I like grilling any time of year. During winter, I will slip out the back door — sometimes just with some sandals on and no coat — pretending it will only take a second to fire up the grill as the thermometer hovers around zero degrees.
When it warms up and there is time to sit outside in the evening with your beverage of choice and enjoy longer days, grilling takes on a relaxing element that was never a part of the winter experience. I love those days. You can literally smell it in the air when your neighbors fire up their grills. It’s intoxicating.
When it comes to grilling, I don’t think I can ever get tired of making a good burger. If done right, it’s satisfying and hits a special spot in your stomach. Plus, living in Montana means we have to take advantage of producing the best beef in the world.
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Patties, buns and cheese are usually more than fine for me. But it’s also fun sometimes to throw a culinary curve ball and change things up a bit every so often.
That’s how you get this dish — Big Sky Beef Kebabs. This style of kebab is often made with lamb on the other side of the world, but when you have beef like we have here, you don’t hesitate to sub it in.
With a heavy Turkish influence, this reinvented burger is like a flavorful skewered meatloaf in tubed form like a sausage. Give it a try and I’m willing to bet it makes it into your summer grilling rotation.
The hamburger gets mixed with finely minced onion and garlic, fresh herbs like parsley and cilantro, and well-seasoned with salt, pepper and cumin. In places like the Middle East, they often have sword-like skewers with wide surface areas that can hold a lot of the meat on the metal stick and prevent it from falling off.
To substitute for that, I doubled up the regular skewers and packed the meat on close until they were hugging those skewers tight. You should be able to get three large skewers or four medium skewers from this one-pound recipe.
Your grill should be extra hot, where you can cook the skewers a few minutes on each side — about 8 minutes total. That kiss of flame goes so well with the cumin in the recipe.
This awesomely grilled kebab is not paired with a bun, but a nice and soft flatbread. I made some of my own, but you can use pita, lavash or even a warmed-up flour tortilla if that is what you have on hand. On top of the lettuce and tomato, a garlicky lemon herb white sauce was just the right element to tie this re-imagined burger together.
Big Sky Beef Kebabs
While this dish has so many elements of a typical burger with the works (beef, bread, tomato, lettuce, onion, sauce), it is anything but typical. It’s unique. It’s simple. It’s what’s for dinner if you’re willing to put patties and buns aside for one grill night.
1 pound Montana hamburger
½ small onion finely minced
2 cloves garlic finely mined
¾ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon freshly ground pepper
½ teaspoon ground cumin
1 tablespoon freshly chopped parsley
1 tablespoon freshly chopped cilantro
3 tablespoons mayonnaise
3 tablespoons plain yogurt
2 tablespoons of buttermilk or heavy cream
Zest of ½ lemon
1 clove of garlic ground into paste or ½ teaspoon of granulated garlic
Pinch of kosher salt and pepper
Optional: chopped fresh parsley and/or cilantro
Flatbread, pita, lavash or flour tortillas
Fresh tomatoes cut into small wedges
Chopped parsley and cilantro
Combine all of the sauce ingredient and mix well. Cover with plastic wrap and keep it cool in the refrigerator for at least an hour to let those flavors marry together.
Finely mince your onion and garlic. Combine in a large bowl with the hamburger, seasonings, and herbs and mix well. Divide the mixture up into three or four equal portions, depending on the size of the skewers. For each one, pack the meat around two metal skewers where the total circumference of the meat is no more than 1½ inches around. Season the outside with more salt and pepper.
Grill the skewers on high heat for about 3 or 4 minutes on both sides with your grill lid closed. Total cook time is about 8 minutes. Remove from heat and take out the metal skewers. Combine the cooked kebabs with your choice of flatbread, fresh tomatoes, lettuce, herbs and the sauce.
Jon Bennion is a native Montanan, born and raised in Billings. Outside of his day job as an attorney, you can find Jon experimenting in the kitchen and developing recipes that often feature a Montana ingredient or story. Jon posts on Instagram as Intermediate Chef (@intermediatechef) and lives in Clancy.