How To Cook Trader Joe’s Chicken Shawarma

Let’s start with your Shopping List. It should include:

  • package of TJ’s Chicken Shawarma Thighs
  • Naan (frozen or fresh, or pita or flour tortillas)
  • Tzatziki Sauce (cucumber yogurt)
  • Onions, garlic, peppers, tomatoes, parsley or cilantro…
  • Zhoug Sauce (optional, or your favorite hot sauce)

Now there are a number of ways you can cook the chicken thighs. Seared in a pan, baked in the oven and I’ve even read some people cook these in an Air Fryer. Do not even think about Microwaving the chicken. It needs to brown.

My simple preferred way is grilling in a pan. I do it in a cast iron pan but if you don’t have one of these handy babies, any heavy non stick pan will do just fine. Sure cooking it on an outdoor grill would be great if you have one. If you want to bake them, put them on a sheet pan with foil under for easier cleanup and bake them at 400 for 20-25 minutes.

First of course, remove the thighs from the package. Carefully as this is a bit messy (and stain-y)! You probably want to use a fork or tongs and not your fingers to remove the chicken unless your want to have orange fingers as the marinade contains both turmeric (yellow) and anatto (red) both of which are super natural dyes. Put the thighs on a cutting board. It may stain that but you can clean it up later with diluted bleach.

I like to put a few shallow slashes in the thickest parts of the thighs to open them up a bit and make them cook more evenly. You can pat some of the wet marinade off with a paper towel if you like. What I actually do is sprinkle on more seasonings before I put them in the pan. Ground cumin and Ajika seasoning blend or Smoked Paprika . These spices will help it to brown better but this is optional. If you are cooking the chicken with a few veggies (onions, etc) which I do recommended, prep and slice them. I highly recommend at least adding a few cloves of fresh garlic during cooking. You will add the veggies about 1/2 way during the cooking. Get your pan on medium heat and add your oil/butter mix, say a good tablespoon of oil plus one of butter too. Wait till it’s sizzling and now add the chicken to the pan. Resist any urge to touch or move the chicken for at least 5 minutes. We want to get a good sear on the bottom. Cook until the bottom side is well browned, which might take about 7-8 minutes for the first side.

When the bottoms is browned, flip it over. This is when I add my sliced onions, garlic and maybe some peppers (green, red or yellow peppers) placed around the chicken if you have room. If not you can cook them when you take out the chicken. When the thighs are finished after maybe 6-7 minutes on the second side, you can remove to a cutting board and let the chicken rest a few minutes, then slice them up as you wish. Put the sliced chicken back into the warm pan (off the heat) with any juices from the cutting board and mix it all up with your grilled veggies if you made some.

To assemble, warm up your wrap/bread : Naan, pita or tortillas. For a “Shawarma” sandwich put a little sauce down then add your chicken (and veggies) down the center of the naan (or pita) Top with sauce and a little chopped tomatoes and parsley. Eat them kind of like a taco, folded up.

Other ideas how to serve them? Besides doing some type of wrap, you could just just lay the chicken on top of a salad or eat with hummus, served with side dishes like basmati rice Harvest Grain Blend.


DIY Shawarma Chicken (Recipe)

The other day, I wanted SHAWARMA CHICKEN but I was a bit resentful at the current price of a package of TJ’s Shawarma Chicken. It now costs about $11-12 ($6.50/lb. currently) way up from what it orginally cost. I knew I had some boneless chicken thighs in my freezer, and I have spices of course and Greek yogurt. Why not just do a DIY SHAWARMA style chicken on my own and save some dough!? So I did just that. How did it turn out? Delicious! You can easily do a DIY Shawarma Chicken if you want to save some money, and who doesn’t these days with the constant inflation and sticker shock when you go shopping?

I used Trader Joe’s boneless skinless chicken thighs that I had in my freezer (I defrosted the chicken overnight in the fridge) Or buy fresh boneless skinless thighs; they will easily be about $2 cheaper per pound (if not more) Vs. TJ’s Shawarma Chicken which has crept up in price a few times from the original $3.99/lb to $6.49/lb as of this post.

DIY Shawarma Chicken Recipe: Put chicken in a bowl and add 3 tablespoons of Greek Yogurt. Add a few teaspoon of fresh lemon juice. Crush 4 cloves of garlic with a little salt and mix into chicken. Add a few spoons (to taste) of ZHOUG Yemeni spicy green sauce. Mix. Even this very simple version will work fine, however to make this better we should add ground spices with “Middle Eastern” flavors. Here’s some ideas for Trader Joe’s spices you can add :

Trader Joe’s EVERYDAY SEASONING (grinder), Onion Salt, Ground Turmeric, Ground Cumin, TJ’s AJIKA blend, TJ Smoked Spanish Paprika, TJ Zaatar spice blend, Black pepper, PINK SEA SALT. A pinch of cinnamon. A small glug of olive oil. MIX everything well so all the spices are mixed in. Let it marinate in fridge for 2-6 hours or overnight or up to 2-3 days. When ready to cook, just make it as you normally grill TJ’s Shawarma chicken thighs. You can of course also make this instead with CHICKEN BREASTS if you prefer white meat but just be very careful about not overcooking them. I like to cook a sliced onion in the same pan as I grill the chicken.




(Update: while I still give this product a Rave I do have a few Rants about it getting continuous price increases since I first wrote this. (orig. $4.49/lb->now $6.99?)

I don’t know about you, but it’s rare for me to buy a pre-marinated package of chicken or meat. I normally get something and make my own marinade. However when I first saw this product: Trader Joe’s “Shawarma Chicken Thighs” I was intrigued. Because I happen to LOVE me some Shawarma. In NYC we have quite a few places that sell it. So I gave this a try and in short, not only did I really like TJ’s Shawarma Chicken way more than I expected to, I liked it so much since that first time I’ve bought it many times as it’s really tasty. So if you don’t want to read this whole piece and just want to know if this are worth buying, the answer is Yes. If you want to know more, read on dear reader….

SHAWARMA CHICKEN THIGHS are very flavorful by having been deeply imbued from many “Shawarma spices” they use which include: “Onion, garlic, sea salt, cumin, cinnamon, coriander, paprika, turmeric, annato, parsley, lemon, vinegar, rosemary…”

This package of chicken is convenient and easy to cook. You pretty much just toss it into a pan and in less than 20 minutes you can have a tasty dinner ready with the addition of a few sides (Naan, maybe some rice/grains, veggies). The unopened package can easily stay a week or so in the fridge. They say way longer but personally I find TJ’s “good until” dates are way too generous and don’t trust them. Naturally one can also freeze it. If you do, I suggest a slow 24hr defrost in the fridge.

Upon cutting the bag open (do carefully!) you’ll immediately smell wonderful “Middle Eastern Shawarma” style spices (Warning – the Turmeric and Anatto in the marinade will stain everything it touches orange including your fingers. I recommend using tongs or a fork. Your cutting board will get stained too so just use diluted bleach later to clean up).

Any fat you see still on the chicken will melt off during cooking and it keeps the meat moist so I say don’t trim it off, or do it after cooking if any is left. I make a few shallow slashes in the thickest parts of the thighs to help even out cooking with the thinner part. Optional: blot the chicken with a paper towel to dry them a bit. I actually sprinkle on more spices (Smoked Spanish Paprika, Ajika, another sprinkle of ground cumin, etc) as more dry spices on the surface will make it brown up even better, especially the paprika.

Chicken cooked halfway, with added onion and garlic
Cooked, sliced up and put back in the pan (with some arugula)

COOKING: I recommend grilling in a cast iron or non-stick pan. I add maybe 2 teaspoons of olive oil (or even better an oil/butter mix; the butter adds flavor and browns well). Grill the chicken on medium for about 7-8 mins on the first side until deeply seared. Then turn and cook about another 6-7 minutes. Your kitchen will smell great cooking these from all those nice Middle Eastern spices. TIP: I let the thighs cook without touching or moving them until they get a good sear on them (see picture) Totally optional but adding onion and garlic about half way during cooking will make for great additions with the chicken (and possibly green/red/yellow peppers).

If you can grill these on a real grill with wood or charcoal of course and they would probably taste even better. Baking in the oven may work too for 20 minutes on high heat (450). You could even bake this as a Sheet Pan Supper with veggies for an easy one-pan dinner.

This marinade is not spicy so if you want a little heat just add something like Bomba or Zhoug goes especially well with these, with a bit brushed on at the very end and/or served on the side after cooking. Cooking veggies in the same pan on the side (onions, peppers, cherry tomatoes…) is good.

Pan grilling seems my preferred method as it browns great this way and seals in juices. Chicken thighs are harder to overcook than breasts which can dry out easily (side note, check my method for cooking juicy boneless chicken breasts –) : (juicy chicken breasts).

Shawarma chicken, served on TJ’s Garlic Naan with Tzaziki, and veggies. Super yummy!!

When the thighs are done, rest them 2-3 minutes before slicing (resting meat keeps in juices). Slice them however you like, thinly or a little thick. Put the sliced chicken back in the pan with the cutting board juices and mix with the grilled onions or veggies if you made any. Chopped fresh cilantro or parsley or arugula perhaps for color plus a squeeze of lemon are good.

SHAWARMA SANDWICH ASSEMBLY – warm your naan or pita. Place the sliced chicken down the center, top with sauce (TJ’s TZAZIKI sauce is perfect). Add a few veggies. To eat, fold gently and eat like you would a taco, or just use a knife and fork

As mentioned I find these go great with TJs’ “ZHOUG” spicy sauce which matches perfectly for a spicy Yemeni flavor. To tame the heat, mix Greek Yogurt and Zhoug together 50/50 to make it less spicy. You can serve the chicken many ways but a great way of course is as SHAWARMA wrap with Naan or other flatbread. Use flatbread, warm pita or TANDOORI NAAN (it’s perfect for this) or even TJ HABANERO LIME TORTILLAS as a wrap …. add chopped veggies (tomato, cukes, shredded lettuce, scallion, parsley…) Top with sauce, a tahini or yogurt garlic sauce (TJ’s tzaziki sauce is perfect). These are messy to eat but oh so good. Your family will love them. Basmati Rice on the side, or as a bed, would be a great match with this.

Another Shawarma meal: this a DIY version from scratch on whole wheat pita bread with sauce and veggies

Shopping list : Shawarma Chicken, Tzatziki, Naan or Pita, onion, garlic, veggies…..

The second dish I made with these chicken thighs was to use them for Chicken Tacos / Fajitas. Despite the cultural melange (middle east and mexico) these work great for Tacos. Sidenote: You knew Lebanese immagrants had a big part in Mexican food culture and created the famed Tacos Al Pastor, right? Green Dragon hot sauce with it’s tomatillo and cilantro flavor made them perfectly Mexican on our tacos.

(note: the price has gone up a few times since I wrote this!): TJ’s SHAWARMA CHICKEN THIGHS are $4.49 a pound* The 1.5 lb package I bought was just over $6 and I got two meals out of it, with sides, so more than if you just bought plain chicken but not a bad deal. These are excellent to also use as the Chicken part of a dish, say a Chicken and Rice (brown the meat with onions, throw in rice, add broth, cook 18 minutes…) I made an Arroz Con Pollo kind of dish with this and it came out terrific! So TJ’s SHAWARMA CHICKEN THIGHS are a good product and worth trying. These are a TJ hit. If you want to save money, naturally you could buy chicken thighs and add your own blend of “middle eastern style” spices for a marinade and leave it for a few days in the fridge.


My DIY Shwarma on Naan

DIY SHAWARMA – IT’S CERTAINLY POSSIBLE TO MAKE THIS YOURSELF FOR LESS . Buy boneless skinless thighs and marinate with yogurt and shawarma spices (from 2 hours to up to 3 days) “Middle Eastern spices” – Ground cumin, fresh and/or dried garlic, onion salt, turmeric, black pepper, Ajika, Zhoug, Hatch Flakes... DIY Shwarma style chicken will be really good as well!


(LINK) Here’s A Recipe I found on TJ’s site with these for Shawarma Chicken Rice Soup

TJ’s sells other varieties of the marinated chicken thighs: HARISSA and LEMON & HERBS. Personally I found these other flavors aren’t as good as the SHAWARMA version. For one thing, they are way too wet) and I won’t buy either again.