Nigerian Beef Suya

June  7, 2011
0 Ratings
Author Notes

Suya. Home food. One thought and my mouth begins to water – its deliciousness is engraved in the heart, mind and tummy of my seven year old daughter who left Nigeria for the Netherlands 4 years ago as a mere toddler. The flame-grilled, peanut-spiced pieces of beef are one of the few memories she’s preserved, along with the tropical heat.

Suya is Nigerian street food at its most popular – it is never made at home. Well, almost never. The exceptions? If you invite the suya man himself into your humble abode to rustle some up and if you are (like me), away from home, in diaspora and hankering after spicy meats of years past, then of course permission is granted to ‘try this at home’.

On the street, it is prepared by Mallams, men from the north of the country, trained in the art and spice of meat preservation. It has very humble origins, being the preserve of pastoral nomads who travelled with their herds of cattle and often had to use the meat of the animals both for food and trade. Thanks to the ‘wandering' of these men, every nook and cranny in every Nigerian city boasts a ‘suya spot’.

So what is suya? It is similar to the Asian saté. Thin strips of steak (sirloin, flank or topside) are coated in a dry peanut rub, flavours heightened by a balanced combination of powders – ginger, garlic, paprika, chilli and salt. The cut of meat matters...but not that much as the marinade tenderizes it wonderfully. Of course each mallam has his own special spice mix. Hours later and meat threaded onto sticks, they are cooked over hot coals till ready, then set aside to await the onslaught of clients at the end of a hard day’s work.

At four or five pm, the suya spots are suddenly transformed into a hive of activity. Amongst the crowds are boys trying to woo girls (rarely the reverse), parents treating kids, colleagues, friends and everyone in between. No one is too rich, too poor, too southern or western, of the right sex, wrong height to get suya from the same open-flamed shop – it is a delicacy that cuts across ever social level one can think off.

As soon as the orders are in, the suya sticks are warmed up again and served in newspapers, meat on sticks or sans, with a sprinkling of the marinade mix, fresh tomato wedges, slices of red onion and for the brave only – slices of fresh hot chilli pepper.

My version works a treat with homemade peanut butter to which the spices are added. In the winter, I’ve availed myself of my oven to grill and in the summer have enjoyed the warmth of my bbq flames.

Some tips:
Its easier to slice the beef if you freeze it for an hour prior to use

You can use store-bought peanut butter but you will need to thin it by gentle heating to which you can add a dash of coconut milk or water to create a thick pouring consistency

The spice measurements are a guide - adjust them to suit your taste.

Note, the best tasting suya is cooked, left to rest for a couple of hours and then reheated gently over the flames...of your BBQ!
Kitchen Butterfly

  • Prep time 40 minutes
  • Cook time 40 minutes
  • Makes about 12 skewers
  • 250g flank, sirloin or topside (sliced against the grain into thin wide pieces (about 5mm thick and 4-5 cm wide), slightly thicker than carpaccio
  • 1/2 cup roasted unsalted peanuts, skinned
  • 1/4 – 1/2 cup vegetable oil
  • 1 teaspoon chili/cayenne pepper (or less, adjust to taste)
  • 1 teaspoon sea salt
  • 1 teaspoon ground ginger (or less, adjust to taste)
  • 1 teaspoon onion powder
  • 1 teaspoon sweet paprika
  • 1 -2 tablespoons lemon or lime juice
  • Salt, to taste
  • Thinly sliced cabbage, fresh red onions, tomatoes and coriander leaves, to serve
In This Recipe
  1. Make a peanut paste: In a food processor or blender, grind the peanuts till they are crushed. The ground nuts will stick to the sides of the mixing container, so using a spatula, loosen bits from the bottom and round the sides. Then add the oil, drizzling in along with a pinch of salt, blending till you get a 'thick cream' consistency. Add the spices and lime juice to the peanut paste, stirring well. Adjust as required.
  2. Place beef slices in a large bowl. Pour the peanut sauce over it. Using your hands, mix well ensuring the pieces of beef are coated with the sauce. Refrigerate covered and leave to marinate for a few hours or overnight.
  3. When ready to cook, thread the beef strips onto (soaked wooden) skewers, accordion style so the meat is stretched out, not bunched up.
  4. You can cook them on a grill pan or the BBQ. Obviously, the smoky BBQ's ones taste much better. Prepare your BBQ - it is ready when the coals are red hot and have a layer of grey ash. Carefully place the skewers on an oiled grill rack.
  5. Let cook for a few minutes and then turn over and cook the other side. The sticks should be cooked in about 10 minutes or less, depending on how thick your slices of meat are.
  6. If they aren’t ready after 10 minutes, and you should notice a change in colour, take them off direct heat and let them cook slowly, till done. The meat will be soft and tender
  7. Then take off the heat and allow to rest for an hour or two. Warm gently and serve with thinly sliced cabbage, red onions and tomatoes

See what other Food52ers are saying.

  • Rey Compañeros
    Rey Compañeros
  • HRH
  • TheWimpyVegetarian
  • Sagegreen
  • lorigoldsby
I love food and I'm interested in making space for little-heard voices, as well as celebrating Nigerian cuisine in its entirety.

24 Reviews

Rey C. August 14, 2017
Is there any reason I couldn't use this Suya marinade for the Swordfish Suya?
Author Comment
Kitchen B. August 20, 2020
No reason you can't use this. Sorry this is late :)
HRH October 14, 2015
lady, i love your style! your descriptions are lovely :)
looking forward to making this recipe, as well as, a few
of your others... how did I not see these before?!?
Author Comment
Kitchen B. August 20, 2020
Thank you
TheWimpyVegetarian August 8, 2011
This is the perfect Fair food!!
Author Comment
Kitchen B. August 11, 2011
Thankz ChezSuzanne - I'm smack in the middle of an international move, back home to Nigeria from the Netherlands. I'm sad about moving but so looking forward to SUYA!!!!!! Thanks
TheWimpyVegetarian August 18, 2011
I've been so busy the last couple weeks with an event I'm really behind on comments! This is a BIG move - and I understand the mixed emotions. I hope the move goes well for you and that enjoy settling in back home in Nigeria. Looking forward to more recipes from there!!
Author Comment
Kitchen B. August 19, 2011
ChezS....we're on! Thank you for your thoughtful words - appreciate it, in the sweltering Nigerian heat! Actually waiting for my lil sis to come back with some suya now! Once we find a house and I get my mojo/camera/thoughts together, I'll share recipes 'out of Nigeria/Africa'. Take care
Sagegreen July 20, 2011
I want to try these!
Author Comment
Kitchen B. July 22, 2011
Thanks Sagegreen
lorigoldsby July 19, 2011
Somehow I missed seeing this dish twice before!! I used to only read the "recently submitted" category but figured out I was missing anything that hadn't been submitted that week! So now I click under contests and read thru those before going to recent submissions. Beautiful story to go with a wonderful recipe.
Author Comment
Kitchen B. July 22, 2011
Thanks Lorigoldsby
fiveandspice July 19, 2011
Oh my gosh, these look so good KB!
Author Comment
Kitchen B. July 19, 2011
Thanks fiveandspice
SKK July 18, 2011
We are so luck you resubmitted this recipe because somehow I missed it in the street food contest. I have been to Lagos and Abuja, Ota and Kano State and your story brings back the experience of the people and the food. This is now a favorite!
Author Comment
Kitchen B. July 19, 2011
Oh WOW SKK - Fantastic......I feel strong kinship I didn't expect anyone to know Ota! Wow.....Thanks
MyCommunalTable July 18, 2011
Sounds great, but my son is allergic to peanuts. I think I will use the sunflower butter to make this. Sounds great.
Author Comment
Kitchen B. July 19, 2011
Sorry to hear about your son's allergy MyCommunalTable - but other nut butters would work. I'd recommend 'toasted' versions if possible but raw would also work well. Thanks.
Beautiful, M. June 18, 2011
I am a huge fan of satay and am excited to learn of its Nigerian cousin! Looks fantastic, and more doable at home than I would have thought.
Author Comment
Kitchen B. June 8, 2011
Thank you everyone for your comments!
Midge June 7, 2011
So evocative! And your photos are amazing. Would love to try these someday.
Oh wow, this sounds just wonderful. And I really enjoyed so much reading the story about them - it brought such a sense of place to this great recipe. I love all these spices and I can't wait to try your Suya.
boulangere June 7, 2011
Your story is beautifully evocative of the place and your recipe. These sound simply wonderful. I have a good friend who raises bison, and I'm going to try this with one of her steaks. Thank you so much for everything here.
EmilyC June 7, 2011
I've never had these but based on your picture, description and recipe -- I really want to try them!