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Every time I cook Donair at home, it seems to dry up a lot faster than when I do it in the restaurant. Granted I use the same spice mix and meat mixing method.

The difference is that at the restaurant, I bake the donair in a 600 degree oven where at home I do it in a 375 oven

I suspect the reasons for drying are:

  • Overcooking
  • Low fat content at the meat, perhaps I should use a higher fatted meat.

What suggestions would you give to cooking Donair at home?

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What is Donair? Is it this: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Donair? Basically a döner kebab with a different sauce? –  Sobachatina Oct 19 '10 at 18:32
    
When you say 600°, do you mean 600° C as in an industrial high-temperature oven? Or 600° F (about 300° C)? –  Aaronut Oct 19 '10 at 18:48
    
@Aaronut - It's a concrete 600 F oven –  dassouki Oct 19 '10 at 19:16
    
@Sobachatina - Think of it as Ground beef + spices + a bit of fat + some form of a juice –  dassouki Oct 19 '10 at 19:17

4 Answers 4

up vote 3 down vote accepted

Disclaimer: I have not made Donairs at home. However, I think the same principles apply to döner kebabs, gyros, shawarma, and really almost any fast-food meat.

I rather suspect that the problem is that you're using an oven. Donairs, döner kebab, gyros, are all similar and are all intended to be cooked on a vertical spit that puts out upwards of 50,000 BTU. Although that cumulative heat is usually spread across a few individual broilers and designed to cook a very large amount of the stuff at a time, the fact remains that this type of meat does best with quick, high, direct heat.

The grill on a gryo machine is much closer to a BBQ or stovetop than it is to an oven. Ovens impart heat very gradually by comparison, giving the meat plenty of time to dry out. And the oven does dry meat out; so much so that it's actually possible and relatively straightforward to make jerky in an oven, but that's a topic for another day.

Meat starts to release all its juices at 130° F / 54.5° C. If you hold it in an oven at 375° (F or C, hardly matters at that point) for an extended period of time then it is, quite literally, going to turn into jerky. By the time it gets above 150° F it is way overdone. Note that at 180° F or 82° C, the collagen breaks down and converts to gelatin, which gives that really succulent and tender texture found in slow cooking, but in order to accomplish that you need to find a way to preserve moisture while the temperature rises (i.e. by brining, braising, or steaming). More on this at the Science of Slow Cooking, if you're interested.

But, I suspect that you're not shooting for slow-cooking, so I'm going to suggest the next-best thing, which is to grill the meat instead of baking/roasting it. Just don't use the oven. When you grill it you are just searing the outside; the inside will not have a chance to get overdone or eject too much moisture (although you will still lose some, but gyros/donair meat is supposed to be a little dry). The cuts tend to be so thin that it should only require a couple of minutes on the grill.

Grilling the meat should get you very close to the kind of consistency you get with a high-heat spit. Most "street meat" I've eaten (not that I eat a lot of it!) has the consistency of grilled meat; well-done on the outside, medium or medium-rare on the inside.

If you insist on using the oven then use the broiler, which is also very similar to the vertical spit (although it won't broil the meat as evenly). And if you insist on using the oven but not the broiler then I can only recommend that you use the highest temperature possible and take it out a few minutes before it reaches the desired tenderness, because even thin slices of meat will continue to cook and dry out for a few minutes afterward.

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You can have great sucess cooking the donair as a loaf without having to have a spit that's used in pizza and donair shops. You just need a little prep time. In order to get the loaf to the consistency of the donair meat at the pizza store, i use a food processor. run it in there for about a minute, then form your football shaped loaf, patting and squeezing it to get all the air pockets out. Cook it on a cookie sheet in a 350 degree oven for about 45 min to an hour...just depends on the size of loaf you made. The goal is not to cook it completely through, cause if you do you will lose a lot of moisture. I judge it by the color of the outside. When it looks nice and brown on the outside, take it out. Let it sit for about 15 to 20min. To make slicing even easier, put the loaf in the fridge for about an hour, or wrap it in tin foil and leave it in the fridge overnight. When you take it out, use a long skewer to go through one end to the other(i use the knife sharpening tool in the knife rack) to be able to stand the donair on its end, and allow you to shave off slices the thickness you want. Then quick fry the meat before putting it on your pita. The additional cooking will make sure there is no pink left in the meat, and allows you to crisp up the meat if you like it to have a little crunch to it! If you want to make thick tasty donair sauce, Youtube search "Greg's secret to home made donair sauce!!" Happy cooking!

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I have had great success with cooking it at 400 degrees in a large 1 inch thick rectangular slab suspended above a cookie sheet with a drying rack that is almost the size of the cookie sheet. I watch in closely and nearly broil the top. Half way through I flip it over and brown the other side. If it's not cooked all the way through I turn the heat down a bit and let it cook all the way through.

sliced thinly the final product closely resembles meat sliced from the vertical spit.

I have used chicken thigh meat or a leg of lamb. Very finely ground, I run it through my meat grinder multiple times or small batches in a food processor might work. the meat really sticks together nicely this way and wont break even when you have a slab the size of cookie sheet.

I typically line my cookie sheet with aluminum or silicon paper for easy clean up...

Again, Great success with this! Hope it works for you! let me know if you have any questions!

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I cook in the oven and make sure to use a cooling rack over a roasting pan filled with water. It maintains the moisture and it cooks long enough to allow me to slice and grill it to the finished temperature.

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