Gyro meat is one of the greatest culinary inventions and no matter how you pronounce, “Gyro” (Yee-ro, Jai-ro, Gee-ro), we’re all pretty much just saying the word, “Delicious.” While the real deal traditional stuff comprised of actual cuts of spiced meat rotating on a vertical rotisserie spit is awesome, it’s the over-processed Greek-American stuff that I’m talking about. This commercially made ground meat comes formed into a huge cone is placed on a vertical spit where it slowly spins and crisps up on the outside. Then some lucky person gets to carve strips off revealing the less cooked interior before the whole process begins again. I used to do this as a kid working church festivals and I can tell you from experience that a few of those freshly cut strips never made it to the customers, but instead found a home inside my distended Gyro-filled belly.
This glorious conical-shaped rotisserie meat is the stuff of Greek and Middle Eastern church festival legend. Many patrons of the festivals vie for position to get in the long lines just for a taste of this almost comical, yet perfectly proven way of preparing meat. The problem is that unless you find a pizza shop that also sells gyro strips (good, but not the same as the freshly sliced Gyro), most of us have to settle for having this treat only when a festival is upon us.
Not one to easily accept my lot in life, I searched for a way to replicate Gyros at home. After agonizing over the endless recipes online, I narrowed it down to two that seemed to have the most community support. The first is from the brilliant, J. Kenji López-Alt of Serious Eats fame, and the second is from the entertainment food guru, Alton Brown. I tried both recipes and followed the instructions exactly. My personal feeling is that each recipe had its strong points, but neither one completely nailed it. Mr. López-Alt’s recipe had the correct spices and a really excellent simulation to the correct texture, but didn’t quite get the spice amounts correct. He also uses bacon, which I personally feel completely changes the flavor in a way that is still delicious, but no longer true to the Gyro. Mr. Brown’s recipe gets intricate with the use of a brick to compact the meat while cooking, but this alone doesn’t really perfect the texture and you still lose a ton of moisture by cooking in a loaf pan. While the ratio of spices to meat were probably more in the ballpark here for Alton Brown’s recipe, the spices themselves seemed completely wrong. In particular, the overwhelming use of rosemary seemed to just overrun the flavor profile. The rosemary was basically all I could taste and I’m not even sure that there is any rosemary in Greek-American Gyros in the first place!
I decided to take what I learned and create my own recipe that is currently the closest I have come to nailing homemade Gyros. I use J. Kenji López-Alt’s technique for texture and flavor while utilizing Alton Brown’s heavier hand for the spices. Unlike, the Serious Eats recipe, I do not use bacon. Instead, I recommend pork belly, which is not smoked, or very fresh pork fat trimmings from your butcher. This adds more fat without adding an unfamiliar flavor to the meat. One last thing to note is that my research revealed that the commercial Gyros are full of fillers like breadcrumbs, soy, and msg. Yes, that makes them addictively mouth watering, but that also makes this recipe richer in terms of real ingredients.
I’m very pleased with the results and I know I’ll have some delicious meals ahead as I continue to perfect this recipe. If you don’t put the gyro meat into a sandwich with tzatziki sauce, then you’re missing out. I highly recommend taking the extra steps and making tzatziki cucumber yogurt sauce to accompany the meat as well as pita bread, tomatoes, and onions. So without further ado, here is my painstakingly researched recipe for Homemade Greek American Gyros!
Makes about 26 Gyro Strips at 46 calories per strip or 1185 calories total. (or 55 calories per strip with the added pork belly or pork fat for 1426 calories total)
1 pound of fresh, good quality, 80/20 ground chuck beef (1160 calories)
Note: You can also use 1/2 pound ground beef and 1/2 pound ground lamb!
1/2 tablespoon of kosher salt (a little less if using regular table salt)
Note: A few people have commented that the original amount of 1 Tbs of salt was a bit too salty. I do think that kosher vs table salt makes a difference. However, try it with 1/2 a tablespoon and if you need more you can always salt later.
1/2 teaspoon of ground black pepper
3/4 teaspoon dried oregano
1/2 sweet or yellow onion roughly chopped (20 calories)
2 cloves of peeled and roughly chopped garlic (5 calories)
Optional: 3 oz. of pork belly or fresh pork fat only if using a leaner ground beef (441 calories)
Note: You don’t have to do this, but it does add to the consistency one expects from Greek-American Gyros. Don’t use bacon, however, because that will just make everything smoky and distract from the gyro flavor. If you use pork fat/trimmings, make sure it is very fresh from the butcher or it won’t taste good.
Optional: Onions, tomatoes, and pita bread to make sandwiches.
Combine the ground beef (or mix of ground beef and lamb) with the tablespoon of kosher salt, 2/3 teaspoon of ground black pepper, and the 3/4 teaspoon of dried oregano flakes. Salting the meat now helps to trap the meat’s natural flavors and juices inside. You’ll see later how compared to making a meatloaf in a load pan, that you lost almost no moisture from the meat!
Using your hands (feel free to wear latex gloves) mix the meat and the spices together. Unlike when making meatballs or burgers, feel free to mash the meat to really mix everything together really well. Form it into a tight ball, cover, and refrigerate for at least 1 hour (very important to achieve the correct consistency!) or over night. Refrigerating the meat with the salt helps to tighten the proteins in the meat to lock in those flavors.
After at least an hour and you are ready to start making the gyro, pre-heat the oven to 300 – 325 degrees F.
Roughly chop half of an onion. Save the other half for topping the gyro later.
Peel and roughly chop two garlic cloves.
Combine the onions and garlic in the food processor and blend until the onions are thoroughly pureed.
Add in the cold ground beef (do not let it get to room temperature) and optional pork belly or pork fat if you’re using it to the food processor. Blend everything together very well. You will need to scrape down the sides of the food processor using a spoon as needed and blend the meat again. Admittedly, the result of this mixture will look pretty gross, so don’t get discouraged! You want the meat to end up looking like a thick paste without any visible unblended pieces. This is all part of getting that processed texture of Greek-American Gyros!
Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil and dump the meat out onto it. Form the gyro meat into a rectangular loaf that is about 1.5 to 2 inches thick (Maybe 10 x 5 x 1.5). Make sure it is uniformly flat all around with a very slight indentation in the middle of the loaf. This will help keep the loaf from bunching up towards the middle when it cooks.
Stick a meat thermometer into the loaf from the side so that it can get the temperature near the middle of the meat.
Bake in the oven for about 30 minutes or until the thermometer reads 155 – 160 degrees F internal temperature for the meat. While you wait, slice up some of the onion and tomato into thin slices so you can top the gyro meat later when you eat. You can also take this time to mix up your tzatziki cucumber yogurt sauce.
When the gyro is ready, remove it from the oven and let it rest for 10 minutes at least before slicing. I think you’ll be impressed with how little liquid escapes from the meat.
Place the gyro on a cutting board and with a long sharp knife start to slice it into thin strips along the short side of the loaf.
You can eat the meat just like that, but there’s still something missing. One of the best parts about gyro sliced off a vertical rotisserie is that crispy bit on the outside that contrasts the tender inside. We can replicate this part by broiling or grilling the strips on one side. To broil them, just lay them out on the baking sheet and set the broiler on high. Place the meat on the middle rack in the oven and broil on high for 2 or 3 minutes until you get a deeper brown color on top. If you grill them, just put the strips on high heat for a couple of minutes on one side and remove when they get some nice crispy color. You can also pan fry them on one side, a few at a time, in a non-stick pan over the stove.
Now the meat is ready to eat! Make a sandwich using pita bread (you can use the traditional Greek pita, which is hand pulled and has no pocket, or a Middle Eastern style pita that you can then roll up the gryos with). Lay down 3 or 4 strips of gyro meat on the pita, top it with tomatoes, onions, and tzatziki sauce. Then fold and eat!
Side note: Ignore the lettuce in the pictures below. My wife and I bought some really flimsy pitas and the lettuce was just an attempt to keep the delicious juices from tearing the bread.
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