I lived in the Mediterranean for many years, and the cuisine is what I remember most.
Simple herbs, spices, and marinades are roasted over charcoal and served with fresh, zesty salads and creamy feta and yogurt-based sauces like tzatziki, all filled within a soft, warm, fluffy pita.
Every time I make one of these dishes, the aromas while they cook bring me back to Cyprus, where I was sitting in a typical taverna with kids running about, surrounded by relatives, sipping ice cold local beer from a frosted glass straight from the freezer.
That’s the joy of food: the flavors and aromas can transport you to another world and take you on a trip. Close your eyes and follow this formula to go on your own trip.
It might be the only way to travel right now.
- What’s the difference between Souvlaki and Gyros?
- What you’ll need
- Preparing your protein
- Preparing the rotisserie
- Time to cook!
- Make your Tzatziki and Greek Salad
- Serving your Souvlaki and/or Gyros
- What is Greek style gyro?
- Do Greeks use lamb in gyros?
- What are Greek gyros made of?
- What is the difference between Greek chicken gyros and souvlaki?
- What is Greek vs American gyro?
- What is the difference between gyro and Greek gyro?
- Is gyro lamb or chicken?
- Are gyros healthy?
- Is a lamb gyro healthy?
- Why are gyros so expensive?
What’s the difference between Souvlaki and Gyros?
Souvlaki is traditionally made with pork or chicken marinated in a lemon and oregano foundation in tiny cubes or portions strung on a skewer and fried directly over charcoal.
Gyros employs marinated chicken or lamb that is put onto a vertical rotisserie-style burner and then chopped straight off into smaller bite-sized pieces that are packed inside a pita with a salad and wrapped.
I’ll teach you how to make both taste profiles, but cook them on a charcoal rotisserie while retaining the traditional characteristics, and serve them in a gyros style in a meal that’s guaranteed to wow a crowd!
After eating this, you could discover that your guests are planning their own Big Fat Greek Wedding!
What you’ll need
- A BBQ with a rotisserie attachment
- Charcoal briquettes or lump charcoal
- a few bits of your preferred smoking wood (I chose plum since it complements both chicken and lamb)
- A flat-sided kitchen tenderizer mallet or rolling pin
- A long, sharp knife
- Charcoal starter chimney
Preparing your protein
Whether you’re using chicken, lamb, or hog, you’ll want to marinade your protein for a bit to get the most out of this dish. To obtain the most flavor, I like to marinate overnight, but you should marinate for at least 4-6 hours before cooking.
But first, prepare your meat by beating it. Relax, what we’re doing here is smoothing out our protein so that it’s nice and thin.
This provides the most surface area for your marinade to add flavor and also helps the meat cook more evenly, resulting in a much more tender finished product.
For souvlaki tastes, I prefer to use chicken thighs or pig shoulder, and lamb shoulder for gyros. If you’re using lamb or hog shoulder, have your butcher bone it for you, or do it yourself if you’re confident.
I then roll and knot it and place it in the fridge overnight to retain its form and make the following step simpler.
I prefer to chop skinless chicken thighs in half, and I like to slice lamb shoulder (or hog) about thick.
You’ll want it considerably thinner, but instead of attempting to slice it very thin, pound it fine with a meat tenderizer or rolling pin.
Place a sheet of cling film on a cutting board, top with a half thigh or lamb shoulder slice, then fold the cling wrap over on top of the protein.
After folding, make sure the meat is roughly in the middle so that the cling wrap doesn’t explode at the seam where you’ve folded it.
Then, using a rolling pin or tenderizer, flatten the protein to about 1/8-inch thickness. This also results in a much bigger, flatter piece of meat. If you don’t have one of them, a thick-bottomed frying pan will suffice.
Once youve done that, its time for the marinade.
To make souvlaki, combine the meat, oregano, lemon juice, mint, garlic, salt and pepper, and oil in a large non-metallic mixing bowl (if you use a metal bowl, the acidity in the lemon juice can react with the metals and make your meat taste metallic), and mix thoroughly with clean hands.
For the gyros, do the same with the cumin, paprika, garlic, oregano, and lemon juice, as well as the lamb shoulder. Refrigerate, preferably overnight, after wrapping in cling film.
Preparing the rotisserie
It’s time to fire up the rotisserie after the meat has marinated overnight. I prefer to use at least one full chimney of charcoal briquettes and then add some lump charcoal to keep the fire going.
Throughout the cook, add wood pieces for flavor and to keep the temperature up.lumpI’ll add more briquettes.
It’s time to start preparing the protein once you’ve lighted the coals and are waiting for them to ash over and reach cooking temperature.
I chop an onion in half and thread it through the rotisserie rod so the prongs don’t stick through too much meat, making it more difficult to slice. This isn’t necessary, but it’s a clever way to make your life simpler. Take a look at the image below to understand what I mean.
When the onion is ready, start threading your flattened pieces of meat. Put the roti rod off center and overlap each piece as you thread it on, rather than directly down the middle.
For example, picture the first piece you thread on being at 12 o’clock, then 3 o’clock, then 6 o’clock, then 9 o’clock, and so on.
Push it all down after each piece you threadon to condense it.
After you’ve threaded all of the flattened meat, proceed with the other half of the onion and the second roti fork. Tighten your clamps after securely pressing everything together.
Time to cook!
Once your charcoal is white, its time to cook.
To avoid direct heat beneath the meat, divide the charcoal into two offset stacks on each side of your rotisserie pole.
This will prevent any flare-ups from leaking fat or oil. If desired, place a drip pan underneath the meat.
Once your meat is spinning, keep an eye on it. In my rotisserie cooks, I utilize the Meater wireless thermometer for convenience.
Internal temperature for chicken should be approximately 170F, and I take the lamb a bit beyond medium-well to around 155-160F. Remember, this isn’t a lamb cutlet; the shoulder has lots of fat running through it and will still be quite delicate when cooked beyond medium.
We’ll also be chopping little chunks off, and this dish benefits from slightly seared, caramelized edges.
Make your Tzatziki and Greek Salad
You may create your tzatziki while your protein is cooking. Finely slice or grate your cucumber (if grating, pour out any extra moisture before adding), then combine with your greek yogurt, lemon juice, mint, garlic, and season to taste. Refrigerate until ready to serve, covered with cling wrap.
Chop your tomato, cucumber, and red onion into small pieces for your salad. Just before serving, drizzle with olive oil and lemon juice and sprinkle with dried mint. If you like, you may add some greek feta just before serving.
Serving your Souvlaki and/or Gyros
Your protein will take around 2.5 hours to cook, however this may vary based on the kind of lump charcoal and rotisserie you choose. I know this is quite useful information!
The most essential thing is to maintain your charcoal hot and to replenish it up as required. I also use wood bits during the cooking process to enhance flavor.
Another critical aspect is to keep an eye on the interior temperature. You may start slicing portions off as you cook, as is usual, or wait until the whole dish is cooked before slicing.
If the latter, and you are concerned about excess scorching on the exterior, you may adjust the rotisserie as needed. It doesn’t need to be babyed, but it also doesn’t need to be left at home! Keep an eye on it, and everything will be OK! Isn’t there nothing better than sitting around a barbeque with a couple cool beers with friends?
Once your desired internal temperature is reached, remove the roti rod from the fire, halve some store-bought pita bread, and place them on the grill to heat up, being cautious not to burn them!
You want it to be soft, warm, and fluffy! To serve, cut some good caramelized pieces, place them into warm pita bread with salad and tzatziki, and enjoy with an ice-cold drink, preferably with friends and family and kids running about.