Take mojo marinated pork outdoors this summer with these flavor-packed kebabs. Using a variety of veggies and (surprise!) fruit means you never have to make the same kebab twice.
Mojo has a zippy bite because of the grapefruit and lime juice that it’s made with. Copious amounts of garlic add nothing but Latin flavor to the kebabs. As a result, this might become your go-to marinade for all your grilled proteins.
Childhood Memories of Kebabs
My childhood memories are filled with kebab fundraisers to support my mom’s or dad’s Air Force units. We stayed up all night impaling chunks of pork on sticks to grill the following day.
My entire Saturday was consumed by fake-smiling at adults while trying to hawk kebabs. I hated it. The only ray of hope came in the hourly breaks I was given (child labor laws being what they are) where I was able to eat a kebab. Two kebabs, if I was sly enough to sneak one.
So, while being a kebab salesperson wasn’t the highlight of my youth, the memories I have of making and eating them were. Our fundraising kebabs were bare-bones, though: Meat on a stick is all they were. As an adult, I’ve taken advantage of my ability to add veggies to my kebabs, and now you can’t tell me nothing!
WHAT’S THE BEST PORK FOR KEBABS?
The best cut of pork to use for kebabs is tender and lean like pork neck meat or tenderloin.
Because the meat won’t cook long on the grill, you want a tender cut that won’t dry out. I find that pork neck meat (in your meat section it may be labeled pork collar or pork top round) meets that requirement because it has ribbons of fat throughout the meat, but the meat is still very tender (since a pig doesn’t shake its neck as much as I do).
Tenderloin is my backup. It’s leaner than neck meat, which means it tends to dry out faster when grilling so just keep an eye on it. Tenderloin is a great fallback if you can’t find neck meat, though.
When all else fails, grab a pack of boneless, thick-cut pork chops and cut them to size.
WHAT IS MOJO MARINADE?
Mojo (pronounced mo-HO) is a garlic- and citrus-flavored sauce that’s moderately acidic and plentiful on flavor. If you’ve ever had a Cubano sandwich, chances are it was made with mojo marinated pork roast.
In Hispanic cooking, it’s used as a marinade for all sorts of proteins. Pork is among the most common, but poultry and seafood tend to be runners-up.
If you’re looking to go the super authentic route, try to get your hands on bitter orange and use that in place of the grapefruit and orange juices. No worries if you’re not in the mood for a scavenger hunt though. The recipe is written to mimic the flavors you would get from bitter orange.
HOW LONG SHOULD YOU MARINATE PORK KEBABS?
At the very least, your pork kebabs should sit in the mojo marinade for two hours. I’ve rushed the marinade before and felt the pain of disappointment. The flavors just weren’t what I wanted them to be. Don’t get me wrong, I still ate them, but that two-hour marinade makes a world of difference.
If you’re looking to get the most out of the marinade, leave the pork to soak it up for eight hours. Any more and you’re dabbling in meat that will end up too tough (the acid in the marinade slowly “cooks” the protein). When in doubt, shoot for four hours and you’ll hit the sweet spot.
HOW DO YOU KNOW WHEN KEBABS ARE FINISHED COOKING?
One of the things I love most about grilling these pork kebabs is how fast they cook. Because pork only needs to be cooked to an internal temperature of 145°F, these skewers will only take 10 minutes to cook on the grill.
As a result of the short cooking time, it’s important to cut your fruits and veggies to uniform sizes. This way, they’ll be pleasantly charred and cooked through at the same time as the pork.
MIX UP YOUR FRUITS AND VEGGIES FOR TASTY KEBABS
When it comes to the best fruits and veggies to use on your kebabs almost anything goes.
Try to avoid dense or thick-fleshed veggies like carrots, potatoes, or gourds (butternut squash)—they’re not going to be soft enough to enjoy by the time the pork is grilled.
I highly recommend summer squash though. When in doubt, the old kebab regulars are a surefire choice: mild bell peppers, onions, and tomatoes are the quintessential kebab cohorts.
I gave mine a tropical/spicy bent by impaling pineapple chunks and thick slices of jalapeño peppers on a few of my skewers. Spice yours up likewise, but I recommend keeping it at jalapeño peppers and nothing spicier.
SWAPS AND SUBSTITUTIONS FOR PORK KEBABS
If you want to swap out the pork for a different protein, I’d recommend anything from chicken thighs (which are juicier than breasts, but those will still work), shrimp, swordfish, or even firm tofu.
When it comes to marinating proteins like seafood, you’ll need to reduce the time to no longer than 20 minutes. Any longer and you’ll be grilling ceviche.
WHAT TO SERVE WITH PORK KEBABS
I nestle my pork kebabs in a bed of steamed rice on a large serving platter. When it’s time to serve, my family scoops up a spoonful of rice and grabs their kebabs. It’s a balanced meal on a platter.
CAN YOU MAKE KEBABS AHEAD OF TIME?
You can most certainly assemble your kebabs ahead of time! Ask my ten-year-old self.
- Marinate the meat for a couple of hours
- Remove it from the marinade
- Assemble the kebabs
- Wrap them in plastic
- Store them in the fridge
- Remove from the fridge 20 minutes before grilling to take the chill off