Souvlaki Vs. Gyro: What's The Difference?

Souvlaki and gyros are two mouthwatering Greek street foods you've probably had the pleasure of eating if you've visited Greece or major cities across the U.S. and Europe. The two dishes have similar flavor profiles with juicy meats and fresh vegetables like tomato and onion — but what exactly is the difference between them?

It starts with how they're prepared. Souvlaki is marinated meat (traditionally pork, chicken, or lamb) that's grilled on skewers. And while gyros are made using the same meats, they are stacked and slow-cooked on a vertical rotisserie and carved away at to fill sandwiches or salads.

You might get these two dishes mixed up, but the differences don't stop there. When it comes to eating the delicious Greek foods, souvlaki can be bitten off the skewer but are also traditionally served on a platter with sides like Greek salad and sometimes rice or pita. Gyros are typically served in sandwich form, stacked on pita bread with vegetables like onion and tomato, and fries (sometimes). A spoonful of the creamy and zesty tzatziki sauce, made with yogurt, herbs, and cucumbers, is usually served with both dishes.

What is souvlaki?

The origins of souvlaki go way back to ancient Greece, where references to it can be found in some of the oldest books in the Western canon. One of the first mentions of this grilled food is found in the Iliad, the ancient Greek epic poem you might have read back in literature class. The ancient philosopher Aristotle also makes reference to the dish, calling the skewer or spit used to cook them an "obelos" or obelisk. 

The skewered meat has certainly withstood the test of time, as it is a staple of Grecian food that has been well exported throughout the West. And edging out ancient Roman pizza by several centuries, many consider it to be the world's first fast food item. Even today, you can grab a souvlaki kebab to go from street food vendors in cities like Athens and areas outside of the country with thriving Greek communities, like parts of New York City.

If you don't like eating off of a stick, the meat is also served on a platter alongside rice or fried potatoes, vegetables or a full Greek salad with feta, a lemon wedge, and that refreshing tzatziki we mentioned before. And similar to gyros, souvlaki might also be served with a hunk of fresh bread or with the skewers sitting inside a hot and fresh pita.

How are gyros different?

Gyros are also a Greek fast food delicacy, but the history doesn't reach back nearly as far as souvlaki. It's thought that this dish arrived in Greece in the 1920s when refugees from the Ionian peninsula brought the dish with them. Since then, it has grown in popularity as a quick and tasty meal, both in country and around the world. Major cities in the U.S., as well as the Northeast corridor, are famous for the ubiquity of Greek-run diners that feature gyros and a bevy of other Greek and American fare. 

If you order a gyro, you can typically expect to get warm pita bread filled with gyro meat, lettuce, tomato, red onions, tzatziki, and occasionally feta cheese or olives. Gyros are very similar to Turkish doner kebabs, which too consist of rotisserie meat piled onto bread or wraps. When it comes to the gyro meat, in Greece, it's very often pork, but you can also find chicken, beef, and lamb seasoned with a blend of garlic, black pepper, cumin, and dry herbs like oregano.And like souvlaki, you can get a gyro platter, where the meat is thinly sliced with traditional toppings and served alongside fries or a bed of rice.