Have you ever seen those big cone-shaped stacks of meat that are being cooked vertically in a middle eastern restaurant and wondered what it was? Most of the time it is shawarma which is a popular dish originating from the Middle East. Chicken or lamb is cooked on a vertical rotisserie and smothered with a wonderful blend of spices.
Every time I walk past one it smells delicious but it’s not the kind of dish you can easily make at home. That is of course until Trader Joe’s made it available. I’ve been on the hunt to try Trader Joe’s Shawarma Chicken Thighs for a while now, but it’s typically out of stock. I finally was able to find a package and it was worth the wait. Now I can’t walk past it without recommending it to others.
The packaging is simple and allows the meat and the seasoning blend to speak for themselves. The vivid reddish-brown color of the spiced chicken looks mouthwatering and if the chicken could get up and walk it would have walked right into my cart.
Trader Joe’s Shawarma Chicken Thighs Ingredients
Trader Joe’s lists the ingredients on the front of the package. They include boneless skinless chicken thighs, shawarma spice marinade, annatto oil for color, lemon juice, vinegar powder, and natural rosemary flavor. We’re “less is more” when it comes to ingredients so the simplicity here was well received. It’s especially nice to be able to recognize and pronounce the name of all the ingredients.
You may not be familiar with annatto, but it’s actually a commonly used natural food coloring made from the seeds of the achiote tree. Its color comes from carotenoids, the same compounds that make tomatoes red and carrots orange. It’s typically used in Vietnam, the Philippines and Latin American countries to give their foods a vibrant color. We would have preferred if TJ’s selected almost any oil other than soybean oil to make it but we’ll pick our battles.
FULL INGREDIENT LIST: BONELESS SKINLESS CHICKEN THIGH, SHAWARMA SPICE MARINADE (SHAWARMA SEASONING, [DEHYDRATED ONION, DEHYDRATED GARLIC, SEA SALT, SPICES, PAPRIKA, TURMERIC, PARSLEY], ANNATTO OIL FOR COLOR [ SOYBEAN OIL, ANNATTO SEED], LEMON JUICE, VINEGAR POWDER, NATURAL ROSEMARY FLAVOR).
Vegans and vegetarians you likely haven’t made it this far. But if you have just know that Trader Joe’s has been dishing out a number of great meatless options including a Korean fav that is a must try. Even for you meat lovers if you want a break from meat, check out our review of the Korean Beefless Bulgogi which wins on all counts.
The shawarma chicken thighs come raw, and Trader Joe’s recommends two ways to cook them. On the grill or in a conventional oven.
How to Cook the Shawarma
While grilling the chicken thighs would probably have tasted great and maybe even offered a more authentic taste, it was way too cold outside when I prepared these. I opted to use the conventional oven and I don’t regret it one bit.
The directions for cooking the chicken in the oven are to preheat the oven to 400° Fahrenheit, place it on a rack, and cook for approximately twenty minutes. I used a cast iron pan and checked the chicken thighs after twenty minutes they were still completely raw, it ended up taking fifty minutes to cook through, but it was well worth the wait. Your patience will be rewarded.
*Update – After making the shawarma a 2nd time here are some takeaways for an elevated version:
- If you don’t have a grill, use your oven but increase the cooking time by almost double.
- Best results using a cast iron pan, and sear the shawarma first and then cook.
- Flip the shawarma half way through to ensure even cooking and browning.
- Like most shawarma Trader Joe’s version is dark meat chicken. Cooking to a higher internal temp (between 180-190 degrees) will ensure that the connective tissue within the chicken breaks down during cooking resulting in a juicier more flavorful chicken.
- AIR FRYER – If you prefer to cook your shawarma in the air fryer set the temp to 375 degrees and cook for 15 minutes.
When you remove the shawarma from the oven let it rest for 5 minutes before slicing to give the juices time to reabsorb. The chicken was tender, juicy, and the aromatics from the spice blend filled our kitchen which now smelled like our local Lebanese restaurant.
How it Tasted
I took a bite and the flavors quite literally danced in my mouth. There is a spiciness to the chicken that hits you almost immediately followed by the authentic flavor of the shawarma spice blend.
While the chicken was cooking I added a medium yellow onion, one sliced jalapeno and some diced tomatoes to the cast iron pan.
The vegetables cooked down in the juices and enhanced the flavor of the overall dish even more. Using one pan made clean up a breeze.
To make a meal out of the chicken thighs, I went traditional and decided to use pita bread and make a pita pocket.
If you have rice, another good option would be to combine the chicken and veggies into a rice bowl.
Add some tzatziki dip, feta cheese, and diced cucumber. The three really complement the flavor of the shawarma chicken thighs and made a delicious meal. You can find them all at Trader Joes.
What to Pair with Shawarma?
If the shawarma chicken thighs are on your shopping list (and they should be!) and you’re at a loss of what to eat with them here are a few great options that Trader Joe’s offers to make it a one stop shop.
Garlic Spread Dip – Also of mid-eastern origin, this authentic creamy garlicy lemony emulsion will add some zest to your shawarma without overpowering it.
Garlic Naan – Pile your shawarma on top of this tasty Indian flatbread or dip the naan in either of these yummy sauces.
Vegetables – Cook shawarma with red, yellow, or orange peppers and tomatoes or and top with raw cucumber or red onion.
Tzatziki Dip – A creamy garlic cucumber dip. Trader Joe’s version is made with kefir cheese and nonfat sour cream.
Tahini Sauce – A staple in Mediterranean and middle eastern cuisine that consists of a smooth paste made from hulled toasted sesame seeds. It’s commonly found in hummus and baba ghanoush and is typically eaten with falafel and kebabs.
Trader Joe’s Shawarma Chicken Thighs Price
The cost of the shawarma chicken thighs is $6.49 per pound so the price of each package varies by weight. My package cost $11.10 and weighed in at 1.71 pounds.
Prices for the selection in my store ranged from $9.74 up to $11.60 but you can expect it to be close to that.
I suppose it was a bit more than I expected for chicken thighs. On the contrary, being able to pour the bag of pre-marinated chicken right into the pan and start cooking was nice! Also, I was able to get 6 servings out of it so at under $2 each that’s a pretty good bang for your buck.
These days you get what you pay for. There is certainly a price for convenience and with TJ’s shawarma you get that along with great taste and tender chicken.
Overall, Trader Joe’s shawarma chicken thighs deserve a 9/10 (-1 for soybean oil). The flavor is great, the price is fair for how many servings you can make, and cooking it is a breeze. It will definitely be a repeat purchase.