The best souvlaki I ever had was from a street vendor in my mom’s village in Greece. I lost track of how many I ate that summer, but I’m sure the guy was amused by this little American girl’s appetite. The meat was served right off a small wood-fired grill with a chunk of bread stuck on the end of the stick. I couldn’t get enough of it then, and I still can’t now.
It may seem to be a nit picky kind of thing, but there really are some key differences between Greek Souvlaki and Middle Eastern Shish Kebob. Both are really yummy, and are similar in that it is meat on a stick, but they differ in what else is on the stick and the seasoning. Similar, but not the same!
Greek Souvlaki is simply marinated meat, usually pork, on a stick, no vegetables, and the meat chunks tend to be smaller and bite-sized. In fact, we call this recipe “pig on a stick”. Shish Kebob has much larger sized chunks of meat and vegetables like peppers, onion chunks, and tomatoes.
Greek Souvlaki will also be marinated almost exclusively with lemon juice or wine (of course), along with garlic (of course), olive oil (of course) and Greek oregano (you get the idea). I will sometimes add in rosemary because it just tastes so good. Middle Eastern Shish Kebob will usually not have things like the lemon juice or wine, and instead will have a good soaking in some olive oil and other more earthy spices like turmeric and cumin.
The process is easy, but you will get the best flavor with patience. Give your meat time to marinate and pick up the flavors of your seasonings. Also, do yourself a favor and ditch the wood skewers. Get the metal ones instead. The wood ones almost always leave strands behind, and the metal skewers can be reused over and over again. This saves you money as well as resources!
Greek Souvlaki Recipe
- 2-3 lbs. any boneless cut of pork, cut into 1 1/2 inch cubes (other meats like chicken, lamb, or beef can also be used)
- 1 tsp. dried oregano, Greek preferred
- 3 Tbsp. finely minced garlic
- 1 Tbsp. finely chopped fresh rosemary (optional)
- 3-4 Tbsp. lemon juice
- 3-4 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
- 1/2 tsp. salt
Place your meat into a large bowl. Sprinkle the oregano and salt over the surface, and add all the remaining ingredients. Gently toss the meat to evenly coat all pieces with the seasonings. Add more of any of your seasonings as needed to ensure they are not too sparsely covered.
Cover the bowl, or transfer meat into a covered container, and place in the refrigerator. Allow to marinate for several hours for best flavor. You could even put the seasoned meat into the freezer to be cooked later.
Once the meat has marinated, remove from the refrigerator and put the meat chunks on the skewers. Be careful not to stab yourself! You want the meat chunks to be squished together on the skewer so that there are no gaps between the chunks of meat. Gaps will allow the meat to dry out too quickly while cooking. Add a little oil to the container that had your meat and mix it with any leftover marinade. Brush this on to your skewered meat for one last dose of flavor. It will also prevent the meat from sticking to your grill or broiler rack.
I use a gas barbeque grill for my souvlaki, but you could use any kind grill, or the broiler of your oven. For the grill, turn the heat to high while the grill is closed to preheat it. Once the grill is very hot, place each skewer directly on the racks, spread out so that they are not touching each other. Turn the gas to low, and cover the grill. Cook for about four minutes, then uncover and turn each skewer over. Cover again and cook for about 3-4 minutes more. Be aware of cooler spots that may need more cooking time. Check your meat by squeezing it with some tongs. It should be only a little squishy, but don’t let it get too firm or it will be over done and dry.
For the oven, turn on the broiler and have the oven rack positioned such that the meat will be about 6-8 inches away. Place the meat on a broiler pan and put in the oven. Close the oven and cook for about 3-4 minutes. Open the oven and rotate each skewer, then close the oven and cook a few minutes more, or until done.
Allow the meat to rest just a little before serving. If using metal skewers remember that they will be hot, but they do cool quickly. You can either give each person their own skewer, or you can remove the meat and serve as individual pieces. Squeeze some lemon juice over the souvlaki for one last kick of flavor and serve it with a big dollop of tzatziki. Enjoy!