Chicken Shawarma & Creamy Tzatziki Sauce

Shawarma is street food, meant to be inhaled with gusto while standing on a busy avenue — or, in this case, standing around the test kitchen. For this recipe, we marinate the chicken in garlic, lemon, and a mix of hot, savory, and baking spices like paprika, cumin, and cinnamon. And we leave it on the grill ‘til it develops a really nice char. When you take a bite, all of that flavor comes through: the meat has a pleasant, spicy heat, a hint of lemon peel, and plenty of smoke. It’s also incredibly tender and juicy.

It tastes wonderful with the super creamy tzatziki, veggies, and fresh homemade pita. Our tasters were more than happy to eat their shawarma standing up — so much so that they polished off the pitas and moved on to the leftover chicken thighs.

Best of all, this shawarma is really easy to make. You can prepare the tzatziki and get the chicken in the marinade the night before you need them — they’ll both be more flavorful the next day.

Our tip: If you have time, make your own fresh pita bread. It’s almost like another bread product it’s so different from the stuff you buy — light, pillowy soft, and chewy. And go ahead and grill a few extra chicken thighs. They make terrific leftovers!

Servings: 4 to 6


2 lbs boneless skinless chicken thighs (or breasts)

2 garlic cloves, rough chopped

1 ½ Tbsp cumin

1 ½ Tbsp coriander

1 Tbsp smoked paprika

1 tsp ground cardamom

1/8 tsp cinnamon

1/8 tsp cayenne

1 tsp salt

½ tsp black pepper

1 tsp lemon zest

2 Tbsp lemon juice

¼ cup olive oil

Creamy tzatziki sauce (see recipe below)


  1. In a freezer bag or an airtight container, combine the chicken and all of the ingredients (except the tzatziki sauce), and shake to coat the chicken.

  2. Marinate for 8 to 24 hours in the refrigerator.

  3. Prepare a charcoal grill or heat a gas grill to medium-high heat.

  4. Remove the chicken from the marinade, and discard the marinade. Cook the chicken, turning periodically, until the internal temperature reaches 165º on an instant-read thermometer and the chicken is nicely charred.

  5. Slice and serve warm in a pita with a generous dollop of tzatziki sauce (see recipe below).

Creamy Tzatziki Sauce

Yield: 2 cups


2 cucumbers

½ tsp salt

1 ½ Tbsp fresh dill

2 small garlic cloves, minced

½ tsp lemon zest

2 tsp Champagne vinegar

1 tsp olive oil

1 ½ cups Greek yogurt

Salt, to taste

Pepper, to taste


  1. Peel, seed, and grate the cucumbers. Place them in a mesh strainer, sprinkle with the salt, and let them wilt and drain for 5 minutes. Using the back of a spoon, press the water out of the cucumber pulp, and transfer it to a food processor.

  2. Add the fresh dill, minced garlic, lemon zest, Champagne vinegar, and olive oil and pulse a few times.

  3. Add the Greek yogurt, and pulse a few more times, being careful not to puree the ingredients.

  4. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Tzatziki will keep in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 5 days.