One of America’s Favorites – Gyros

June 14, 2021 at 6:02 AM | Posted in One of America's Favorites | Leave a comment
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Gyros sandwiches wraps in Greece, with meat, onions, tomato, lettuce, fries, and tzatziki rolled in a pita

A gyro or gyros pronounced [ˈʝiros]) is a Greek dish made from meat cooked on a vertical rotisserie. Like shawarma and al pastor meat, it is derived from the lamb-based doner kebab. In Greece and Cyprus it is prepared most often with pork or chicken, whilst beef, chicken, and lamb are common in other countries. It is typically served wrapped or stuffed in a pita, along with ingredients such as tomato, onion, and tzatziki sauce.

Grilling a vertical spit of stacked meat slices and cutting it off as it cooks was developed in Bursa in the 19th century Ottoman Empire, and called doner kebab (Turkish: döner kebap). Following World War II, doner kebab made with lamb was present in Athens, introduced by immigrants from Anatolia and the Middle East. A distinct Greek variation developed, often made with pork and served with tzatziki sauce, which later became known as gyros.

By 1970, gyros wrapped sandwiches were already a popular fast food in Athens, as well as in Chicago and New York City. At that time, although vertical rotisseries were starting to be mass-produced in the US by Gyros Inc. of Chicago, the stacks of meat were still hand-made.

Gyros plate

According to Margaret Garlic, it was she who first came up with the idea to mass-produce gyros meat cones, after watching a demonstration by a Greek restaurant owner carving gyros on the What’s My Line? television show. She convinced her husband John Garlic, a Jewish former Marine and then Cadillac salesman, of the idea. After obtaining a recipe from a Greek chef in Chicago, the couple rented a space in a sausage plant in Milwaukee and began operating the world’s first assembly line producing gyros meat from beef and lamb trimmings, in the early 1970s. The Garlics later sold their business to Gyros Inc., which along with Central Gyros Wholesale, and Kronos Foods, Inc, also of Chicago, began large-scale production in the mid-1970s.

 

The name comes from the Greek γύρος (gyros, ‘circle’ or ‘turn’), and is a calque of the Turkish word döner, from dönmek, also meaning “turn”. It was originally called ντονέρ (pronounced [doˈner]) in Greece. The word ντονέρ was criticized in mid-1970s Greece for being Turkish. The word gyro or gyros was already in use in English by at least 1970, and along with γύρος in Greek, eventually came to replace doner kebab for the Greek version of the dish. Some Greek restaurants in the US, such as the Syntagma Square in New York City—which can be seen briefly in the 1976 film Taxi Driver—continued to use both doner kebab and gyros to refer to the same dish, in the 1970s.

 

In Greece, gyros is normally made with pork, though other meats are also used. Chicken is common, and lamb or beef may be found more rarely. Typical American mass-produced gyros are made with finely ground beef mixed with lamb.

Gyros preparation

For hand-made gyros, meat is cut into approximately round, thin, flat slices, which are then stacked on a spit and seasoned. Fat trimmings are usually interspersed. Spices may include cumin, oregano, thyme, rosemary, and others. The pieces of meat, in the shape of an inverted cone, are placed on a tall vertical rotisserie, which turns slowly in front of a source of heat or broiler. As the cone cooks, lower parts are basted with the juices running off the upper parts. The outside of the meat is sliced vertically in thin, crisp shavings when done.

The rate of roasting can be adjusted by varying the intensity of the heat, the distance between the heat and the meat, and the speed of spit rotation, thus allowing the cook to adjust for varying rates of consumption.

In Greece it is customarily served in an oiled, lightly grilled piece of pita, rolled up with sliced tomatoes, chopped onions, lettuce, and french fries, topped with tzatziki sauce or, sometimes in northern Greece, ketchup or mustard.

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