Lebanese Beef Kafta
Jun 14, 2022, Updated Jul 26, 2023
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Lebanese Beef Kafta is like a meatball, flavored with onion and spices, formed on a skewer, then grilled. This is just one of the many grill recipes the Lebanese are famous for!
Even though a good hamburger is always, well, good!, I usually have plenty to critique: not enough flavor, too much between the bun to bite into, cooked too long or not enough. Enter Lebanese Grilled Kafta! Kafta shares plenty in common with burgers and with meatballs: seasoned meat, formed into a patty or a ball, cooked in a number of different ways.
But I will always–always–take kafta over a burger (where there’s a choice, at home!) for the FLAVOR factor. Use a higher fat ratio of meat and mix with onion, garlic, fresh herbs and spices galore. Even without grilling, made under the broiler or on the stove, kafta is a delicious flavor bomb. But put that flavor on the grill and you have that next level smokey, summery, char-grilled element that is such good friends with meat.
Table of Contents
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What is Lebanese Kafta?
Think of kafta as a hamburger or meatball made with ground beef, lamb, or even chicken. Kafta is most often skewered on a stick and then grilled to perfection on an outdoor grill, but can also be cooked in the oven or pan-fried. Kafta can be made with lean ground beef or lamb or even with ground chicken or turkey. The unique kafta flavor and delicious aroma is a result of the seasonings, especially onion, garlic and herbs like fresh parsley and mint as well as Middle Eastern spices of dried mint, sumac and cinnamon. When prepared well, kafta is moist, juicy and an absolutely delectable main dish!
Kafta is eaten juice right off the grill, often with a bed of simple Vermicelli Rice Pilaf and thin pita bread with other trimmings like turnip pickles, hummus, tahini sauce, Toum garlic sauce, or labneh.
Ingredients for Kafta
Ground beef, 85/15 fat content (substitute ground lamb, chicken or turkey). This higher fat content is key to making moist, tender kafta
Grated yellow onion
Fresh parsley, flat or curly, finely chopped
Fresh mint, finely chopped, plus more for finishing
Salt and black pepper
How to Make Lebanese Kafta
Step 1: Make the meat mixture. In a large bowl or food processor combine the ground meat with the yellow onion, parsley, mint, salt, black pepper, sumac, and cinnamon. Here we love to use the greatest tool in the kitchen: our hands! Distribute the ingredients evenly with the meat, using your hands to blend everything together.
You’ll see that the meat mixture is quite soft. Pop the meat in the refrigerator to chill and allow the flavors to meld for at least one hour and up to a full day.
Step 2: Shape the kafta. Use 1/2 cup of the meat mixture to form an oblong shape like a football. Pierce lengthwise with a 12-inch or smaller metal or wooden skewer. Continue to shape the kafta until it is longer and thinner, about 6 inches by 2 inches, on the skewer. Repeat this process with the rest of the meat.
Note: Metal skewers work the best here. For wooden skewers, soak them in water for about 30 minutes before shaping the Kafta mixture onto them so they don’t burn on the grill.
It is absolutely KEY not to overcook kafta! We’re looking for tender, juicy kafta that can only be achieved if the meat is cooked to medium at most. Grill the kafta on medium heat so you have more control over the cooking time. Be sure to oil the grill grates before grilling so the kafta doesn’t stick. Lay the kafta crosswise on the grill grates so the marks are crosswise, rather than lengthwise, on the kafta. Wait for that satisfying moment when you turn the skewers over about halfway through cooking to find perfect char marks, the grillers’ goal!
How to make Kafta on the grill
Step 1: Heat the outdoor grill to medium heat. Coat the grates with oil. This is important to prevent the kafta from sticking to the grill.
Step 2: Place the meat skewers crosswise on the grill grates. Lower the top and cook for about 3 minutes, or until golden with char marks on the bottom. Turn the kafta skewers and cook for another 5 minutes, or until the meat reaches 135°F. Take care not to overcook the kafta!
Step 3: Remove the kafta from the grill to a platter or cutting board. Brush the kafta with olive oil and dust with chopped fresh mint. Serve immediately.
How to make kafta in the oven
Step 1. Heat the oven 325ºF.
Step 2. Line a sheet pan with nonstick foil or parchment.
Step 3. Lay the skewered kafta, or kafta patties or unskewered logs, on the prepared sheet pan. Bake for about 8 minutes and turn the kafta over. Bake for another 8-10 minutes, or until or until the meat reaches 135°F.
Step 4: Brush the kafta with extra virgin olive oil and serve immediately.
How to make kafta on the stovetop
To cook kafta on the stove, shape the kafta into patties or logs that are not on skewers. This makes the turning and cooking much easier.
Step 1. Heat two tablespoons of neutral oil (such as safflower, avocado, or canola) in a large sauté pan over medium heat.
Step 2. Add the kafta logs or patties to the pan. Cook for about 8 minutes, reducing the heat of the kafta is getting very browned. Turn the kafta and continue to cook until the meat reaches 135°F, another 6-8 minutes, depending on the thickness of the kafta shape.
Step 3: Brush the kafta with extra virgin olive oil and serve immediately.
Tips for Making Great Kafta
- Be sure your meat has enough fat in it, 10-15% fat. The fat is key to juicy results.
- Take care not to overcook the meat. Keep the grill at medium heat so you have more control over the cooking time and are less likely to overcook them. Cook kafta to medium or medium rare.
- As with meatballs and burgers, don’t overwork the meat when forming the kafta. Distribute the seasonings evenly with your hands, then stop touching the mixture there.
- Serve kafta right from the grill. Reheating kafta can make it dry and overcooked. They’re best right off the grill when the kafta is hot and juicy.
Kafta is delicious made with ground beef, lamb, chicken, or turkey. Because ground chicken and turkey are very lean, add olive oil or a little butter ghee to the meat mix to moisten it. Fresh breadcrumbs and a couple of tablespoons of milk will also help tenderize chicken or turkey kafta.
Frequently Asked Questions
The easiest way to describe the flavor of kafta is that it tastes like a middle eastern meatball. When prepared well, kafta is juicy, moist and flavorful! While meatballs are generally softened with breadcrumbs and milk, kafta is more firm, which is why it can be skewered and grilled so easily. The Middle Eastern spices in the meat mixture give kafta its unique and delicious flavor.
Although ground beef and lamb are probably the most popular choices of meat used in making kafta, any type of ground meat is fine, including chicken or turkey. It is important to buy ground meat with a moderate fat content (around 85% fat) for your kabobs to be nice and juicy.
Yes definitely! Kafta can be baked in the oven at 325ºF for about 20 minutes, turning halfway through cooking. The kafta can simply be formed and placed on a sheet pan without needing to use skewers.
Arrange kafta kebabs on an oiled skillet (it’s okay to overcrowd the skillet, as the kebabs will shrink during/after cooking), and cook on medium heat for 10 minutes, flipping halfway through.
Both kafta and kofta are the same thing: a meatball made with ground meat and mixed with herbs, Middle Eastern spices and onions. In Lebanon it is known as kafta and in other Middle Eastern countries and India it is widely known as Kofta. But don’t confuse it with korma, which is an Indian dish that is very different from this.
Yes! You can get delicious kafta kebabs on your dinner table in less than 30 minutes. The preparation of basic ingredients, assembly and grilling of kafta is so easy. It is the perfect summer meal!
Although kafta kebabs are best hot off the grill, cooked kaftas will keep in an airtight container in the fridge for about 3 to 4 days. Reheat or eat them cold.
Freeze kafta raw after it’s shaped into oblong meatballs (no skewers), before cooking. First freeze them on a sheet pan for 1 hour, then transfer to a Ziploc bag. They freeze well for up to 3 months.
What to serve with Kafta
Eat kafta right off the grill, with a bed of simple Vermicelli Rice Pilaf and thin pita bread with other trimmings like turnip pickles, a dollop of hummus or baba ganoush. Drizzle with tahini sauce, Toum garlic sauce, or labneh.
More Kafta Recipes to Try
Lebanese Kafta Recipe
- 2 pounds ground beef, 85/15 fat content
- 2 tablespoons grated yellow onion
- 1 clove garlic, minced
- 3 tablespoons parsley, flat or curly, finely chopped
- 3 tablespoons mint, finely chopped, plus more for finishing
- 2 teaspoons kosher salt
- 1 tablespoon sumac
- 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
- 1 tablespoon crushed dried mint or Mint Salt
- 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- Few grinds black pepper (about 1/4 teaspoon)
- In a medium bowl, combine the beef with the onion, parsley, mint, salt, pepper, sumac, cinnamon and crushed dried mint. Chill for at least one hour and up to one day.
- Heat the grill to medium. Coat the grates with oil.
- Use 1/2 cup of the meat mixture to form an oblong football shape. Pierce lengthwise with a 12-inch or smaller skewer. Continue to shape the kafta until it is longer and thinner, about 6 inches by 2 inches, on the skewer. Repeat this process with the rest of the meat.
- Place the skewers crosswise on the grill grates. Lower the lid and cook for about 3 minutes, or until golden with char marks on the bottom. Turn the kafta skewers and cook for another 5 minutes, or until the meat reaches 135°F.
- Remove the kafta from the grill to a platter or cutting board. Brush the kafta with olive oil and dust with chopped mint. Serve immediately.
Nutrition information is automatically calculated, so should only be used as an approximation.