I lived in the Mediterranean for several years, and the one thing that sticks with me is the food.
Simple herbs, spices, and marinades, cooked over charcoal and served with bright, zesty salads and creamy feta and yogurt-based sauces like tzatziki, stuffed inside a soft, warm, fluffy pita.
Every time I cook one of these recipes, the smells as it’s cooking transport me immediately back to Cyprus, sat in a traditional taverna, kids running around, surrounded by family, drinking ice cold local beer in a frosted glass straight from the freezer.
That’s the beauty of food, the tastes and smells can just transport you to a different place, and can take you on a journey. Make this recipe, close your eyes, and you too can go on a journey.
It might just be the only way to travel at the moment…
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What’s the difference between Souvlaki and Gyros?
Traditionally, Souvlaki is prepared using pork or chicken, marinated in a base of lemon and oregano in small cubes or pieces threaded on a skewer, and cooked directly over charcoal.
Gyros uses chicken or lamb marinated with herbs and spices and then threaded onto a vertical rotisserie-style cooker, then sliced directly off into smaller bite-sized pieces which are stuffed into a pita with a salad and wrapped.
I’m going to show you how to do both flavor profiles, but cook them both on a charcoal rotisserie, whilst maintaining the traditional flavors, and serve them in a gyros style in a recipe that’s sure to wow a crowd!
You might just find that your guests will be planning their own Big Fat Greek Wedding after eating this!
What you’ll need
- A BBQ with a rotisserie attachment
- Charcoal briquettes or lump charcoal
- A few chunks of your favorite smoking wood (I used plum as it goes nicely with both chicken and lamb)
- A kitchen tenderizer mallet with a flat side or rolling pin
- A long, sharp knife
- Charcoal starter chimney
Preparing your protein
Whether you’re using chicken, lamb, or pork, to get the most out of this recipe, you’re going to want to marinate your protein for a while. I prefer to marinate overnight to get maximum flavor, but you need to marinate for at least 4-6 hours before cooking.
But before you marinade, it’s time to beat your meat. Settle down folks, what we’re doing here is flattening out our protein so it’s nice and thin.
This helps provide maximum surface area for your marinade to impart flavor, and also helps the meat cook more evenly, and the final result will taste so much more tender.
I like to use chicken thighs or pork shoulder for souvlaki flavors and lamb shoulder for the gyros. If you’re using the lamb shoulder or pork shoulder, get your butcher to bone it out for you, or do it yourself if you’re confident.
I then like to roll it and tie it and leave it in the fridge overnight to keep its shape and make it easier for the next step.
For chicken, I like to cut the skinless thighs in half, and for lamb shoulder (or pork) I like to slice around ½” thick.
You’re going to want it much thinner, but instead of trying to slice it super thin, it’s easier to pound thin using a meat tenderizer or rolling pin.
Place a sheet of cling wrap on a chopping board, place your half thigh or lamb shoulder slice on it, then fold the cling wrap over on top of the protein.
You’ll want to ensure that the meat is about in the center after folding, so that the cling wrap doesn’t burst at the seam where you’ve folded it.
Then use a rolling pin or tenderizer to flatten your protein to around ¼ ” thick. This will also give you a much larger, flatter piece of meat. If you don’t have either of those use a thick bottomed frying pan.
Once you’ve done that, it’s time for the marinade.
For souvlaki, using pork or chicken, combine the meat, oregano, lemon juice, mint, garlic, salt and pepper, and oil in a large non-metallic 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 using clean hands, mix to combine all together.
Do the same with the cumin, paprika, garlic, oregano and lemon juice and lamb shoulder for the gyros. Cover with cling wrap and refrigerate, ideally overnight.
Preparing the rotisserie
After the meat has been marinating overnight, it’s time to set up your rotisserie. I like to use at least one full chimney of charcoal briquettes, and when it’s fully lit, I then add some lump charcoal to keep the heat up.
I’ll add extra briquettes/lump/wood chunks throughout the cook, both to keep the temp up, and for flavor.
Once the coals are lit and you’re waiting on them to ash over and get to cooking temp, it’s time to prepare the protein.
I cut an onion in half and thread that over the rotisserie rod so that the prongs aren’t sticking through lots of meat, which makes it more difficult to slice. This, however, isn’t essential but it’s a neat trick to make your life easier. Check out the photo below to see what I mean.
Once the onion is on, it’s time to thread your flattened pieces of meat. Don’t put all of the pieces straight down the middle, but rather put the roti rod off centre, and overlap each piece as you thread it on.
For example, the first piece you thread on, imagine it being at 12 o’clock, then 3 o’clock, then 6, then 9 etc.
After each piece you thread on, push it all down to compact it.
Once you have threaded all pieces of flattened meat, follow with the other half of the onion, and finally the other roti fork. Push everything together tightly, then tighten your clamps.
Time to cook!
Once your charcoal is white, it’s time to cook.
Separate your charcoal into two offset piles on either side of your rotisserie rod, so there is no direct heat under the meat.
This will stop any flare ups from dripping fat or oil. Place a drip pan under the meat if you like.
Once your meat is spinning away, monitor your cook. I use the Meater wireless thermometer for ease of use in my rotisserie cooks.
You’ll want an internal temp of around 170°F for chicken and I take the lamb a little past medium-well to around 155-160°F. Remember this isn’t a lamb cutlet, the shoulder has plenty of fat through it and will still be super tender past medium.
We’re also going to be slicing small pieces off, and this recipe actually benefits from slightly charred, caramelized edges mixed in.
Make your Tzatziki and Greek Salad
While your protein is cooking, you can make your tzatziki. Finely chop or grate your cucumber (if grating, squeeze all excess liquid from it before adding), and simply mix with your greek yogurt, lemon juice, mint, garlic, then season to taste. Cover with cling wrap and refrigerate until you’re ready to serve.
For your salad, chop your tomato, cucumber into ⅓” pieces, and thinly slice your red onion. Dress with olive oil and lemon juice, and a sprinkle of dried mint just before serving. You can mix some greek feta through it just before serving too if you like.
Serving your Souvlaki and/or Gyros
Your protein will take around 2.5 hours to cook, but depending on what kind of lump charcoal and rotisserie you are using, this could be shorter or longer. Super helpful info, I know!
The most important thing is to keep your charcoal levels hot and topped up regularly if needed. I also use wood chunks throughout the cook for added flavor.
The other important thing is to monitor that internal temp. If you like, you can begin to slice pieces off as you cook, as is traditional, or wait for the entire thing to cook before slicing.
If the latter, and if you are worried about excess burning on the outside, you can raise or lower the rotisserie as necessary. It doesn’t require babying, but don’t leave home either! Keep an eye on it, and it will be great! There’s nothing quite like sitting around a grill enjoying a few cold beers with friends, anyway, right?
Once your desired internal temp is met, take your roti rod off the heat, half some store-bought pita bread, and throw them on the grill to heat up, but be careful they don’t burn!
You’re aiming for soft, warm, and fluffy! To serve, slice off some nice caramelized pieces, stuff inside your warm pita bread with some salad, and some tzatziki, and enjoy with an ice-cold beer, ideally amongst friends and family, with kids running around.
Greek Style Chicken Souvlaki & Lamb Gyros
For Chicken Souvlaki:
- 5.5 lbs chicken thighs
- 2 tbsp dried oregano
- 1 tbsp dried mint
- juice of a whole lemon
- 4 garlic cloves, minced
- olive oil
For Lamb Gyros:
- 4.4 lbs lamb shoulder
- 1 tbsp ground cumin
- 1 tbsp paprika
- 1 tbsp dried oregano
- juice of 1 lemon
- 3 garlic cloves, minced
- ½ tbsp dried mint (optional)
- olive oil
- 2 cups greek yoghurt
- 1 tbsp dried mint
- squeeze of lemon juice
- ½ cucumber
- 1 garlic clove, minced
- salt and pepper to taste
For Greek Salad:
- 1 whole cucumber
- 6 roma tomatoes
- 1 large red onion
- olive oil
- squeeze of lemon
- Greek feta (optional)
- Mix all ingredients and spices (for either souvlaki or gyros) in a large non-metallic bowl with a good drizzle of olive oil.
- Split your chicken thighs into 2 equal pieces for the chicken souvlaki and/or slice your lamb shoulder into ½” thick slices.
- Using a meat tenderizing mallet or rolling pin, flatten your pieces of protein to around ¼” thick by placing between a folded piece of cling wrap first.
- Add your meat to your spice mix in a large non-metallic bowl, and mix to coat well. Refrigerate overnight, or for a minimum of 4 hours.
- When ready to cook, light your BBQ using a chimney starter and charcoal briquettes, and add lump charcoal.
- While your BBQ is coming up to temp, thread your meat onto your rotisserie rod, overlapping each piece, and bookending with half an onion. Press down to keep compact, and tighten all prongs onto the rod.
- Put your rotisserie rod over the lit charcoal (which should be to the sides and not directly underneath), and keep topped up with charcoal during the cook. This should take around 2.5 hours, cook to internal temp of around 170°F for chicken and 155-160°F for lamb.
- Whilst your protein is cooking, prepare the salad by chopping tomato and cucumber into ⅓” pieces, and thinly slicing the red onion, and mix together with olive oil and a squeeze of lemon juice and dried mint. Add feta (optional) and salt and pepper to taste.
- Make your tzatziki also by combining all ingredients in a medium bowl, then cover and refrigerate.
- In the last few mins of cooking, split a pita in half and warm on a grill over the coals.
- When your protein is at the desired internal temp, take the rod off the heat and slice directly from the rod.
- Stuff your pita with your sliced pieces of meat, and top with salad and tzatziki sauce.
- Enjoy with family and a cold beer!