When we think of gyros, most of us imagine a slowly spinning, glistening cone of delicious meat waiting to be shaved and nestled in a fresh pita or piled on top of a salad. It’s savory, juicy, full of the perfect amount of herbs and garlic the whole family will love, and can only be enjoyed from a restaurant, right? Not anymore! Over the years, my husband and I have been making gyros at home without any special equipment and now you can, too! Plus, in my spanakopita blog, I promised you I would write about making homemade gyros.
Let’s start with defining what gyros are in the first place, and how to pronounce them. Gyros, pronounced yee-ros (the G is silent), have quite a bit of history dating back to the doner kebab that originated in Turkey. Doner is the Turkish word for “turn” or “rotate”, and the doner kebab is a vertical rotating roast cooked on a spit. When this dish made its way to Greece, it was named Gyro, which literally means “turn”. When we think about words like gyrocompass or gyroscope, we probably don’t associate them with the Greek street food, but it’s all connected.
Gyros are traditionally made with thin slices of very well-seasoned pork, but lamb and chicken can also be used. After the slices are seasoned, they are stacked in the shape of an inverted cone on a vertical skewer. The cone of meat is then placed in a rotisserie, and slowly spins, while browning and basting itself with the juices and fat as the meat cooks.
I know we’re talking about Greek gyros here, but let’s turn our attention to Mexican al pastor tacos for a moment, the richly spiced meat that is cooked on a vertical spit. I know that seems like a departure, but in fact it’s all connected. Lamb shawarma, another type of vertical spit-roasted meat, was brought by Lebanese immigrants to Mexico, and eventually al pastor tacos were born out of that tradition, featuring a combination of Middle Eastern and Mexican spices. This is one of my favorite tacos!
Traditional gyros are made from thin slices of meat, but why is it that most gyros we enjoy and love are made with ground meat? Convenience! It’s much easier and faster to season ground meat, pack it around a spit, and then ship it out to many restaurants. It’s the ground meat version that makes preparing gyros at home very easy and approachable. The best part is that you can use any ground meat you like such as lamb, beef or turkey.
To prepare gyros is just like making a meatloaf, but with the addition of cornstarch. That might seem like a strange ingredient in this recipe, but it acts as a binder and helps the meat stay together so when you cut the loaf into thin slices, the slices are flexible and will hold together, instead of crumbling apart.
This next step is not necessary, especially if you don’t have time, but you can also press the raw loaf by covering it with a piece of plastic wrap, then placing a tray on top of it followed by a heavy pan. This will help compact the meat, giving you an even better, more authentic finished texture once it’s cooked. (see instructions in the recipe below).
Once the loaf is formed, brush the top with olive oil to prevent it from drying out, and roast until the internal temperature reads 150° to 160°.
Allow the gyros to rest for about 10 minutes, and then cut into thin slices. In my world, you can’t have gyros without tzatziki sauce, a cool and refreshing yogurt-cucumber sauce with fresh dill. It’s the perfect foil to the rich and garlicky meat.
Nestle the meat slices into warm pita or drape over the top of a vegetable forward salad, serve with some roasted potatoes on the side, and you have yourself a delicious Greek-inspired meal everyone in the family will love. Gyros night has become one of my family’s favorite go-to meals every couple of weeks!
Homemade Gyros with Tzatziki Sauce
Scroll down for a printable version of this recipe
Yield: 4-6 servings
Active time: 30 minutes
Start to finish: 1 hour
1 pound ground lamb, 90/10 ground beef or ground turkey
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 teaspoon kosher salt
2 teaspoons dried oregano
3 cloves garlic, pressed or minced
2 tablespoons cornstarch
Extra virgin olive oil for brushing
1/2 cup plain or Greek-style yogurt, regular or low-fat
1/4 seedless cucumber, coarsely grated (see note, below)
1/2 lemon, zested
Lemon juice to taste
1 teaspoon fresh dill, rough chopped or 1/2 teaspoon dried dill
Salt and pepper to taste
2 to 3 pita loaves, halved and warmed
2 plum tomatoes, halved and sliced
1/2 yellow onion, thinly sliced (optional)
- Preheat the oven to 375°.
- Mix together the ground meat, pepper, salt, oregano, garlic and cornstarch very thoroughly in a mixing bowl.
- Shape the meat into a 1-inch- tall meatloaf and place on a parchment-lined sheet tray or a foil-lined baking dish. Brush the top and sides of the loaf with olive oil.
- Bake until the internal temperature reads between 150° and 160°, 25 to 30 minutes. Allow to rest for 5 to 10 minutes on a cutting board.
- To make the tzatziki sauce, combine the yogurt, cucumber, lemon zest, lemon juice and dill in a medium-size bowl, and season with salt and pepper to taste.
- Slice into thin strips, and serve nestled in the warm pita bread with tomatoes, onions, and a generous dollop of tzatziki sauce.
- For a finer texture, try mixing the meat and spices in a food processor.
- For a more compact texture, cover the gyros loaf with a sheet of plastic wrap, and place a sheet tray on top. Weigh it down with something heavy, and refrigerate for 30 minutes.
- To keep the yogurt thick try salting your cucumbers. Place your grated cucumbers in a small sieve set over a bowl. Sprinkle the cucumbers with salt and mix well. Allow the salt to pull some of the water from the cucumbers for about 10 minutes. Using your hands, squeeze any excess water from the cucumbers and mix into the yogurt.
We would love the opportunity to make gyros with you in real time, so join us on Friday, April 9th for our Virtual Vacation: Trip to the Greek Islands class!
Lamb is this week's challenge in The Chopping Block's private Facebook group. Join, make a dish with lamb this week (Easter is Sunday!) and share your creations with the group.