Kabob vs Kebab: What is the Difference?

August 26, 2022
Written by Kristy J. Norton

Kabob and kebab refer to the same delicacy. There’s literally no difference, apart from the spelling. They both refer to meat grilled with vegetables on a skewer or spit originating from the Middle East.

People often ask me if there really is a difference between the two. Surely, as a chef, I must know? They are often surprised to find out that kabob vs kebab just comes down to spelling conventions.

There are different types of kebab–called shish kebab, doner kebab–but these refer to style of cooking.

Read on to learn more about the kabob-kebabs question and how they might differ in cooking style:

Kabob vs Kebab

Why is Kebab Called Kabob?

Because the words kabob and kebab is borrowed from Arabic-speaking countries, they don’t follow spelling conventions in English. So you’ll see some restaurants calling kabob kebabs and vice versa.

Either way, when you order a kebab or kabobs, you’ll get a dish of meat, fish or vegetables roasted or grilled on a skewer or spit. Some types of kebabs are also made by threading meat balls on skewers.

Kebab with Sliced Tomatoes and Green Vegetables

Where Does the Word “Kebab” Come From?

The word kebab means roasted meat in Arabic. However, the origins of the word (and the dish) are complicated.

Linguists speculate that the English word is derived from Persian, Turkish, and other languages from the Middle Eastern region.

However, kebab is not just a staple of Middle Eastern cuisine. It’s also a South Asian dish. So you’ll see this influence in the type of kabob you find in various restaurants as well.

What are Kabobs in England?

Kabobs are also called kebabs in England. There’s a misconception that “kebab” is the conventional British spelling, while the Americans use “kabob.”

It’s common to see both types of spelling in the UK, US, and even Australia. In the US, the spelling even varies by state. I’ve seen “kebabs” in NYC, and “kabobs” in Georgia.

There are even stranger spellings like “kebob.” I once saw kebab spelled as “kebap” in a small British restaurant just outside London.

Types of Kebab or Kabob

While the spelling doesn’t affect the dish as a whole, there are many different varieties of the dish thanks to how popular it is.

The traditional meat in kabob is lamb grilled on a skewer. However, nowadays you can find pieces of meat, fish or vegetables on kebabs.

In Turkey and India, it’s not uncommon to see kebabs with only vegetables threaded and cooked on a skewer without any pieces of meat.

You’ll even see pork kebabs on menus. Traditionally, pork is not part of Middle Eastern cuisine due to religious prohibitions.

However, as the popularity of the dish has been spreading worldwide, there are different types of meat being incorporated into the dish.

When kebabs are made with chicken, they’re called shish kabob. North Americans often conflate kebab with shish kebab.

Elsewhere, kebab could also mean grilled meat, fish or vegetables roasted on a rotisserie. A doner kebab, in particular, is cooked meat on a rotisserie served with vegetables like tomatoes, chunks of bread, and goat cheese.

Freshly Grilled Skewers

Kabob Vs. Kebab: Settling the Debate

When it comes down to it, kebab and kabob are just two different words for the same dish.

They both consist of chunks of meat grilled or roasted on a skewer, served alongside vegetables.

There are many different spelling conventions for this. However, I’ve seen most restaurants stick to kebab.

Hopefully, this article clears the confusion. Rather than worry about the name of the dish, you need to know what kind of meat is being served.

By Kristy J. Norton
I'm Kristy – a chef and connoisseur of all things BBQ! You can find me either in my kitchen (or someone else's) or at a big outdoor barbecue surrounded by friends and family. In both my professional and personal life I’ve picked up more than a few tips and tricks for turning out delicious food. I consider it a privilege to share it with others!
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