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I see both of these terms used in restaurants that seem to specialize in meat on a vertical rotisserie served in a pita sandwich. I'm not clear on whether there is a difference between the two or if they are just colloquial names for the same thing.

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6 Answers 6

up vote 15 down vote accepted

They're rather different.

Gyros are Greek in origin. They are simply meat, tomatoes, onion, and tzatziki sauce on pita. In Greece the meat is typically pork (never had one). In America, specifically here in Chicago (their local origin), the meat is a combination of beef & lamb.

Shwawarma is Middle Eastern in origin. The possible toppings are much more diverse, and can include: tahini, tabouli, fattoush, cucumber, and hummus. Tzatziki isn't typically used, at least not in America. The meat is also never pork, it can be lamb, beef or chicken.

They owe their similarities to their common Turkish ancestor the doner kebab.

See also:

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additionally, the spices in the meat are totally different. Shwawarma tends to be spicier than gyros. Shwawarma also tends to be discreet pieces of meat instead of the roast loaf gyro meat. –  sarge_smith Sep 30 '10 at 16:16
    
@sarge_smith: All of the Middle Eastern shawarma I have eaten (at least in the Levant) have been of the "roast loaf". I will agree, however, that the meat is more chunky/coarsely processed than the Greek variety. –  ESultanik Jun 4 '12 at 17:34
    
They're still tightly stacked together on a spit but it's usually marinated chunks of meat, not a mince loaf. My understanding is that doner, shawarma and gyros are all traditionally stacked meats. Tomato, parsley, lettuce, onion, tahini and picked turnips is a pretty standard set of toppings for shawarma. –  NRaf Oct 12 at 21:19

As sarge_smith hinted at in his comment to hobodave, at least from the gyros and shwarmas I've had.

  • Gyros are made from a loaf of ground meat, onions and seasonings, spit roasted. (this might be a regional thing, though)
  • Shawarmas (and doner kebab) are cuts of meat, marinated and stacked, then spit roasted.

As you slice the shawarma meat off the cone, you're cutting across the stacked slices, so it'll end up falling into lots of smaller bits, while the gyro meat is larger slices, but still tender because it's ground meat.

  • Gyros tend to have more "mediteranian" herbs (oregano, marjoram, thyme, rosemary)
  • Shawarmas tend to have more "middle eastern" spices (cardamom, allspice, cinnamon, cloves, coriander seed, tumeric)
  • Either one might have cumin, pepper or oregano, and they'll both have garlic.

I don't know how much of it's a regional thing (as I think I've only had shawarmas twice in the US), but when we used to get shawarmas in the Netherlands, they were served with a garlic yoghurt sauce that was similar to tzatziki, but didn't have cucumber or herbs in it. They were also served inside pita pockets (with shredded carrot, lettuce and tomatoes) as opposed to wrapped in a flatbread.

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Shawarma is traditionally wrapped in flatbread, usually served with tahini or hummus. In Australia, it's Turkish doner kebabs that usually come with the garlic sauce. –  NRaf Oct 12 at 21:08

I have many times been to Greece and have had gyros there and they are not ground meat but just like the shawarma it's pieces of meat stacked and roasted. Difference is just like the others say spices and the toppings that go into the pita. Also gyros in Greece are almost always pork meat.

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I'm a chef, trained by "off the boat" greeks, and gyro is lamb/beef..not pork, and I find it hard to believe that the Greek family that I was trained under would be making gyro wrong.. American style is typically in a "cone" meat form, and Greek style is stacked/layered meat, then sliced as the others said..souvlaki is typically pork, which is different than gyro..

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Greek gyros is always cuts of meat, not homogenised with herbs etc. like a donner kebab, and comes as either pork, or less commonly, chicken. In the UK what is described as 'chicken donner' or 'chicken shawarma' is almost always very similar to what is called 'chicken gyros' in Greece in terms of the meat and its appearance, though spices etc are different and it will probably be served with different salads.

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Gyros are not usually pork. in Greece, they are wrapped lamb and beef with proper spices skewered and roasted. In America, I have made them with ground lamb and hambburger.

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I'm Greek and have yet to eat a gyros in Greece that was NOT made with pork. Now, if I was in Turkey it would be lamb/ beef but a proper Greek gyros will be pork. –  user19640 Aug 12 '13 at 23:55

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