The KebabTron 4000. The Perfect Grill for Armenian Kebabs and Other Tasty Things.
Every time I go to the park, there’s usually the same things going on. You’ve got the trashcans-as-goal soccer games in effect. There are screaming kids jumping up and down in some cartoon character jumper. A young junior high couple making out behind some building when they should be at school. And finally, that one guy that’s actually using the public BBQ grill. I’m all for BBQing and having good times, but that’s one thing that continues to puzzle me – who in the world actually uses the public BBQ grill. Those things are almost guaranteed to be covered in dust and garbage and have the fossilized remains of dry hamburgers and salty hot dogs that have fallen victim to the terribly designed grates. I know heat burns bacteria and germs but there’s no knowing what the hell has been done to that grill or what life form had been incinerated on it for consumption. Then, I saw this older man with his family hanging out on a bench about to start his fire on the community Weber grill. He was also wielding what looked like a cylindrical container for a pool stick or arrows. I looked on as he set the container down and started pulling out containers of food. He then picked up the cylindrical container and pulled out shiny metal sticks, which I was oblivious to at that time, and started skewering the meat. Ah – he was making shish kabobs. It was amusing to see someone cook BBQ on metal skewers and amazingly, not have to make contact with the public grill. Before I learned what a “real” shish kabob was, I was making them myself thanks to the Food Network and their endless campaign for the American bastardization of ethnic food. I took some recipe I had seen from the Food Network and turned it into reality as I’d take dry pieces of chicken breast and beef marinated in some soy/sake/sugar/sesame oil, added some mushrooms, onions, bell peppers and cherry tomatoes. We made them because they were fun and “gourmet” compared to a burger and hot dog, but they were seriously awful. I didn’t get to try the food the guy at the park was making but I thought it was a great way to enjoy some family time and not risk getting some disease from the last guy who decided to use the community Weber for pigeons and opossums.
A few years later, I started following the footsteps of the kebab man at the park without the park part. I started venturing into Glendale quite often for the last few months, or as its also known, Little Armenia, with one in four people being of Armenian-American descent. Glendale is also the 4th largest ethnic enclave outside of Armenia, following Moscow and Berlin (Wikipedia). Less than a ten minute drive from Silver Lake, I found myself at one point eating Armenian food nearly 5 days in a row – until I got a bit tired of it. Jeni was over it after the first day. I couldn’t help it, it was just too good but at $12-15 for two skewers, rice, salad and flatbread, it added up quite quickly. One day while hunting down some lahmajune (Armenian “pizza”), I spotted a market called Sevan Meat Market – there are about two dozen other businesses that start with the name Sevan, which is the name of one of Armenia’s largest lakes. I decided to stop inside for the fun of it and I immediately felt like a kid in a meat candy store. It was super clean, had friendly service and all the meat was wrapped up neatly in saran wrap to preserve freshness. It was so clean that it was almost eerie. Best of all, it would cost me about $15 to pick up about 3-4 different meats to cook at home. Concerned that I wouldn’t be able to get the restaurant quality kebabs with my Weber grill and Japanese wooden skewers, I asked the butcher a few questions.
Me: “So will I ruin the meat if I set the skewers on the standard grill?”
Sevan Butcher Man: “Should be okay but it’s best to have a real kebab grill.”
Me: “You mean the ones with three different holding tiers for the skewers?” (The lowest level for major searing, the middle level above it to let the heat cook the insides of the meat and the highest level to keep the kebabs warm.”
Sevan Butcher Man: “Yeah, but it’s very expensive.”
Me: “Well, I wish I could get restaurant quality kebabs.”
Sevan Butcher Man: “We do have something you can use though.”
Sevan Butcher Man: “Turn around – behind you. Every one has one of these.”
One of… these? What I was looking at was nothing more than a dusty box made with aluminum sheet metal, a thin cover and four dinky legs sitting alone under a shelf. It looked like some kid’s science project that got no love from the judges. But I took a closer look at it and imagined that this was something MacGuyver would have made in under 30 seconds, The truth is, if MacGuyer made it, it would be the best goddamn kebab grill made out of a box, gum and a zippo. I asked a few more questions and at only $59.99, I became the new owner of the KebabTron 4000. There was not much to lose considering a standard Weber grill costs close to $100. I also picked up about a dozen metal skewers at $2.49 a piece. Out the door, you can live the Armenian kebab dream for under $100 – food included too! And let me tell you something, I fell in love with the KebabTron 4000 immediately. I truly enjoy grilling and this purchase has “re-ignited” my love for BBQ and Armenian food. After grilling kebabs nearly four days in a row (again Jeni was over it the first day), I’ve learned a lot of new things and have developed a method for painless, injury-free kebab action. Here we go!
The KebabTron 4000 Team. Completely optional but completely necessary in my opinion. Like any hobby, you’re going to need the proper tools of the trade. This particular grill I purchased is 24″ x 16″ with a basin depth of about 5.5″. With the dinky legs, the KebabTron 4000 is about 3′ feel tall. Inside the box itself, there is a mesh tray used to hold the charcoal and it can be removed for emptying out the charcoal dust. There are 12 “slots” for a maximum of 12 metal skewers, which I will explain below. This is the larger model and there is a smaller model $10 less – I’d just go for the larger one. If you do buy one, make sure you are in fact buying the large size.
This type of charcoal is used mainly for grilling Latino food. Sonora, Mexico is one of the largest exporters of mesquite charcoal and is prized for its distinct flavor that permeates through grilled food and for its high, long-lasting heat. There’s no mistaking mesquite – its smokey, woody and simply the perfect charcoal. When I was hunting down grilled chicken vendors of Los Angeles, I learned that one of the key ingredients to a solid grilled chicken was the usage of Sonoran mesquite charcoal. And the Armenians have caught on to this wonderful product. You can find this type of mesquite charcoal almost anywhere – especially Latino markets. Even the Armenian meat markets like Sevan Meat Market and grocery stores like Super King in Atwater Village, have them in stock – and they are cheap. My mother-in-law knowing how much I love to grill also bought massive bags for me from Smart & Final which worked out real well. The coals can run extremely hot and unless you’re doing a huge BBQ, you won’t have to add more charcoal. I’ve also used this type of charcoal for my yakitori grill since bincho tan charcoal is ridiculously expensive and somewhat hard-to-find in large bulks. Just look for the tan bag with “Mesquite Charcoal” and “Product of Mexico” written on it.
These won’t be for the skewers, these will be for the coals. Kebab grilling is about laying out an even layer of coals, maybe even sloping it down in height for sectioned grilling. Make sure you have good tongs because it won’t be fun and games if you accidentally drop some charcoal crumbs over your open-toe sandals.
Metal Kebab Skewers
Without these, it wouldn’t be kebab-grilling. This method, probably originated centuries ago from the Turks and Mongolians that needed a break time from wreaking havoc. Out in the middle of nowhere, they would set up a campfire and use their spears and swords to skewer meat and grill. The Mongolians were also the first to grill meat over their shields placed on top of a campfire and you now know this as Korean-style BBQ. Before I used metal kebab skewers, I was only accustomed to Japanese wooden skewers which are meant to hold small cuts of meat. But there is a difference in kebab skewers – the skewers are hefty with a flat edge that is almost a 1/2″ wide like a flat head screwdriver. The skewers I bought are 26″ long – enough to hold a 1/2 lb. of beef of chicken on each skewer. More if you’re okay with packing the meat closer together. The reasoning behind the flat-edged kebab skewer design is:
(a) to prevent the skewer from rolling around on the KebabTron 4000
(b) to securely hold the meat
(c) to allow ground meat to be “sculpted” around the kebab skewer
(d) to allow for even cooking by locking the skewer into one of the twelve slots; preventing rolling
Spray Bottle with Water
I’ve seen this used at Japanese yakitori restaurants. This is essential in not only keeping the charcoal temperature down but it also adds a temporary burn-proof coat on your food. When the skewers are slightly wet, the meat will not be singed, but rather “steam-grilled”. This is one of the reasons why Japanese and Middle Eastern chefs are able to make their grilled food so moist and juicy. Unless you’re using chicken breast that is – ugh.
Charcoal Chimney Starter
This is the best $15 I’ve ever spent. Long gone are the days of heavy lighter fluid action and lighting charcoals with a fan or blow dryer – the charcoal chimney starter is the way to go. A few pieces of oiled paper towels, some solid Sonoran mesquite charcoal and a lighter – you’ll be golden. The holes on the side of the chimney provide a lot of oxygen flow. The next item will explain the reason for having the charcoal chimney starter.
You can actually light your coals right in the KebabTron but I think it would take too long to get the fire going. You have more control of the fire when you have the chimney charcoal starter. The KebabTron box itself only has two holes for oxygen flow so you would literally need to stand over the coals and fan or blowdry – way too much work. Use the charcoal chimney starter and sit back with a beer. I use the BBQ grill to hold all the hot charcoal from the chimney starter and use the tongs to evenly lay out the coals in the KebabTron box. I don’t recommend spilling out all the hot charcoal into the box – too messy.
Skewer Handles. Looks like metal licorice.
Once you’ve got your even layer of coals laid out, it’s time to start grilling. I divided the box into two: one side for grilling and one for keeping the food warm. Unless you’re doing a party and need to grill 12 skewers at a time, I don’t see the need to use more than half of the box area (12″ x 8″). Notice the slots in which you place the skewers in. You first grill both flat-edged sides of the skewer than flip the skewer on its sides to complete a full sear – beautiful! No more soreness in the hands from tongs that are too stiff. Now you can play Armenian fusbol with one hand, and hold a beer in the other – the way BBQing should be.
Once you get the hang of it, you will start to notice which meats cook faster than others. For the ground meat skewers (lule), I always pinch off a small nub to taste it. I would recommend doing 75% of the cooking over the heat and then keeping it in the middle or far end of the grill to let the residual heat finish the job.
Because of my limited space, I had to stack a few skewers but kept them relatively close to the charcoals. If it starts to dry out, hit it with the spray bottle to add a protective coat. Usually the chicken because it dries out faster than beef. But as you’ll learn, the marinade in kebab meat is superb – retaining juices and maximum flavor. The indirect heat-to-meat contact is key, it’s almost as if you’re doing giant yakitori or miniature rotisserie.
In addition to kebabs, I actually grilled some fish fillets on this. With two skewers, I was able to put near TWO POUNDS of fish on each. The skewering technique really makes food taste good and maximizes space. I would recommend cooking seafood on this as well – shrimp, whole fish, squid, you name it. Long gone are the days of tiny seafood falling through the cracks into grill hell.
The KebabTron 4000 can easily be taken down and stored away for later usage. I have to say, this is one of the best things I’ve purchased in a while. I love it. Thanks for reading and please let me know if you do purchase one – would love to know what you think.
Places to Buy the KebabTron 4000 (Call for prices). All places have excellent, fresh kebab meat at great prices.
Sevan Meat Market (Original location)
1037 E Broadway
Glendale, CA 91205
Sevan Meat Market (Newer location I bought grill from)
1315 E Colorado St
Glendale, CA 91205
Central Grand Market (Great kebab meat, grills and makes fresh Persian Sangak wheat bread. Delicious)
1215 N Central Ave
Glendale, CA 91202
Super King (Sells kebab grills but meat doesn’t look very promising)
2716 N San Fernando Rd
Los Angeles, CA 90065
Kebab Places I Highly Recommend. Let me know where you like to go!
Mini Kabob (Husband/wife team that runs this 8-seater restaurant. Excellent hummus and eggplant)
313 Vine St
Glendale, CA 91204
Kabab Way (Cheap, consistently good, two locations)
919 S. Glendale Ave
Glendale, CA 91205
Elena’s Greek Armenian (Great for large groups and cheap)
1000 S. Glendale Ave
Glendale, CA 91205
Cafe Bravo (Original location; avoid Silver Lake location)
1135 W. Glenoaks Blvd
Glendale, CA 91202