An easy chicken shawarma recipe with tender, smokey and flavorful chicken and a garlic and lemon yogurt sauce served over crisp veggies and warm pita bread.
Looking for an easy chicken dinner that’s packed with flavor? Chicken shawarma is just what you’re looking for.
Give the meat a quick marinade while you prep the rest of your ingredients, and then the shawarma cooks up super quick and simple and is a total crowd-pleaser.
What is Shawarma?
Shawarma (also spelled shaurma, shoarma, shwarma, and shawirma) is a Middle Eastern dish made by roasting a cone of meat on a vertical spit. To serve, the meat is shaved off the cone and wrapped in flatbread.
And just in case you’re wondering, yes, the cooking process and presentation is very similar to gyros, but the two differ in toppings, seasonings, and type of meat traditionally used.
Full disclosure, since I don’t have a roasting spit in my kitchen (and I’m guessing you don’t either), we’ll be cooking our shawarma meat on the stovetop, so it’s not technically authentic shawarma, but it is authentically good.
- Boneless, skinless chicken thighs: Thighs are great here because they cook up moist and tender without a ton of fuss or babysitting.
- Pita bread: If you can’t find pita bread, any flatbread will work just fine.
- Plain Greek yogurt: I call for Greek yogurt for the sauce because it’s thicker and creamier than regular yogurt, but you can use any plain, unsweetened yogurt. The sauce will just be slightly thinner.
How to Make Chicken Shawarma
- Marinate the chicken thighs. Give the thighs at least 30 minutes in the marinade but no more than 2 hours as the acids in the marinade can start to make chicken a little mushy if it sits too long.
- In a large skillet, cook the marinated chicken until brown and beautiful.
- Deglaze the pan with a bit of chicken broth or water and give the red onions a quick sauté in the drippings.
- Wrap the chicken and onions in flatbread, add veggies, and then you’ll just need a bit of yogurt sauce to finish things off.
This garlic yogurt shawarma sauce is just unsweetened yogurt, a bit of lemon juice, garlic, and salt and pepper. It’s a perfect light and tangy topping that really complements the rest of the flavors in the shawarma.
And if you prefer a richer shawarma sauce, stir a couple spoonfuls of mayonnaise into your sauce, which adds a really satisfying richness (and makes the yogurt sauce even better on fries if you’re serving some as a side).
If you have any leftovers, you can thin the sauce with a bit of milk and use it as a creamy dressing for your lunch salad the next day.
Can I use chicken breasts instead of thighs in shawarma?
You can. While I prefer chicken thighs for shawarma, you can use chicken breasts here. Pound 2 medium chicken breasts out to an even thickness (check out my post how to cook chicken for salads and sandwiches if you want step-by-step photos of this process) and then marinate them and follow the recipe as written.
They will take longer to cook than chicken thighs, but should still be cooked to 165°F.
Can I make this ahead of time?
Yes. You can cook the meat and the onions and cut all the veggies up to two days in advance. When you’re ready to serve, reheat the meat and onions, assemble the shawarma, and enjoy.
Can I double the recipe?
Yes. This recipe doubles with no preparation changes needed. To change the recipe yield, hover over the serving size in the recipe card below or click if you’re on mobile, and slide the slider. No other cooking changes are needed.
Can I freeze chicken shawarma?
You can freeze some of the ingredients for shawarma. The cooked chicken thighs freeze well and the onions can be frozen, but will have a softer, slightly mushy texture after reheating. Freeze both in air-tight containers and keep up to 4 months.
To store leftover pita bread, wrap in foil, freeze in a freezer bag, and defrost on the counter or in the microwave, sprinkled with a bit of water. Frozen pita should be used as soon as possible because it will dry out the longer it’s kept in the freezer.
The fresh veggies and yogurt sauce are not good candidates for freezing.
What to Serve With Shawarma
As a popular street food, shawarma is often served wrapped up with french fries. I highly recommend the french fry option, and the yogurt sauce doubles as an excellent fry dipping sauce.
If you’re looking for something a little lighter, try serving it with a side of tabbouleh and some sliced cucumbers (which are also great dipped in the yogurt sauce.)
More Easy Chicken Dinners
- Shawarma Salad
- Chicken Francaise
- Crispy Lemon Chicken Thighs
- Creamy Chicken Noodle Soup
- Creamy Chicken Pasta
Chicken Shawarma With Yogurt Sauce
- ¼ cup olive oil
- 3 tablespoons lemon juice
- 3 cloves garlic pressed
- 1 teaspoon ground cumin
- 1 teaspoon paprika
- ½ teaspoon salt
- ½ teaspoon black pepper
- ¼ teaspoon turmeric
- 4 boneless skinless chicken thighs
Pita & Toppings
- 1 small red onion cut into wedges
- ¼ cup chicken broth or water
- 4 pita bread loaves
- 4-5 leaves romaine shredded
- 1 cucumber chopped
- 1 large tomato chopped
- 5 to 6 ounces (⅔ cup) plain Greek yogurt*
- 1 teaspoon lemon juice
- 1 clove garlic pressed
- ¼ teaspoon salt or to taste
- Pepper to taste
- In a small bowl, combine marinade ingredients. Place chicken in a plastic bag and pour marinade over the top. Shake to coat and allow to marinate for at least 30 minutes, up to 2 hours.
Make Yogurt Sauce
- In a small bowl (or the disposable yogurt cup), combine all yogurt sauce ingredients and stir until well-mixed.
- Preheat your oven to the warm setting (or lowest setting).
- Heat a large skillet over medium-high heat, add chicken thighs (dispose of the marinade) and cook for 2 to 4 minutes until first side is seared and darkly golden. Flip and cook for an additional 2 to 4 minutes, until an instant-read thermometer inserted into the center of the thighs reads 165°F. Turn down the heat if at any time the chicken seems to be burning.
- Transfer chicken to a plate and place a piece of foil over the thighs to keep them warm. Set aside.
- Over medium high-heat, deglaze your pan with a little chicken broth or water (about a quarter cup), scraping the burned and blackened pieces off the bottom while the liquid simmers.
- Add onions to your pan.
- Place your pita bread into the warm oven to heat while your onions cook.
- Cook onions until your they reach your desired level of doneness (for me, about 4 minutes for fairly soft onions). Remove from heat.
- Slice thighs into strips and serve over warmed pita bread. Top with cooked onions, romaine, tomatoes, cucumbers, and yogurt sauce.
Marinade Adapted From: NYTimes
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