Shawarma vs Gyro: The Key Differences

Shawarma vs gyro? At a glance, they are simply sandwiches—roasted meat wrapped in flatbread and garnished with salad and sauces. But shawarma is an Arabic dish while Gyro is a Greek dish. Also, the ingredients and preparation methods are different. Besides sandwiches, you can have these dishes served on a platter. This article compares shawarma and gyro from their origin to how they are served.

Chef cutting a very big shawarma

Shawarma (pronounced sha-war-ma) and gyro (pronounced year-oh) evolved from the Turkish döner kebap. What began as the Iskender kebab soon changed into a gyro, shawarma, and even the famous al pastor. In fact, all these dishes became possible after the Turkish Chef Iskender Efendi invented the vertical rotisserie.

Shawarma is the Arabic variation, while gyro is the Greek variation of doner kebab.

In this article, we’re going to look at what a Shawarma is and what it means in Arabic. We will also explain what a Gyro is and what it means in Greek. And finally, we will explain the main differences between them in terms of their origin, ingredients, preparation and serving styles.

What Is Shawarma?

Shawarma is a crispy seasoned meat wrapped with pita (soft flatbread) in an assortment of vegetables, pickled fruits, and different sauces. Originally from Lebanon, the first shawarma was thin slices of roasted lamb.

Like döner kebap, you make shawarma by roasting meat with a vertical rotisserie (or spit). The vertical rotisserie is ideal for roasting large meat chunks. However at home, you can use your broiler oven, grill, or a shawarma machine.

Though often a sandwich, you may have shawarma in a platter. For example, a shawarma platter typically has roasted meat, a refreshing salad, and spicy sauce served with rice or French fries.

Shawarma is a very healthy Middle-Eastern dish with lots of protein, vegetables, and olive oil. But some vendors use animal fat to marinate the shawarma further. This increases carbs remarkably. If you make your shawarma at home, you will make a nutritious and low-fat sandwich.

What Does Shawarma Mean In Arabic?

Shawarma is an Arabic translation of the Turkish name (çevirme), meaning turning. The name shawarma refers to how the meat rotates as it roasts in a spit.

What Is Gyro?

Pita gyro is roasted meat wrapped in pita (soft flatbread) with tomatoes, onions, and tzatziki sauce. It may also have fries within the sandwich or as an accompaniment.

Like shawarma, you make gyros using the döner kebap process. The first gyro was made in Athens using pork. The Athenians roasted seasoned pork in a vertical spit. They would shave the meat as it cooked and serve it with salad and the Greek sauce, tzatziki. Tzatziki sauce is made with cucumbers, garlic, and Greek yogurt.

In Greece, they mostly have pork gyros. Though originally pork-based, gyro has evolved to use other meats like chicken, lamb, and beef. Today, the most common gyro is chicken. However, American gyros are mostly a mixture of ground beef and lamb.

They usually come with a healthy protein serving and vegetables.

What Does Gyro Mean In Greek?

Gyro loosely translates to spinning. The name refers to the roasting method where the meat rotates in a vertical spit as you shave off the crispy outer layers.

What’s The Difference Between Shawarma And Gyro?

Shawarma and gyro are variations of preparing and serving roasted meat.

Shawarma Vs Gyro Origin

If you go to Lebanon, you will find shawarmas, but when you go to Athens, you find gyros.

Shawarma spread in the Middle East during the Ottoman Empire. Lebanese immigrants spread the shawarma recipe, and gradually vendors created and sold different shawarma versions.

Similarly, the Greeks created and spread their gyro. According to a New York Times newspaper, lamb gyros became very popular fast foods in New York streets as early as the 1970’s after Greeks interacted with New Yorkers. Therefore, lamb gyro is more of a New York invention. In contrast, the original gyro was made with pork.

Shawarma vs Gyro Ingredients

Shawarma ingredients:

  • Boneless meat
  • A marinade
  • Pita bread
  • Salad
  • Sauce

Typical of Arabian dishes, shawarma meat is heavily marinated in spices like cardamom, garlic, sumac, cinnamon, pepper, etc.

Lebanese initially made shawarma with marinated lamb slices wrapped in pita bread. However these days, shawarma meat could be chicken, lamb, veal, beef, goat, or turkey.

Gyro ingredients:

  • Boneless Meat
  • Marinade
  • Pita Bread
  • Salad
  • Tzatziki Sauce.

Gyro traditionally uses seasoned pork. Today, we have chicken, lamb, and beef gyros. The Greek gyro is lowkey on spices, but you can spice the meat with oregano, thyme, or rosemary. Currently, people marinate their gyro-style dishes with any spices they have.

The main difference between the ingredients used in shawarma and gyro is the tzatziki sauce. Only gyros use tzatziki sauce.

Shawarma Vs Gyro Preparation

Shawarma Preparation

You will need to create your super marinade, sauce, and salad. The longer you marinate your meat, the more you get the flavor and aromas. When making chicken shawarma, it’s best to use chicken thighs. As for the marinade, use all the herbs in your kitchen.

You stack marinated meat on a vertical spit, alternating fatty and meaty strips. The spit rotates the meat in front of high heat (in a grill or shawarma machine) for hours. This method maintains the juices and flavors as the meat roasts. When the outer layers turn brown and crispy, you shave off succulent shawarma slices as the spit keeps rotating.

Check out how this chef prepares chicken shawarma at home.

Gyro Preparation

In restaurants, they mix ground lamb and beef then season it before stacking on a vertical spit. The Spit rotates in front of the heat, giving the meat a crispy outer layer which they shave off as the spit turns.

At home, you can roast your chicken slices in a pan. Check out how this chef makes his chicken gyro with a pan.

The main difference when preparing shawarma and gyro is how much you season your meat. Shawarma meat can marinate all day in a mixture of spices, giving it a flavorful and aromatic finish. However, Gyros like to maintain the meat’s taste.

Shawarma Vs Gyro: How You Serve Them

Both gyros and shawarmas are served either as a sandwich or as a platter with accompaniments. Some restaurants serve shawarma and gyro with rice or fries.

As a sandwich, you can wrap your shawarma with a pita or stuff it in a pocket pita. Typical garnishes for Shawarma include vegetables like tomatoes, onions, parsley, cabbage, carrot, and cucumber. Also, other possible toppings include hummus, tahini, tabbouleh, garlic sauce, mango sauce, or other desired sauces.

Gyro meat is wrapped in pita and garnished with sliced tomatoes, lettuce, onions, and cucumbers. It’s served with tzatziki sauce. Some vendors put fries inside the gyro, but you can serve the fries on the side.

Shawarma Vs Gyro, Final Thoughts

The key difference between shawarma and gyro is their different origins which determines the ingredients used.

Shawarma uses just about any meat, spice, and sauce, but never tzatziki sauce. Conversely, gyro primarily uses lamb, beef, and chicken, and you always have it with tzatziki sauce. Chefs are also more experimental with shawarmas than gyros. Therefore, you will find many different variations of shawarma than gyros.

The bottom line? Both dishes are delicious and worth a try. It is easy to research the best local shawarma or gyro vendor near you with online reviews. If you want to make your sandwiches at home, work with what you have. With a tutorial, anything is possible.