually thread pieces of fat onto the skewers along with the beef. They add the fat because beef in Southeast Asia tends to be quite lean. However, there’s no need to add bits of fat if the cut of beef is already fatty. For example, using a filet mignon, flap steak, or t-bone steak cut will ensure that your skewers are tender and juicy. But if the fat content isn’t a necessity — or if you like your meat on the leaner side — then any cut of meat will do.
How do I make the perfect beef skewers?
To make perfect skewers, you need to choose a tender cut of beef, allow the meat to marinate, and take care not to overcook the meat. Beef often gets chewy as it cooks because muscles tend to become firmer when heated. However, undercooked meat leaves much of the connecting tissue firm, so undercooked beef can be tough, too. Cooking the meat to the right temperature (around 130F) is key to creating a soft texture in the meat. But you can also help make the skewers soft by choosing a tender cut of beef, such as beef tenderloin or top sirloin steak. You can also tenderize the beef by marinating it, the way we’ve described it in this beef skewer recipe.
How do you cook beef skewers?
The best way to cook meat skewers is to marinate the meat, then grill the skewers on the barbecue. The marination process infuses the meat with the desired flavour and tenderizes the meat. Meanwhile the grilling leaves the skewers soft and juicy and gives the meat a smoky taste. If you follow the beef skewer recipe we presented above, you’ll find that the marinate includes bold, citrusy and savory flavors that are traditional in the Cambodian cuisine. In our beef skewer recipe, marination takes at least 30 minutes (but the longer you marinate the better). Then, the grilling process takes about 15 minutes, at which point the meat should be fully cooked and ready to enjoy.
Are metal or wood skewers better for beef?
It depends — both metal and beef skewers have their upsides and downsides when grilling beef. Wooden skewers don’t heat up on the inside and thus let the meat cook evenly on the inside. On the other hand, metal skewers get hot quickly and cook the meat from the inside. If you’d like your beef skewers to be medium rare as opposed to well done, wooden skewers are the better choice. The main problem with wood skewers is that you need to soak them first if you don’t want them to burn, and this soaking takes time. Also, meat tends to stick to bamboo skewers, but slips off easily from a metal skewer. Finally, metal skewers are reusable, while it’s best to discard bamboo after it comes in contact with raw meat. So, although our beef stick recipe calls for bamboo skewers because these are used in Cambodia, you can opt for metal skewers instead. Going with metal skewers can save you time and you can reuse these skewers many times. Just remember that your beed will cook faster on a metal skewer.
How do you keep beef from sticking to wooden skewers?
To keep beef from sticking to wooden skewers when you cook our beef skewer recipe, follow the three simple steps below.
- Soak the bamboo skewers in water for two hours.
- Coat the bamboo skewers with cooking oil after you pull them out of the water.
- Thread the meat onto the skewers only after coating them with cooking oil.
The cooking oil should lubricate the skewers sufficiently to not let the meat stick to them. However, make sure you still soak the skewers in water first, as doing so will prevent them from igniting. Likewise, don’t be tempted to simply soak the skewers in oil, as they would quickly burn.
Grilled Beef Skewers: Parting Words
We hope you’ve enjoyed our Cambodian beef skewer recipe! If you’ve made the recipe already, what did you think about it? Or, do you know another skewer recipe you’d like to share? Please let us know in the comment section below!