I've been to several Middle Eastern inspired restaurants around where I live and in most of these restaurants, the customers are able to see into the kitchen as they prep our food. In the middle of the kitchen I normally see something like this:

enter image description here

I asked the waitress what they were and she told us that the "blob" on the right is lamb. My friend then went ahead and order a lamb gyro platter. We watched as they carved thin slices off of the lamb. These slices look something like this:

enter image description here

My friend let me try a piece of the "lamb" meat but it didn't really taste like meat. It was tasty but the texture seemed too "smooth" to taste like meat. The texture almost reminded me of vegan meat substitute. Its texture was nothing like what ground beef felt like. How did they prepare the lamb that they got such a texture? And is this authentic or just an American bastardization of the authentic gyro meats?

  • In most restaurants in the US those "Legs of lamb" are 80-100% Beef. I was told that at 70% the meat will not stay on the spit when it is processed like that.
    – Chad
    Mar 7, 2012 at 18:13
  • 1
    @Chad - lamb stay on fine, where did you get that gem from?
    – TFD
    Mar 7, 2012 at 20:48
  • @Jay Gyro is a Greek word (rotate). Greece is not in the middle-east. Shawarma is the word you want
    – TFD
    Mar 7, 2012 at 21:19
  • @TFD semantics or not, the one on the right,in the US, is not not layered slices.
    – rfusca
    Mar 7, 2012 at 21:40
  • @TFD - Regular lamb will stay on the leg but the processed lamb (shown above) will not. That came from a vendor(wholesale) that had 80% Beef gyro's. He actually had 2 options one was 100% that was the preferred (according to him) meat for gyros and the 80% which some people (like me) preferred. When ever i visit a new restaurant that serves gyro's I ask what their lamb content is. It is rare more than 10% and usually 0. We did find a greek restaurant that made their gyro's with real lamb instead of the processed legs.
    – Chad
    Mar 8, 2012 at 14:03

6 Answers 6


For the times I've done gyros as such, you basically make a 'paste' out of it in the food processor.

Throw ground lamb in and give it a whirl, mix your spices and such in, put it on a spit, fridge to give a bit hard, and then on the spit. It comes out with a texture like that. That's how that kind is often done.

For 'proper' tasting meat (more like the one on the left), its alternating layers of razor thin meat and fat.

  • Why do you think it's razor thin?
    – TFD
    Mar 7, 2012 at 21:15
  • 1
    The times I saw it done (at a local place), it was razor thin.
    – rfusca
    Mar 7, 2012 at 21:26
  • 2
    @TFD it's thinly sliced when possible so that fats and flavors drip down. Plus it cooks quicker. It's not always razor thin though, chicken for example i've seen pretty thick slices. To bad those machines aren't affordable for home owners. Where's Ronco when you need him lol!
    – Anagio
    Mar 8, 2012 at 23:26

Being Greek I don't paticularly like this kind of lamb. It's really a compressed meat loaf if you ask me. But you can watch Alton Brown make this version on Good Eats


In your first photo I prefer when the meats are stacked up like on the left side. You can also use ground beef, lamb, chicken or pork season them and shape them into hot dogs. These are popular alternatives in Greece to a typical Gyro.


In answer to "And is this authentic or just an American bastardization of the authentic gyro meats?", it could be American bastardization, or just lazy cafe owners?

Shawarma is made by stacking strips of meat on the skewer. Like spokes on a bicycle wheel, where the skewer is the hub. One end of a strip goes on the skewer, the other hangs out

lamb on charcoal

The meat is prepared by slicing it raw from the carcase into 10 to 20 cm long strips, about 1 cm thick. It is then rolled in dry-ish marinade of finely chopped/mashed onion, fresh chopped/mashed/ground cumin, salt, and other secret spices depending on who your mother was

The meat is layered onto the skewer (short bits at the bottom, long bits at the top if a vertical skewer). Strips of lamb fat are interlaced, or even patterned in depending on the skill of the butcher

A similar technique is used for chicken, beef etc

NO food processor is used, no exotic chemicals are used either!

As it roasts horizontally or vertically in front of a fire. The cooked bits are continuously carved off, and if not served immediately, put aside to cool. Cooled meat can be quickly re-heated in the grill or in a pan in the wood fired oven (which is used to make the breads)

lamb on gas

To make this at home

Marinade some 1 cm thick slabs of lamb (chest flaps will do) with onions, cumin, salt etc., make sure there is some lmab fat on it. Grill (broil) fatty side up on medium-high, but do not turn. When underside is about done, and the top has not burnt, remove and let stand for a bit, then slice/dice thinly and serve as per a normal Shawarma

If you are visiting New Zealand, make sure you visit the best Shawarma house http://middleeastcafe.co.nz/

  • This is definitely not the same thing though. The one he's referencing is clearly not the slices one.
    – rfusca
    Mar 7, 2012 at 21:38
  • I don't see how the new zealand pieces really applies to this question.
    – dpollitt
    Mar 7, 2012 at 21:54
  • @rfusca This is in answer to "And is this authentic or just an American bastardization of the authentic gyro meats?"
    – TFD
    Mar 7, 2012 at 23:55
  • Ah, gotcha. Makes a certain amount of sense then.
    – rfusca
    Mar 8, 2012 at 3:23

Very good article in the Guardian about this very topic, apparantly in industrial production they use transglutaminase but it's not required:



Contrary to how @rfusca has done it, I actually mix up all of the spices and liquids in my food processor, then combine the ground lamb by hand with the mixture. I agree with the original poster that it doesn't quite taste the same, and a lot of that has to do with how you actually cook it. If you aren't using a spit at home, you aren't going to have the same flavor or texture.

The way that I have been able to achieve a similar style to the restaurant bought versions is to make patties using a panade with the lamb, and pan fry the patties. They stay very moist due to the panade, and are easy to cook indoors in any house.

In my opinion, the at home version tastes better and is of higher quality than what you can get in most US restaurants. Typically the meat is very finely ground and pressed, usually comprising of very little lamb. The flavors of the at home versions are usually more preferable to me as well.

I will say, as a tip, I tried using veal as a substitute for ground lamb once, and I did not find it appealing. This may be obvious to others, but it was news to me.

If you look closely, you will find my gyro patties up on top. enter image description here


Gyro meat blocks are essentially meat loaves - bread crumbs are a common ingredient, as are other things you'd find in a meatloaf recipe. Here's one creative person's approach to both a homemade gyro cooker and the meat block to cook on it.

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