Gyro vs. Shawarma: What's the Difference?
And how do you make each one?
At first glance, the gyro and the shawarma look remarkably alike. In fact, they share an origin story: They are both descendents of the doner kebab, a Turkish dish made with sliced meat cooked on a vertical rotisserie.
Despite the similarities, though, the gyro and the shawarma are different sandwiches. Here’s what you need to know:
What Is a Gyro?
A gyro (pronounced YEE-row) is a Greek dish that is typically served on a pita. Made with stacked meat that has been cooked on a vertical rotisserie, “gyro” means “round” in Greek.
In Greece, gyros are traditionally made with pork, but chicken is also common, and the slices of meat are stacked on a spit. American gyros, meanwhile, are typically made from a loaf comprised of ground beef and lamb.
Greek gyros are served in a pita, stuffed with tomato, red onion, a few French fries, and a healthy dose of tzatziki (a Greek sauce or dip made with yogurt and cucumbers). In the U.S., lettuce is sometimes added to the mix, and the addition of French fries is usually only found on the side.
Gyro meat is, unsurprisingly, often flavored with Greek seasonings like rosemary, oregano, and thyme.
The gyro became popular in the U.S. in the 1970s, thanks to the growing Greek population in New York City.
“A sandwich that is said to have originated 2,000 years ago is capturing the attention of Manhattan’s quick eaters,” The New York Times reported in 1971. “The sandwich, a Greek gyro, pronounced ‘year-oh’ is a lamb, tomato and onion concoction nestled in a fold of a soft bread called pita. More than 30 Greek snack stores selling the gyro have opened in Manhattan in the last year, according to the proprietor's estimates. In heavily trafficked areas such as Times Square, three stores have opened in the last two months.”
The same NYT report alleges that Greek historians traced the gyro's origins to soldiers from Alexander the Great's army, "who skewered their meat on long knives and cooked it by repeated turning over an open fire."
All this talk about gyros make you hungry? We’ve got you covered.
Find more gyro recipes here.
What is a Shawarma?
A shawarma, which is also made with meat that has been cooked on a vertical rotisserie, is a popular street food with Middle Eastern origins. “Shawarma” comes from the Turkish word “çevirme,” which means “turning.”
Though it’s traditionally made with lamb or mutton, today’s shawarma can consist of anything from chicken to veal. Like gyros, shawarmas are typically served on pitas.
Shawarma meat is exceptionally flavorful and juicy, as it is marinated at length in spices like turmeric, cardamom, cinnamon, cloves, and garlic.
While gyros usually come with the same combo of lettuce, tomatoes, and onions, shawarmas are often topped with a medley of pickled fruits and veggies.
Shawarma is a predecessor to tacos al pastor, a Mexican dish made of spit-grilled pork. The method likely made its way to Mexico via Lebanese immigrants.
“During the 1960s, the Mexican-born children of these Lebanese migrants ... start opening up their own restaurants, and they start to create a kind of a hybrid cuisine," historian and author Jeffrey Pilcher told The World in 2015. “They take the technology that they grew up with in these Lebanese restaurants, the vertical rotisserie—but instead of using lamb, they use pork. They marinate it in a red chili sauce, which gives it that distinctive color, and they cook these up and serve them and call them tacos al pastor.”
Try your hand at making shawarma at home with one of these delicious recipes.