Evidence of hominin use of fire and cooking in the Middle East dates back as far as 790,000 years, and prehistoric hearths, earth ovens, and burnt animal bones were spread across Europe and the Middle East by at least 250,000 years ago. In ancient times, Homer in the Iliad (1.465) mentions pieces of meat roasted on spits (ὀβελός), and excavations in Santorini unearthed stone supports for skewers used before the 17th century BC.
Kebab dishes originated in the medieval kitchens of Persia and Turkey. They were generally made with smaller chunks or slices of meat, or ground meat, often cooked on skewers over a fire. This cooking method has a long history in the region, where it would be practical in cities where small cuts of meat were available in butchers' shops, and where fuel for cooking was relatively scarce, compared to Europe, where extensive forests enabled farmers to roast large cuts of meat whole.
The word kebab, most likely of Arabic origin, came to English in the late 17th century partly through Urdu, Persian and Turkish. In Ibn Sayyar al-Warraq's 10th-century cookbook Kitab al-Tabikh, kabāb is described as cut-up meat either fried in a pan or grilled over a fire.
According to linguist Sevan Nişanyan, the Turkish word kebap is also derived from the Arabic word kabāb, meaning roasted meat. It appears in Turkish texts as early as the 14th century, in Kyssa-i Yusuf (the story of Joseph), though still in the Arabic form. Nişanyan states 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.
According to Ibn Battuta, a Moroccan traveller, in India, kebab was served in the royal houses during the Delhi Sultanate period (1206-1526 AD), and even commoners would enjoy it for breakfast with naan.