What’s the Difference Between Shawarma and Gyro?

The gyro and the shawarma are often terms used interchangeably for each other. However, the dishes are very different, and originate from different parts of the world!

Although both are delicious, with marinated meats, a healthy helping of hummus, vegetables and served on pita breads, the gyro and shawarma come from separate cuisines, and are made in different ways.

As the two contain some of the same ingredients, we are here to help you understand which is which, so next time you pass your favorite street food vendor, you know exactly which one to choose! 

What is Gyro?

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A gyro is a very popular, traditional and authentic Greek dish. It is made with thinly sliced, marinated meat that is cooked on a vertical rotisserie, hence the name gyro, as this means to turn, in the Greek language.

This meat is then served on a pita bread, slathered in hummus and tzatziki, and wrapped up with fresh lettuce, tomatoes and red onion on top.

However, they can be served open, and not in a wrap form, with the pita on the bottom, and meat and salad sitting on the top.

Gyro Ingredients

To help differentiate between gyros and shawarma, it may be insightful to see what ingredients are used for a gyro.

Gyros are typically made with pitta bread, which is similar to flat bread. This is then served and filled up with slices of cooked meat, which is most commonly lamb or beef, marinated in spices.

Gyros are also made with fresh ingredients, topping the meat with fresh lettuce, tomatoes, and red onion, served up with hummus and tzatziki.

What Gyro is Not

Gyro is one of the most popular Greek dishes, and can often be found as a tasty type of street food.

As such, some people may confuse Gyro with other traditional Greek dishes, so we are here to clear up which is which, and how Gyro is different.

For instance, Gyro is often confused with Pita. Pita is simply just a type of bread that is used for making sandwiches, and is often included in Gyro, but is not always. Pita is basically just a flat type of bread, that can be used as a pocket, ready for filling.

In addition, Gyros are often considered Greek Donair, which is similar to Turkish Doner. This is a very similar dish, also served with slices of meatloaf, but this is shaved off, and served with garlic sauce and salad instead of with Tzatziki found in the gyro.

Some also confuse gyros with souvlaki. Although both of these are Greek dishes served with grilled meat, souvlaki is often made with lamb, or sometimes pork that is made with skewers, whereas gyro is made with slices of meat.

What is Shawarma?

Similar to the Greek Gyro, shawarma is a popular Middle Eastern dish that is now enjoyed around the world. It is also a type of street food that is widely available and flavored with lots of spices and herbs for a mouth watering taste.

A traditional shawarma is served with grilled, marinated and seasoned meat, and then used as a filling for pita bread, with lots of pickled veggies on top.

Shawarma Ingredients

The shawarma is traditionally made with large chunks of meat such as lamb, turkey or even sometimes chicken, which are meats that are widely popular in the Middle East.

This meat is then seasoned with typical Middle Eastern spices such as cinnamon, turmeric, cardamom, curry, cloves and various other herbs and spices to add to the flavor.

Then, the shawarma is made with pita bread, covered in hummus, tahini and pickled vegetables and fruits as a topping, that are also flavored with Middle Eastern spices.

It can then also be served up with the meat inside, and some carrots and onions on the top for extra crunch!

What Shawarma is Not

Just like the Greek gyro, the shawarma is often confused with other traditional Middle Eastern dishes such as the kebab, falafel and doner kebab.

Whilst these are all delicious, and highly enjoyable authentic dishes, they are all different from one another.

For example, the shawarma is different from falafel, as this is made with deep fried chickpeas, not meat, and is often served up with pita or flatbreads, but it is not a wrap itself, unlike the shawarma.

Another example is the kebab. This is just grilled meat, whereas the shawarma is grilled meat served with pits and various fillings.

On the other hand, a doner kebab relates to the Turkish word for the meat, which means that it is rotated, much like the gyro.

However, a doner kebab is wrapped in thick Turkish bread, not a pita bread, and is made with chopped up vegetables such as onions and tomatoes, and is served differently to a shawarma.

Differences Between Shawarma and Gyro

Many people get confused between the gyro and the shawarma, and so we are here to help you understand which is which, and how they differ from each other. For example, the shawarma is a dish that comes from the Middle East, whereas the gyro is a Greek dish.

That being said, both the gyro and the shawarma are made with lamb, but the shawarma can also be made with chicken or turkey, whereas a gyro is traditionally made with lamb, beef, or sometimes chicken and pork.

In addition, both dishes utilize hummus as the main spread inside the pita bread, but the gyro is served with a little tzatziki, whereas the shawarma is made with tahini.

Finally, the dishes are served with various different spices and seasonings. For instance, a Greek gyro is made with rosemary, thyme, garlic, oregano and many other herbs, whereas the shawarma is made with cinnamon, cloves, garlic, cardamom, curry and turmeric.

Also, shawarma is traditionally served with pickled fruits and vegetables on top, with carrots, cabbage and onions, whereas gyro is served with fresh ingredients such as lettuce, red onion and tomato.

Now that you know the main differences between the gyro and shawarma, it is clearly the origins of the dish, and the ingredients used in the recipe.

If you want to make your own gyro or shawarma, then you are in luck, as we have some simple, easy to follow recipes for you!

Simple Greek Gyro Recipe

For an authentic, simple Greek Gyro recipe to work, you will need to have about 2 pounds of a fatty cut of meat of either lamb or beef. However, you can use a different meat of your choice if you prefer.

Once you have your meat, you are then going to need some spices to flavor and marinate the meat. This recipe works best when you use a mixture of garlic, oregano, rosemary, cumin, thyme, marjoram, sea salt and a little black pepper.

Cover the meat with the spices, and then leave it to seep into the meat in a refrigerator for about 2 hours or more.

As Gyros are usually served in meat loaves, you are going to need to add your meat to a food processor once it has marinated.

Then, you can transfer it to a pre-greased loaf pan, packing the meat in tightly. If you do not already have one, you can find a similar loaf pan here: 

Once in the pan, you will then need to fill it with boiling water until it is rising halfway up the sides of the loaf pan. Then, you can bake the meat at 350 degrees fahrenheit for about 45 minutes to an hour, until the insides are no longer pink.

When the meat is ready, remove it from the oven, and pour off any excess liquid. Finally, you are going to want to slice off some pieces of meat for your gyro.

Then, you will need to slice open the pita pocket (if it is not already sliced), and spread some hummus inside the gyro.

Add in the slices of meat, with some tomato and lettuce, or even a helping of tzatziki, fold it up and enjoy!

Simple Shawarma Recipe

Similar to the simple gyro recipe found above, to start with your shawarma recipe, you will need to first marinate about two pounds of fatty meat, traditionally beef or lamb, but you can use other meat if you prefer to.

With two pounds of meat, you should be able to make about 5 or 6 wraps ready to serve up the shawarma.

To create an authentic marinade for the meat, you will need a ¼ cup of olive oil, with ¼ cup of apple cider vinegar and ½ cup of lemon juice.

You can then add this to spices such as garlic, turmeric, cinnamon, cumin, cloves, salt, nutmeg, peppercorns, cayenne pepper or even ginger to create a traditional Middle Eastern Shawarma.

With the meat, you are then going to need to cut it up into large chunks of about 4 inches long and ⅔ of an inch thick. Then, you are going to have to rub the chunks with your homemade marinade, and cover them completely.

Once you have covered all of the meat, you will have to leave them to soak overnight in the marinade, covering them in the refrigerator.

When you are ready to cook the meat, you can use a grill, and cook for about 12-15 minutes at medium temperature.

We recommend using an indoor grill such as a George Foreman, as this will also reduce the amount of fat in the meat for a more healthy option: 

Once the meat is cooked, you will need to assemble the shawarma. You can do this by warming up the pita bread, and covering in hummus and tahini inside.

Then, add in your meat with a mixture of red onion, carrots, or shredded cabbage and top with some pickled mangos. Close it up, and enjoy the flavor!

Frequently Asked Questions

In case you have any more queries relating to Shawarma and Gyro dishes, we have created a little frequently asked question section for you to check out!

Is Shawarma healthy?

This depends on where you purchased the shawarma, as you do not know exactly what ingredients are included, or how it was made.

Therefore, pre made Shawarma may be very tasty, but not a healthy option. However, if you make one for yourself at home, then you can choose to use healthier methods and ingredients.

Just keep in mind that the marinated meat can be very high in fat, with a lot of salt and sugar that can be damaging for your health when consumed often.

By making shawarma for yourself, you can reduce the amount of oil used whilst cooking, and less salt if need be.

Is Gyro healthy?

In a similar way to the shawarma question above, premade gyros are designed for flavor, taste and not health. This means that a lot of fats and oils are found in the sauces used to marinate the meat.

This is largely due to the fact that lean meat is not suitable for Gyro, as it does not have a lot of natural fat that can make it juicy and flavorful, therefore, fattier cuts of meat are used, and cooked with lots of salts, oils and sugars to improve upon the flavor.

You can however make your own Gyro, with healthier ingredients, without compromising the flavor. For instance, you can marinate the meat so that it tastes delicious, and cut back on the amount of oil used. You can also grill the meat instead, for a more healthier option.

How do you pronounce Gyro and Shawarma?

With foods from other countries, you should try to make an effort to pronounce them properly, so as not to offend those from that culture.

You would find it weird if someone kept ordering a burger, and was pronouncing it ridiculously incorrectly. Therefore, you should know how to pronounce gyro and shawarma properly.

Gyro is pronounced phonetically as ‘yeer row’. Whereas shawarma is said like ‘shuh war muh.’

What exactly is shawarma?

Shawarma is a type of Middle Eastern street food. It consists of meat which is marinated in a mixture of spices.

There are many types of meats used, including lamb, chicken, or turkey. Shawarma is seasoned typically with base flavors of cardamom, cinnamon, and turmeric.

There’s a lot of variety to the basic ingredients of shawarma, as it’s enjoyed so widely by different cultures. What there isn’t any variety in is the cooking process.

Shawarma is traditionally cooked by piling the meat on a skewer to form a vertical cone. It cooks as it rotates, and the meat is sliced off.

This is served by piling the meat into a pita or wrapping it in a flatbread. Then the toppings are added, which range from hummus, tahini, tabbouleh, and more. It’s often eaten on the go, like a sandwich, but can be served as a salad.

What’s the difference between a gyro and a pita?

There are many differences between a gyro and a pita, although the terms do get confused.

A gyro is a Greek dish, consisting of marinated meat that cooks on a turning vertical rotisserie. The meat is then sliced and served.

This is where confusion occurs, as gyro meat is typically served in a pita. The term pita simply refers to a type of flatbread. Pita is a yeast leavened flatbread that traditionally has an interior pocket.

This makes them ideal for stuffing, which is why they’re so commonly associated with gyros.

Sometimes gyro sandwiches are mistakenly referred to as pitas. However, a pita isn’t exclusively used for gyro, and a gyro can be served without the pita.

Still, the two together are an ideal combination. The pita serves as the perfect base for the spiced meat, holding it and the toppings.

Is gyro really Greek?

Yes, gyros really are Greek. Gyros are one of the most popular Greek dishes available, and can be found across Greece.

They’re growing in popularity around the world, with many Greek restaurants serving a variation. Gyros are made by cooking marinated meat rotisserie style.

This can lead to some confusion of origin, as there are many versions of this kebab style dish worldwide, including Middle Eastern shawarma. However, the gyro is Greek in origin. In fact, the world ‘gyro’ is itself Greek, meaning to turn.

A gyro is sometimes confused with souvlaki. Souvlaki is another popular Greek dish, that is cooked in a similar kebab fashion and often served in pita bread.

The primary difference is that gyros are cooked vertically. Souvlaki is cooked on a skewer, but horizontally. It may also be served on the skewer, unlike gyros. The meat for souvlaki may be cubed.

What is the difference between shawarma and kebab?

Shawarma is, essentially, a variety of kebab. Kebab itself is a fairly open description, but most commonly refers to meat that is cooked on a skewer.

This meat may be ground, cubed, or sliced, and is then typically grilled but may also be roasted. Some versions of kebabs are fried or grilled without the skewers.

Shawarma is a Middle Eastern version of kebab. The meat, typically lamb or chicken, is marinated and skewered in a cone shape. This cone is then rotated vertically, and cooks through this way. It can cook for a long time. The meat can fall off, but is often sliced. This is then served in a flatbread and covered in toppings.

There are varieties of kebabs from across the world, as it’s a popular cooking method. Other varieties of kebab include doner kebab, shish kebab, souvlaki, and gyros.

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Cassie brings decades of experience to the Kitchen Community. She is a noted chef and avid gardener. Her new book "Healthy Eating Through the Garden" will be released shortly. When not writing or speaking about food and gardens Cassie can be found puttering around farmer's markets and greenhouses looking for the next great idea.
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