Gyros, the Greek sandwiches that contain strips of meat carved from a column of minced meat roasting on a vertical spit, get their name from the turning action of the spit. Spices and added layers of fat make the meat flavorful and crisp as it cooks. The pronunciation of the sandwich's name varies almost as widely as the type of meat it contains. The Greek pronunciation is "year-o," though "gyre-o" and "jeer-o" are variants elsewhere.
Gyros evolved from the Turkish doner kebab, a lamb dish that involves a similar column of meat from which the chef slices strips as it cooks. Spiced, minced and pressed lamb constitutes the majority of prepared gyro meat. If the lamb is lean, the manufacturer might add layers of fat in the pressing of the meat into its cylindrical shape. Prepared lamb gyro rounds may also contain extra fat, bread crumbs and water to bring the meat to the proper texture.
Pork gyros became a popular alternative in countries that had a greater supply of pigs than of lambs. Manufacturers add pork fat to lean cuts of pork to ensure the finished gyro cylinder cooks to a crisp. As with lamb gyros, pork gyros consist of additional spices and texturizing agents such as bread crumbs with the meat. Pork gyros are popular in Greece, but in countries with large populations of people whose dietary customs preclude pork, they are rare.
Lean and inexpensive, chicken gyros are a relatively new addition to this cooking style. As skinless chicken contains so little fat, manufacturers add vegetable oil, lamb fat or beef fat to prepared chicken gyros. Chefs must take care to cook a chicken gyro cylinder well before slicing, as raw chicken carries a greater risk of food contamination than other meats. Because of this risk, some restaurants slice the spiced and minced chicken, then roast the strips to ensure that they cook through.
English diners adapted the gyro technique to beef, a familiar and plentiful meat in that country. South American gyro aficionados also enjoy the beefy version of the sandwich. Although the British version of gyros more typically go by the name doner kebabs, the rotating column of meat that the chef slices as it cooks makes it functionally identical to the Greek gyro. Beef lends itself well to gyro meat as its natural fat content and texture allow it to form solid, easily sliced cylinders without requiring additional texturizing agents.
Blended minced meats result in flavorful gyros with the correct amount of fat to crisp nicely on the spit. Lamb, pork and beef in various combinations give different brands of prepared gyro meat a distinctive flavor. Other combinations such as beef and chicken allow people who keep dietary customs that preclude certain meats to enjoy the flavor of these specialty sandwiches.
- How to Roast a Lamb: New Greek Classic Cooking, pp. 151-152; Michael Psilakis; Little, Brown, & Co.; 2009
- The New York Times; The Gyro's History Unfolds; David Segal; July 14, 2009
Lauren Whitney covers science, health, fitness, fashion, food and weight loss. She has been writing professionally since 2009 and teaches hatha yoga in a home studio. Whitney holds bachelor's degrees in English and biology from the University of New Orleans.