Tzatziking Advice on Making LEGIT GYROS AT HOME.
August 22, 2015 8:25 AM   Subscribe

I am CRAZY FOR GYROS. I crave a delicious, warm, foil-wrapped Greek gyros sandwich every single day and I never, ever tire of them. The place near me just closed. There's only shawarma in lavash now. It's not the same thing. As you can imagine, I am pissed. So I have decided to just become a subsistence carver. Can anyone help me build a PERSONAL GYROS RIG, and go beyond bland store-bought frozen slices into the third dimension of flavor?

It would be cool to invite friends over for a pita party and make a skinny meat cone just for that night, and serve my guests excellent gyros, shawarma, doner, etc. I can get the pink cabbage, make harissa, white sauces, red sauces. Or just dress it down with some crisp chilled cucumbers and tomatoes. There's no wrong way to do shaved meat cones!

I think doing it cone-style instead of using pre-cut frozen slices is a very important requirement, it will be fun and economical, and the texture would be better on even frozen hand-sliced slices than on those machine-formed ones, which you can sorta tell were poured out a nozzle onto a conveyor belt. They're gross. You gotta do 'em from the cone.

Anyway, let's do this.

Here are my specifications:
- A non-permanent (can take with me when I move) personal gyros meat cone-capable grill in my kitchen, with built-in griddle surface for sandwich staging.
- Frequency of usage: once a month, or every two weeks, to prepare an entire cone of meat in a single multi-hour grilling session. I might make small (same height but skinny) cones for impromptu gatherings or experimental recipes.
- Electric is totally fine, would rather not deal with gas plumbing setup or have propane tanks inside my home, but if they're WAY SUPERIOR I am willing to be convinced. Open mind.
- I know it will probably smell all day, but my neighbors can deal with my "ethnic cooking", or better yet, come in and let me fix them a gyros sandwich. There's gonna be PLENTY, you know?
- It should plug into my regular wall so I don't need some weird looking "hire an electrician" plug, or a voltage step-up/down converter. I would assume this is roughly of the same scope "appliance hardcoreness-wise" as a toaster oven, right? I need it to be for sure.

- Vibroblades? Machete? Sarcasm? What is best to cut with.

- Can a private customer (that is, not a restaurant manager) order good quality meat cones for home delivery? Or better yet, do they sell them freshly made at any middle-eastern supermarkets in LA? Or maybe even singly at foodservice wholesale places? Like you bring them an empty spindle and take away a full gyros, the way you exchange propane tanks? That's how it works, right?

- What are the best home gyros / shawarma / doner grills? I don't know if this is a big thing among home consumers in Greece or Turkey or Germany or wherever, or if it's EXCLUSIVELY a commercial takeaway food, but I would like to buy a high quality, safe appliance, one for which making or buying compatible mounting spits / premade meat cones is trivial. It's possible they simply don't make consumer-accessible doner grills, that WOULD be stinktown USA, but I'd still be open to buying a tiny commercial one, I've seen very compact ones on street carts, not sure if they're electric..

- If I want to make my OWN meat cones from scratch instead of getting them catered or buying those Kronos paste cones, so what cuts of meat are considered "proper" to use, and do the grills come with (or can you buy) compatible rods/spits to build your meat cone on, using whatever meats you want?

In return for your help, I promise to take a ton of pictures of the setup under construction and in action, including ones with dogs in them. If you're near enough to Valencia and a MeFite in good standing, you're also welcome to come over and eat all the legit gyros you can pack away, and play video games / watch movies with me.
posted by jake to Food & Drink (20 answers total) 63 users marked this as a favorite
DIY. One of the comments suggests a second burner or a reflector, which would be an improvement, I think.
posted by carmicha at 8:32 AM on August 22, 2015 [1 favorite]

Alton Brown's "Good Eats" tackled this with "My Big Fat Greek Sandwich," (YTL-- I see it was uploaded from the best cooking-shows-torrent-site that ever was, #digitaldistractions, R.I.P.) in which AB discovers that Gyro meat is made like bad meatloaf-- ingredients and technique are similar, but the density of the gyro meat comes from over-pureeing and over-pressing the final product compared to meatloaf. His recipe is here.

For cooking the meat, AB shows how to do it rotisserie-style as well as doing it in weighted loaf pans, for those who don't have access to a rotisserie-equipped grill. Watch the show for grill-specific advice, i.e charcoal vs. propane-- AB has some specific heat-control advice.

Serious Eats wasn't a fan of AB's recipe, initially, but made a couple modifications and improved on it, here. The loaf-pan method is inevitably going to end up sitting in its own juices, but SE figures out how to reduce this problem significantly.

Watching this over makes me wish I lived closer to your neighborhood; I've never tried this recipe, but would love to hear how it turned out.
posted by Sunburnt at 8:52 AM on August 22, 2015 [12 favorites]

From what I've read, the vertical rotisseries powerful enough to do what you're looking for are pretty much only used in restaurants. Throwing restaurant grade kitchen equipment in a residential domicile is a very fast and surefire way to void your homeowners or renters insurance. Infrequent use you're probably going to end up using a gas grill, and that's totally okay! You'll get super good results with that, and really, super legit in terms of quality and safety; you just need a drip pan and a rotisserie. There are numerous rotisseries that can be added to many gas grills, and even some charcoal grills. This is what you're probably going to be gunning for. There's no need for a sketchy setup here. This is super well worn territory.

You're probably not going to find meat cones for sale. Those are typically made in house, as far as I've ever seen. Internet as it is, however, is abound with receipes for such cones. Serious Eats has a great breakdown, specifically for lamb-based gyro action. Its heavily based off of Alton Bronw's "my big fat greek sandwich" episode, which will be worth watching if you're looking to pursue this. His recipe pretty good, but the show goes into much more detail to the process and gear needed. Layered meat cones are fairly straightforward; here's a pork-based recipe.

If you're looking to do a cone proper find a good butcher to cut your slices for you. I've done it at home, and its a pain in the ass. Well worth having a butcher do it right. Some asian markets sell pre-sliced meats very, very thin for certain applications. Don't overlook the asian market.
posted by furnace.heart at 8:53 AM on August 22, 2015 [4 favorites]

You're probably not going to find meat cones for sale. Those are typically made in house, as far as I've ever seen.

Noooo. I've eaten a lot of gyros in my life (and... it shows...). The vast bulk of Greek-American gyro restaurants advertise that they use either Kronos GyroKones, Olympia Meats Cones or Grecian Delight Cones. There are plenty of mediterranean restaurants that make their own schwarma on a rotisserie, but I think that's what the OP is trying to avoid here - on the West Coast, it's now difficult to find one of the restaurants that uses a proper spiced and minced cone, even though there are plenty that do east of the Mississippi. (Note that the Serious Eats article you posted even contains a lengthy digression on the Kronos ad that got the writer hooked on Greek-American gyros).

My wife and I, also on the West Coast, found a Greek importer near us (named, appropriately, Greek Imports) who will sell us fluffy, conventional pitas, proper slices of Olympia gyros meats to grill, and authentic Greek kefir for Tzatziki (although Fage Total 2% will work wonderfully in a pinch). From those ingredients, a cucumber, garlic, an onion, a tomato, and NO LETTUCE AT ALL WHY DO RESTAURANTS DO THAT we can fashion reasonably authentic Greek-American gyros with virtually no work in our kitchen. So, first, call around for a local importer who can sell you the goods. The family who runs the one near us totally gets that people want to make authentic Greek or Greek-American gyros at home, and are happy to help.

But OP, I think you're right. The uniformity and texture of a grilled slice is not the same as what's been served off of the spit, and the thin slices just aren't quite the same as the chunky, succulent, freshly-carved meats that are nestled within the pita.

The cone isn't much of a problem. Your local greek importer may well be able to get it in for you. You even can order Kronos cones off of Amazon! You can get this, just call around.

The spit is the hardest thing. The gold standard is the Optimal Automatics Autodoner, some of which will run on propane, but those are gigantic and run in the four figures and not very portable and I'm sure that's what you're trying to avoid.

If you want to make this in a kitchen, you'll need a mini-vertical-rotisserie, likely one that runs on 110V. Several have been made over the years, but the problem is that with most rotisseries, you can't carve directly from it. However, you can get this very small one on Amazon which looks viable for rotation and carving of a cone. (It will likely only hold a 10 pound cone.)

If those look too dinky or finicky, I believe the smallest of the semi-pro doner rotisseries would be this liquid-propane one. But please don't use propane inside your building casually, this sort of thing is for a patio party. Yes, there are safety, insurance, violate-the-terms-of-your-rent implications.

Over the course of writing this, I've become convinced that I should use a $50 Amazon gift card we had sitting around to get that little electric rotisserie, which my wife and daughter responded to very positively when I posed the "should I buy this ridiculous thing and try to make a gyros cone and rotisserie chicken at home?" question. If this works out well, I'll report back.
posted by eschatfische at 10:11 AM on August 22, 2015 [15 favorites]

I'm going to be watching this thread like a hawk- gyros are my major weakness, and I underwent a similar search for a good homebrewed set up back in college. My budget was super limited, so it was mostly a failure, but as An Actual Adult this thread reminds me I really want to try again.

I've made Alton Brown's meatloaf-ish recipe. It wasn't bad, but it wasn't that great, either. I'm looking forward to trying the modifications Serious Eats managed, as linked above. I also used his tzatziki recipe and had great results with it- the main thing is patience. For slicing, I used a bread knife- long enough to get full coverage and it's what my local greek place uses.

The one thing I do recommend is using an amazing pita recipe from Smitten Kitchen. Seriously. Make them. Make them fresh and eat them right of of the oven and guh, they're amazing. Don't just try to heat up that pita bread in the store.

Good luck!
posted by Torosaurus at 10:16 AM on August 22, 2015 [3 favorites]

I have tried the recipe Sunburnt is talking about. I did the loaf pan method. It was phenomenal.
posted by King Bee at 10:24 AM on August 22, 2015 [1 favorite]

As someone who's run grill at a takeout shop, the difference between a meh home-grilled pita(or meet patty, or any number of other things) and a takeout-quality one is heavily reliant on a grill press.

You want the griddle and the press nice and seasoned and oily too.

I'm going to be following this thread for the rest of the details, but that will be critical in getting that last 10-20% that really makes it Authentic. The results i can get at home with even a griddle on someones nice stove just are not the same unless i have one of those. Grilling and flipping is not the same as slapping the thing on a hot grill with a hot one of those and lightly crisping just the outside while leaving the inside fluffy.

Also, there are collapsible(cheap!) autodoner type rotating spit grills. I've seen them at farmers market/street fair booths. There's no way they cost 1k. They're very mechanically and structurally simple, and seem to mostly be sold as al pastor machines/roasters. Imagine a mad maxed version of even one of these basic ones with half the parts stripped off.

Maybe this? $400 seems to be as cheap as it gets. That seems to be the cheapest one available anywhere, but i swear that super basic gas one has to be cheaper just because of how simple it is. That one also doesn't look like it disassembles to pack flat.

I'm snapping hella photos this sunday when i hit the farmers market. I WANT TO KNOW.

Alibaba is full of questionable cheap ones, but still, none of them are those super simple ones i see roasting al pastor.
posted by emptythought at 1:29 PM on August 22, 2015

The best gyro experiences I've had revolved around the gyro cart in my college town, which probably did a good 70% of their business from midnight to 2am. A freshly-made gyro is fantastic after you've been out all night.

So what I'm saying is that extra-special seasoning might involve an all-nighter, beer, and probably some dance music.
posted by fifteen schnitzengruben is my limit at 2:57 PM on August 22, 2015

Response by poster: Man this got exciting fast.

I went to sleep shortly after posting (I was really, really, REALLY high at the time, but I don't regret this at all, clearly I'm not alone in my passion for gyros, so it needs to be done!)

I just woke up from dreaming I was at the local arcade, Round One (which is like Dave and Busters, only more Asian, with tons of up-to-date arcade games, karaoke rooms, etc) playing a rhythm game where you had to make carefully timed cuts off a doner cone and a "knife" that was slotted into the cabinet, all hooked up to a screen and speakers playing Eurobeat. Then you serve the sandwiches to the IRL audience crowded around you. For some reason, said distribution was considered illegal, and Round One were being jerks about it, but as soon as they walked away, we started passing around gyros again.

Then I woke up and I was like "NOOOOOOO why isn't that real" which is something I say a LOT after waking up these days.

I guess this really needs to happen. It's literally a dream of mine. Thanks for the amazing responses so far, I'm going to consider everything that was said and try to formulate a strategy, which I will post in a day or two once I've knocked out my work deadline this weekend.
posted by jake at 4:02 PM on August 22, 2015 [8 favorites]

Response by poster: Obviously in my comment above I meant "Gyrobeat"

Sorry for that momentary lapse, I'm still waking up. Ugh it's 4 PM, what is happening with my life
posted by jake at 4:03 PM on August 22, 2015 [11 favorites]

I am so excited to watch the development of this. And jealous.

And every serious eats recipe i have ever used (dozens) has been on point. I'd start there.
posted by beignet at 12:46 PM on August 23, 2015

Like you bring them an empty spindle and take away a full gyros, the way you exchange propane tanks?

When I take my rightful place as Bitch-Queen of the Known Universe, it shall be so.

(Also: gyros + video games?! It's like you put up the Batsignal! YES I WILL HELP!)
posted by culfinglin at 12:47 PM on August 23, 2015 [1 favorite]

FWIW home gyros does not even exist as a concept in Greece: Literally all of Greece is at most 15 minutes away from a place that will deliver, so why bother?
posted by Dr Dracator at 1:18 PM on August 23, 2015

I am watching this anxiously and am also publicly proposing marriage to the OP. Because if loving gyros is not a bond that will hold a couple together, I don't wanna be right.
posted by 2soxy4mypuppet at 10:39 PM on August 23, 2015 [3 favorites]

Response by poster: Do you wish to grind meat with me around a long pole next to a roaring fire for hours, as glistening fat drips down its warm, crispy exterior, basting it in homemade love and sealing in flavors?

You can probably figure out how to get in touch and plead your case! It was bold to try to take me in public, whomever you are; I will give you one chance to own the rest of my recently-broken heartbeats. Any bard would do no less, but could withstand no more.
posted by jake at 11:32 PM on August 23, 2015 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: Okay, status update: I have been looking into the smallest electric Autodoner, and my light forum-crawling seems to indicate they are totally fine for home use, dinner parties, and the like, although they do take up a bit of space. There are even a few places in town I can buy one new in person and take it home in my car, especially some of the restaurant supply stores that hook up Little Armenia.

So I think we may have the grill situation sorted out, unless I discover that my apartment complex or renter's insurance forbids this class of food prep items specifically. Will confirm. They're fine with balcony grills, space heaters and user-installed toaster ovens, so I'm guessing it will be fine as long as it's electric. And I don't mind spending a few hundred bucks, that's how much I saved on my auto insurance this month alone by switching to Single.

I don't think I can pick one up in person (or order online) for a few days, since I am facing a couple of those ultra-nasty deadlines that feel like kung-fu "all-out mob battle" scenes, you know the ones. But if anyone has more insight in the meantime, feel free to share. I will only go into this well-informed, so that I can provide tantalizing gyros photography for everyone.
posted by jake at 1:15 PM on August 24, 2015 [2 favorites]

jake's magnificent enthusiasm for creating some sort of home gyrotopia was infectious, and once my cone thaws, I am now ready to make good on plying my friends and family with official gyros-stand gyros.

I ordered this vertical-spit kebab machine for $51 (looks like it's now $65 or so), and I went to Restaurant Depot, which has:

* Kronos Traditional Gyrokones, 2 10lb cones, $60.95 ($30.47/cone)
* Kronos Tzatziki Sauce, 4lbs (!) for $7.95
* Kronos 7" pitas, 10 for $3.07

So, assuming a hearty half pound of meat and 1.5 ounces of sauce per gyro, that's 40 gyros for $81.18, or about $2/gyros, a little more with onion and tomato.

(They also had other brands of gyros-related products at Restaurant Depot, although my wife has a strong preference for Kronos. I also realize that jake may be shooting a little bit higher in quality with his effort than "equivalent to an actual Chicago gyros stand".)

Thank goodness, the 10lb gyrokone fits perfectly on the little spit. (The meat is still frozen solid, which is why it looks so gross.)

So now, I get to find the answers to such ungooglable questions as "how long does it take for a 10lb gyrokone to thaw?" "How long does it take for the gyros spinning on this cheap little spit to be edible?" "What do I do with all of these leftovers?"

jake, I wish you much luck, and even if these turn out, I'm going to be envious when you start rockin' the Autodoner.
posted by eschatfische at 2:30 PM on August 28, 2015 [4 favorites]

OK! After a couple of batches of gyros, I have a final update!

The good news: it is indeed possible to make Chicago gyros-stand quality gyros at home!

The bad news: it was far messier than I expected. However, much of that had to do with the limitations of the $51 spit I bought, and may not be an issue with the Autodoner.

My learnings:

* There's very little clearance at first between the cone and the heating element on the $51 spit. In the thawing process, my gyro cone pushed into a slightly oval shape, and the part with the longer radius would drag against the heating elements and get stuck and burn at first. I ended up having to trim off about two gyros worth of meat to keep the cone from dragging against the element, but after that, it was fine. (This wasn't a huge loss, since I was able to grill that meat for use, and it was OK, but you might want to take a look and do this in advance.)

* You will need a sharp, sharp knife for this. Since the 10lb cone is flexible and has give, a dull knife will pull the entire cone with it rather than trim a slice. I was able to make a long kitchen knife work for this, but be sure you sharpen whatever you use in advance.

* Don't let the cone go around for more than about 45 minutes on the spit uninterrupted, it will get hard and crusty. As long as the outside is browned, you can turn on the spit and get it back up to a good, yummy, golden level in just a few minutes, so don't be afraid to turn the spit off when initial gyros needs are satisfied.

* There will be more grease than you ever imagined. I was in awe, and honestly a little scared, of the intense grease-producing power of the cone. If you let it go for a while without looking, you may find yourself with a river of grease overflowing out of the machine. Keep an eye on this, and you may want to keep a turkey baster around for emergency grease mitigation.

I didn't heat the pita with a grill press, but I could still get it to roughly where I wanted on the griddle. However, there is a notable difference between a gyro eaten literally right off the spit and a gyro that has gone through final assembly, wrapped in foil, and has sat for a minute; honestly, I prefer the latter. You may want to have some foil ready to wrap 'em up.

OK, jake, I'm done stealing your thread. Best of luck.
posted by eschatfische at 1:11 PM on August 31, 2015 [3 favorites]

One last thing: it looks like the seller of that little $51 spit I bought has bumped the price up to $149. For $51, it's kinda awkward but, hey, workable $51 gyros spit. For $149? Not worth it.

I like to imagine that this thread had resulted in some poor shopkeeper having to fend off a rampage of gyros-hungry MeFi users.
posted by eschatfische at 3:41 PM on August 31, 2015 [2 favorites]

Just wanted to add that this thread inspired me to finally make this recipe last week; I did it in a loaf pan (okay, a square cake pan), and it's delicious; I've never eaten one in Greece, but it had exactly the flavor and texture I expected from domestic gyro places. I haven't made my own pitas yet, but these are delicious as is. The recipe makes lots, so I froze 2/3rds of it. On the subsequent servings after the first one (where there's crust on a couple faces of the meat), I carved the meat strips and threw them under the broiler for a few minutes to warm them up and put a little brown on the top.

There was a lot of grease leaving the pan, both immediately after baking and again after it sat under the press for a little while. (I wrapped the bottom of my change-jar, which is quart sized, in foil). I didn't pre-salt my meat like Serious Eats did, but I did put cold meat in the food processor as they did. The texture inside is something I would send back if it was a meatball or a meatloaf; "processed" is what it looks and feels like for obvious reason, but it forgives the slicing of those long strips of meat, and the crust and other gyro elements make you forget the meat-texture is anything other than what you want.
posted by Sunburnt at 3:52 PM on September 14, 2015 [1 favorite]

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