First things first: it’s pronounced “YEE-roh”. Not “euro”. Not “ji-roh”. Not “guy-roh”. Please. And it is never, ever, ever, ever properly made with meat paste. Or lettuce. Just. Stop.
Sadly, there has been a trend on the latest of social media platforms to make the kind of gyro most people find at their local food truck, at least I think that’s their inspiration. Unfortunately, people don’t realize that those are not the “real deal” (and the people running them aren’t Greek). They’re the fast food version and nothing at all like the savory treat you would be offered in Greece or by an authentic Greek restaurant. To add insult to injury, it seems that none of the people making these “recipes” ever talked to an actual Greek person to see if they were anywhere near being on the right track. Seriously, one woman was bragging about making meat paste. Another guy dumped a soggy Greek salad into his pita. Gross.
Really, all it would take is a little bit of research to find the authentic technique for making these beloved meal-on-the-go sandwiches. The name describes both what it is as well as how it was made. The “pita” refers to the type of bread used to wrap up all the deliciousness, and the “gyro” refers to the rotisserie that the meat is slowly cooked to perfection on. “Gyro” means to rotate (like gyroscope or gyrate), and the meat for a gyro sandwich is cooked on an upright rotisserie that slowly turns next to a heating element. As the meat on the outside is roasted, it is shaved off in thin strips to be served, and the layer of meat that has now been exposed gets its turn to be cooked.
Now, most people don’t have their own upright rotisseries, myself included. That does not mean you can’t make a proper pita gyro! In the end, the key is using the right ingredients and method of preparation. Gyro meat is typically made with thin cuts of pork that have been seasoned and marinated, then layered on the skewer of the rotisserie. However, the meat can also be grilled or broiled and then sliced thin. The flavor will be the same, and as long as you use the right toppings, you’ll have yourself a pita gyro that would make a true Greek proud!
Some quick notes before you begin:
As I mentioned earlier, pork is the most typical meat used for pita gyro. Choose cuts with a little more fat in them or your meat will be too dry.
There are only three toppings that should go on a gyro, and the amount is up to your preference. Tzatziki (Greek yogurt and cucumber sauce), diced tomatoes, and slivered red onions. That’s it. No cucumber. No lettuce. In Greece (Thessaloniki in particular) there is a new trend to use mustard and ketchup, instead. I tried it. It tastes like a hamburger. Meh. I’ll stick to the traditional style.
Okay, there’s one more thing you might see served in your pita, and that’s Greek fried potatoes (essentially French fries). This is typical when ordering a gyro to go, as it is easier to have everything wrapped up together for eating. When I say “to go”, don’t think drive through, those are almost nonexistent in Greece. It’s a walk through and people take their food and eat on their way. However, if you are ordering where you’ll be seated, the fries are usually served on the side.
Authentic Pita Gyro (Greek Pita Sandwich) Recipe
For the meat:
- 2 pounds pork roast (like leg, shank, or shoulder roast), (save any leftover bones in the freezer for making broth!)
- 2 Tbsp. vinegar, red or white (my preference is red wine vinegar)
- 2 Tbsp. lemon juice
- 2 Tbsp. olive oil
- 2 tsp. sweet paprika
- 2 tsp. finely crushed Greek oregano (regular oregano can be used if you don’t have Greek)
- salt and pepper to taste
For the sandwich:
- pita bread
- slivered red onions
- tzatziki sauce (recipe here!)
Slice the pork in thin cuts, about a 1/2 inch in thickness. Put the pork cuts into a container and sprinkle over the vinegar, lemon juice, olive oil, paprika, and salt and pepper. Toss everything to make sure the meat is uniformly coated in the seasonings. Cover the container and allow the meat to marinate for at least an hour, but you can let it sit overnight in the refrigerator.
Preheat your grill or oven broiler. Lay the meat out flat and cook until done to your preference, flipping the meat over mid-way through. Given how thin the meat will be, this won’t take very long. The way gyro meat is typically made, it will be cooked until no longer pink. Remove the meat from the heat and slice into thin strips. Be sure to capture any juices and pour it back over the meat.
While the meat is being sliced, toast the pita bread in a dry pan, on the grill, or under the broiler. You can brush on olive oil if desired. You want the bread to be heated, but not dry and brittle. Remove the pita from the heat.
To serve, put the pork on the bread and top with tomatoes, onions, and tzatziki. If you are serving without plates, be sure to wrap the pita gyro with foil or parchment paper to keep the juices from escaping and running amok all over the place. And then realize that this is far superior to meat paste and soggy Greek salad. Kali orexi (good appetite)!!