Perfectly grilled kabobs are tender, juicy, nicely seasoned and evenly cooked. With a little planning and preparation, even novice cooks can grill flawless kabobs. Remember that chunks of vegetables and fruits cook faster than meats, so you may want to thread them on separate skewers to simplify your grilling process. Also, use only tender cuts of meat. Marinades add flavor, and if your marinade is vinegar-based, the acid may help tenderize the meat slightly. However, the small chunks of meat cook quickly on skewers, so the meat must be tender at the start.
Combine the ingredients for a marinade in a medium bowl and mix well. For a citrusy marinade that complements chicken, lamb, pork and beef, mix 1/3 cup olive oil, 1/4 cup red wine vinegar, the juice of one lime or 1/4 cup bottled lime juice, 2 tsp. chili powder, and 1 tsp. each paprika and onion powder. Add cayenne pepper flakes, sea salt and pepper to taste. Reserve some marinade for basting purposes, if desired.
Wash the chicken, if using, in cold water and pat it dry. Trim any excess fat from the chicken or meat, then cut it into evenly sized 1 1/2-inch pieces.
Place the meat into the marinade, tossing it lightly to cover all sides of each piece. Marinate the meat in the refrigerator for at least an hour or up to overnight.
Soak bamboo or wooden skewers in water for at least 30 minutes. Place a weight, such as a bowl or plate, on top of the skewers to keep them submerged.
Wash and prepare your choice of vegetables and fruit for the kabobs. Leave soft items, such as small mushrooms, berries and cherry tomatoes, whole, and cut solid vegetables and fruit, such as bell peppers, onions and pineapple, into evenly sized chunks.
Thread the meat and vegetable pieces onto the skewers. Your goal is to have the meat evenly cooked and the vegetable and fruit chunks browned but not burned. To avoid burnt items, thread the vegetables and fruits onto the ends of the skewers with the meat in the middle.
Position the skewers on the grill, placing the meat over the hottest area in the center of the grill so it will cook faster. Arrange the ends of the skewers with the vegetables and fruit near the cooler edges of the grill.
Cook the kabobs for three to four minutes, then turn them and cook the other side for three to four minutes or until done. Use the reserved marinade to baste the kabobs during grilling. Basting is particularly useful in keeping the delicate fruits and vegetables from charring, and it lends flavor continuity to the entire kabob.
For even grilling, use only meat on one group of skewers, and use another group of skewers for vegetables and fruit. Grill the meat first, and when it is half done and you turn the skewers, begin to grill the vegetables and fruits.
Some vegetables that are perfect for kabobs are chunks of zucchini and yellow summer squash, and 2-inch pieces of sweet corn on the cob. New potatoes and 2-inch chunks of carrots are also good, but you'll need to partially cook them until they are soft enough to skewer, about 3 to 5 minutes in boiling water. Chunky wedges of peaches, nectarines, apples, pears and fruits with solid rinds, such as grapefruit, are also good candidates for lightly grilled kabobs.
Use honey, ginger powder, herbs or soy sauce to perk up your marinade.
Herbs lend flavor to a marinade, but pieces that cling to the meat can char and taste bitter. If you use herbs in your marinade, remove the herb pieces from the meat when you load it onto the skewers.
Use tongs and oven mitts to handle the kabobs on the grill as bamboo and wood skewers get quite hot.