Spicy Cumin Lamb Skewers (Yang Rou Chuan) Recipe

Add a new dimension to your kebabs with this spiced lamb number. [Photographs: Shao Z.]

Travel around the world and you’ll find a different kind of skewered, fire-roasted meat wherever you go. On the streets of Beijing, you’ll spot these spicy lamb skewers coated in cumin and chili flakes. But there’s no need to go to China just to have them—you can make them right in your own yard on the grill. Here’s how.

Why It Works

  • Coarsely grinding the spices ensures they don’t become pasty when wet.
  • Lamb shoulder chops offer the perfect balance of fat and meat for juicy, tender, flavorful skewers.
  • Yield:Makes about 18 skewers
  • Active time:30 minutes
  • Total time:1 hour
  • Rated:5
  • Ingredients

    • 1 tablespoon red chili flakes
    • 1 tablespoon cumin seed
    • 2 teaspoons fennel seed
    • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
    • 2 teaspoons granulated garlic
    • 1 1/4 pound lamb shoulder chops, cut into 1-inch pieces and bones discarded (see note)
    • 1 tablespoon vegetable or canola oil
    • 2 teaspoons Shaoxing wine
    • Bamboo skewers, soaked in water at least 2 hours and up to overnight
    • Type of fire: two-zone indirect
    • Grill heat: medium-high


    1. 1.

      In a mortar and pestle or spice grinder, coarsely grind chili flakes, cumin, and fennel. Add granulated garlic and kosher salt and briefly grind to break salt into smaller pieces and thoroughly combine ingredients.

    2. 2.

      Reserve 1 tablespoon of the spice mix in a small bowl. Add lamb to a large bowl and toss thoroughly with the remaining spice mix, oil, and Shaoxing wine.

    3. 3.

      Light one chimney full of charcoal. When all the charcoal is lit and covered with gray ash, pour out and arrange coals on one side of the charcoal grate. Set cooking grate in place, cover grill and allow to preheat for 5 minutes. Clean and oil the grilling grate.

    4. 4.

      Grill skewers, covered, over indirect heat until lamb is nearly cooked through, about 4 minutes per side.

    5. 5.

      Move skewers over direct heat, sprinkle with the reserved spice mix, and cook until well seared on both sides, about 1 minute total.

    6. 6.

      Remove skewers from the grill and serve right away.

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