What Is Souvlaki — And How Is It Different From a Gyro?

Plus, learn how to make restaurant-worthy souvlaki at home. 

Chicken Souvlaki with Tzatziki Sauce
Chicken Souvlaki with Tzatziki Sauce | Photo by Anna Berman.

Ready to take a deep dive into the wonderful world of souvlaki? Here's what you need to know about the Ancient Greek dish that has stood the test of time:

What Is Souvlaki?

two metal skewers of grilled lamb pieces on a white plate with a green salad and pita bread
Kim's Cooking Now

Souvlaki, marinated meat grilled on a skewer, is a Greek fast food. Pork is traditionally used to make the dish, but chicken, lamb, and beef are also common. You can enjoy souvlaki straight off the skewer as a kebab, in a warm pita with your favorite toppings, or over a bed of fresh veggies.

How to Pronounce Souvlaki

Not sure how to pronounce souvlaki? Order in confidence by saying "soov-la-kee." Hear the correct pronunciation at Merriam-Webster.

Souvlaki vs. Gyro

Classic gyros served at a Greek taverna.
Classic gyros served at a Greek taverna | Photo by Diana Moutsopoulos.

Souvlaki and gyros are both staples of Greek cuisine. However, they're not the same thing. Here's how to tell the difference:

  • Souvlaki is marinated pork, chicken, beef, or lamb grilled on a skewer. It's typically served on a skewer, but you can also eat it in a warm pita or over salad.
  • Gyros are made with stacked meat (usually pork, but other meats are common) that has been cooked on a vertical rotisserie. Gyro meat is traditionally stuffed into a warm pita with tomato, red onion, a few French fries, and a healthy dose of tzatziki.

Souvlaki History

Souvlaki
Photo by Kelly J.

Souvlaki's roots can be traced all the way back to Ancient Greece. The first written mention of the dish is in Homer's The Iliad:

"Then Achilles sliced the meat well and pierced it through on both sides with spits, and the godlike son of Menoetius kindled the fire to great light, but when the fire had burned, and the flame had died out, he scattered the hot embers and stretched the spits out over top, and he sprinkled the divine salt when he had joined the spits to the cooking stones."

What we now call souvlaki was probably first known as "obeliskos," which comes from the word "obelus" (meaning "spit" or "skewer").

The modern name is a diminutive of souvla, which means "skewer." In southern Greece and Athens, it's called kalamaki (which roughly translates to "small reed").

How to Make Souvlaki at Home

Pork Souvlaki
Kim

It may seem intimidating at first, but restaurant-worthy souvlaki is actually easier than you think to make in the comfort of your own home. Though recipes differ, souvlaki is usually made by following these simple steps:

  1. Soak your cubed meat of choice in a Mediterranean marinade, which will likely consist of olive oil, lemon juice, garlic, oregano, and other spices and seasonings. The longer you marinate, the more flavorful the finished product will be.
  2. Thread the marinated meat cubes onto a heat-proof skewer.
  3. Grill the skewered meat over medium heat. You can continue to baste the meat with the leftover marinade as it cooks for extra flavor and juiciness (but make sure to discard whatever marinade remains when you have about 5 minutes remaining — the meat and its juices should be completely cooked by the time you're finished grilling to prevent foodborne illness).
  4. Serve on the skewer, in a warm pita, or over your favorite fresh veggies.

Souvlaki Recipes

If all this souvlaki talk has you feeling hungry, we've got you covered! Try one of our best souvlaki recipes of all time:

Need more inspiration? Explore our collection of Souvlaki Recipes You'll Make Again and Again

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