Grilled Beef Kofte

I was speaking with a Turkish friend last week and they mention Kofte, which happened to be one of the main recipes from the current issue of Cook’s Illustrated. Chris Kimball promises that they are only a little more work than hamburgers, but offer much richer flavor and texture. While they are not a lot of actual work, they do require a couple of additional hours of planning, and make a noticeably bigger mess in the kitchen. However, don’t let the long list of ingredients deter you, most of the spices you will likely already have in your pantry. My shopping list consisted merely of 4 items: fresh mint, ground beef, pita bread, and sunflower seeds (to make homemade tahini). The bottom-line is that the kebobs are good, and an interesting alternative to grilled hamburgers. I liked the coolness of the yogurt sauce. But they are only 3-1/2 stars, and worthy only of making occasionally, not a complete abandonment of the time-tested hamburgers.

Served as sandwiches or on a skewer.

Served as sandwiches or on a skewer.


  1. I did not want to spend $6 for tahini, because I only needed 2 tablespoons and have never used it before. As I was looking for substitutes (the best online suggestion seemed to be peanut butter), it became clear that tahini was just ground sesame seeds. So I just made it myself using 50-cents of raw sunflower seeds. I’ll post how I did it later in the week.
  2. I accidentally minced my onion rather than grating it. I’m not sure if it made a big difference.
  3. A lot of times when Chris Kimball uses a disposable aluminum roasting pan inside a charcoal grill it is to put the coals around the pan, leaving a cool zone directly above the pan. But for this recipe, he puts the coals directly into the disposable pan to concentrate the heat. The high heat offers a great opportunity to really do a good job cleaning (scraping and wiping with news paper) and seasoning the grill (rubbing paper towel dipped in vegetable oil).
  4. If you are using a gas grill, then you should turn all burners on high and preheat for 15 minutes. Plus cook covered instead of uncovered in step 6.

Rating: 3-1/2 stars.
Cost: $15. Including pita, but substituting 50-cents in sunflower seeds for $6 of tahini.
How much work? Medium.
How big of a mess?  Medium/High.
Start time: 4:30. Dinner time: 6:30

Chris Kimball’s original recipe is here and he has a lamb variation here. The descriptions of how I prepared everything today are given below:

Yogurt-Garlic Sauce Ingredients:
1 cup plain whole-milk yogurt
2 tablespoons lemon juice
2 tablespoons tahini
1 garlic clove
1/2 teaspoon salt

Kofte Ingredients:
5 garlic cloves
1/2 cup pine nuts (2-1/2 ounces)
2 teaspoons hot smoked paprika
2 teaspoons ground cumin
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper
1/4 teaspoon ground coriander
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/8 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1-1/2 lbs 80% lean ground beef
1/2 cup grated onion
1/3 cup minced fresh parsley
1/3 cup minced fresh mint
1-1/2 teaspoons unflavored powdered gelatin
1 large disposable aluminum roasting pan
8 metal or bamboo skewers
8 pieces of Pita bread (if making a sandwiches)

  1. To prepare the sauce, whisk all the ingredients together in a small bowl (I used a 2-cup Pyrex measuring cup) using a garlic press on the garlic. Cover and let rest in the refrigerator.
  2. Peel the garlic clove and add to the bowl of a food processor. Add pine nuts, paprika, cumin, salt, pepper, coriander, cloves, nutmeg, and cinnamon to the food processor. Puree for 35 to 35 seconds until it forms a course paste, then empty into a large bowl.
  3. Grate an onion on the large wholes of a box grater, draining away the juices, so that you have 1/2-cup of onion pulp. Mince parsley and mint leaves.
  4. Add ground beef, grated onion, minced parsley and mint, plus 2 teaspoons gelatin to the large bowl with the spice paste. Use your hands to combine thoroughly; kneading for about 2 minutes.  Divide into 8 equal balls, and then roll each ball into a sausage-shaped cylinder about 5″-long and 1″-thick. Insert a skewer down the center of each cylinder and place on a baking sheet that is lightly sprayed with non-stick vegetable spray. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least an hour, but you can do this the night before (up to 24-hours).
  5. To prepare the charcoal grill, ignite a chimney starter 2/3-filled with charcoal (about 4 quarts), and allow about 15 minutes to fully ignite until partially covered with white ash. Open bottom and top vents completely. Use a skewer or paring knife to poke 12 holes in the bottom of your disposable, aluminum pan and set in the center of the grill. Once ignited, empty the lite coals INTO the aluminum pan. Cover with lid to preheat the grill for 5 minutes before cleaning (scraping and oiling the grill grate).
  6. Put skewers directly over the coals at a 45-degree angle to the grill grate. Cook uncovered without moving them for 6 minutes, until nicely browned. The meat should easily release from grill when ready. Flip over and cook for another 6 minutes. The meat will be done when the internal temperate reaches 160-degrees. Place on serving platter or wrap in yogurt-sauce covered pita.

4 Responses to Grilled Beef Kofte

  1. Andrea says:

    Well Mark you may have only given this 3.5 stars but my mouth is watering and I may just have to try this recipe. (I already have the sesame tahini). -Andi

    Btw, great blog. Glad I finally looked it up.

  2. TIm Smith says:

    I have been following your blog and trying out some of the same recipes and comparing notes. I appreciate what you are doing!

    I made the beef kofte too recently and would rate it higher, based on my tastes.

    I used wood charcoal, which burns at a much higher temperature than regular charcoal and skipped the disposable pan route. This allowed me to get a very nice sear on the exterior and then place them on the other side of the two-tier grill set up to finish them off using indirect heat.

    One note I wanted to make regarding grating the onions, it does make a difference, as a lot of liquid is released through doing this. My best guess would be that the liquid release concentrates the flavors a bit better in the meat mixture.

    Also on your homemade tahini, the posted recipe calls for sesame seeds and in the photos it appears you are using sunflower seeds, was this an oversight?

    Thanks again and I am looking forward to your next installment.

  3. anita says:

    I use my tahini for hummus. It lasts a very long time in the ‘fridge. It takes a lot of elbow grease to mix it, tho’, as the oil and solids separate.

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