Xinjiang BBQ (Lamb)

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I’ve seen recipes for this online and they’re all wrong!

Here is the “secret” way of making this, passed down from my father-in-law, who was raised in Xinjiang – the man is a master at this dish and has taught me what to do, now, lucky world, I’m releasing it.


You first have to start with the right meat, and that is lamb shoulder. It must be lamb, ie, sheep not older than 1 year. It also should most certainly be shoulder – leg is not as good, but you can choose to use it – you won’t fail as such, but it will be inferior to shoulder, and there is no need to use inferior meet; the shoulder is readily available.

The shoulder needs to be deboned, and the meat cut up into chunks of optimal size. If they are too big, they’ll take longer to cook and won’t be as nice, and harder to chew. If they are too small, they’ll be dry and the whole thing will get too crispy. See my photos for a guide on size.

The skewers need to be metal. Metal conducts head and aids in cooking the most internal parts of the meat. Wooden skewers will insulate somewhat. Yes, they’re less likely to burn you, but be careful and use metal skewers – the thick flat variety is best.

The spices and salt are added to water (a spiced brine), and then the water is massaged into the meat – this is something you won’t read about in the fake recipes. More details later.

The meat should marinate for 3 days. I often make a large batch and start cooking on day 1, more on day 2, and finish the meat on day 3 with noticeable improvements in flavour and tenderness after each day. If you keep it for over 3 days in the fridge, there is a risk it will spoil.

The BBQ needs to be a charcoal grill, but you’ll get 80% of the benefit if you cook over a gas BBQ and it’s easier – it’s cheating and I often do it, accepting the trade-off (flavour vs time saved).

Eat right off the skewer, immediately off the BBQ. I like to stand there and eat and cook. I put the skewer back on a warm part of the grill between bites.

The meat

Use lamb shoulder

  • 1.2kg – 1.8kg (bone-in weight), typically, smaller is tastier as the lamb is likely to be younger.
  • Lamb is a sheep 1-year-old or younger; mutton is older and not as delicious.
  • Regulations, where I live, are allowing butchers to label sheep older than 1 year as “lamb”. Buying smaller shoulders helps reduce the chance of buying lamb-labelled mutton.
1.25kg lamb shoulder with bone-in
bone removed and meat diced

With the leftover bone and attached meat, I boil it in water for over an hour to make stock for other dishes later. I strain the liquid into a bowl and refrigerate, and with the bone, I just salt it and gnaw at it (I don’t have a dog):


Keep the meet in a food-safe tub/bowl. Make sure it is large. Here I have about 1kg of diced meat:

Just over 1kg meat dissected from a 1.25kg shoulder

For the Brine

20% water (Take the weight of the diced meat and multiply by 0.2 to get the quantity of water you need).

Put the water in a bowl and add the spices (see below), then whisk.

For meat around 1kg use the quantities of the following spices (adjust as needed) – note the quantities of spices don’t need to be very precise, so I have not used weight quantities:

1/2 tsp Sichuan pepper (if you can’t find this, leave it out)

Whole Sichuan pepper on the left, which I grind up (right)

1/2 tsp white pepper

2 tsp salt

1.5 Chinese teaspoon cumin (heaped)

Ideally, get whole cumin seeds and grind them yourself the day you will use some. The flavour of ground cumin deteriorates over time.
This is the first heaped Chinese teaspoon of cumin (you need a total of 1.5)

1.5 Chinese teaspoon cornstarch (heaped)

Mix brine into the meat

Add the spiced brine to the container of meat, and mix/massage it in a bit at a time. By the time you have added in all the brine, it should be all absorbed and water should not pool at the bottom of the container. It could take 10 minutes. The longer you mix and massage, the theory is, the more tender it will be. I don’t know, it could be true.

Then slice 1 big onion (or 2 small), and add to the container of meat.

Demonstrating the type of slice to make

Then add one egg

Then mix it all in, and refrigerate.


As I said earlier, the best day to BBQ is the third day of marination. Also, a charcoal BBQ is best, and a gas BBQ is inferior but acceptable. Please excuse my gas BBQ photo.

Skewer the pieces of meat the day you want to cook them – it’s very hard storing long skewers of meat in the fridge (while keeping them covered).

When you’re skewering, do your best to maximise the amount of meat that is being pierced.

If you use a gas BBQ as I show here, make sure you preheat it very well. It needs to cook at very high heat.

As you cook, sprinkle with salt, cumin, and chilli flakes (adjust the spiciness as you desire).

Gas BBQ – the inferior, yet acceptable way

The “correct” way with charcoal:

The final result should be like this…

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