Etymology and history
The practice of cooking meat on a stick or skewer originates in prehistorical times, possibly as long as a million years ago, when early humans began cooking with fire. Dishes prepared in a similar way to kebab, with various cultural origins, include anticucho, espetada, satay, souvlaki, yakitori, and many others.
Excavations in Santorini, Greece, unearthed stone sets of barbecue for skewers used before the 17th century BC. In each pair of the supports, the receptions for the spits are found in absolute equivalence, while the line of small openings in the base formed a mechanism to supply the coals with oxygen so that they remained alight during its use. Mycenaean Greeks used portable tray as grills. These trays were rectangular ceramic pans that sat underneath skewers of meat but it is not clear whether these trays would have been placed directly over a fire or if the pans would have held hot coals like a portable barbecue pit. Homer in Ilad (1.465) mentions pieces of meat roasted on spits (οβελός). In Classical Greece, a small spit or skewer was known as ὀβελίσκος (obeliskos), and Aristophanes mentions such skewers being used to roast thrushes.
The English word kebab comes from the Persian كَبَاب (kabāb), partly through Arabic and Turkish. According to Sevan Nişanyan, an etymologist of the Turkish language, the word kebab is derived from the Persian word "kabab" meaning "fry". The word was first mentioned in a Turkish script of Kyssa-i Yusuf in 1377, which is the oldest known Turkish source where kebab is mentioned as a food. However, he emphasizes that the word has the equivalent meaning of "frying/burning" with "kabābu" in the old Akkadian language, and "kbabā/כבבא" in Aramaic. The American Heritage Dictionary also gives a probable East Semitic root origin with the meaning of "burn", "char", or "roast", from the Aramaic and Akkadian. These words point to an origin in the prehistoric Proto-Afroasiatic language: *kab-, to burn or roast.
Tradition has it that the dish was invented by medieval soldiers who used their swords to grill meat over open-field fires. Persian kebab was served in the royal houses during various Islamic Empires and even commoners would enjoy it for breakfast with naan or pita.