Improving the Greek Gyro with Beer

Cooking with Beer by | Jul 2014 | Issue #90

Photos by Sean Z. Paxton

I love the Mediterranean—the fresh flavors of the food, the geography, and the climate inspire my imagination. Unfortunately there isn’t a Greek restaurant in my town that I can frequent to get my fix! So how do I get a tasty gyro? I’m not apt to wait for an annual street fair, so I take matters into my own hands and make the Home Brew Chef version of the best Greek street food I can.

Gyro Meat
It’s a given that I am a food geek and an equipment nerd. This might explain why I’ve always wanted one of those cool spit cookers/rotisseries/vertical broilers that spin meat on a stick. The ones you see in the Greek food trucks with layer after layer of lamb meat slowing spinning vertically near a heat source. However, much to my sadness, it has been difficult for me to justify (and convince my wife) that I need to own this piece of restaurant-grade equipment. With that being said, I set out to make great gyro meat, which has the texture, flavor, and essence of that from the best Greek restaurants.

I did lots of research, looking at recipes from Alton Brown to Serious Eats and experimenting on my own to re-create this meat and achieve the best flavor and texture possible. The recipe below uses a few key ideas and techniques that really make this version the best I’ve ever had. In addition to the grinding, mixing, and puréeing steps, the use of salt de-natures the meat proteins, creating texture and bite in the finished meat.

Serves: 8 guests

1/2 cup panko or breadcrumbs, unseasoned
3 oz beer, such as an herbal Pale Ale or IPA or a malty Brown Ale or Stout
1 each yellow onion, medium sized, peeled and roughly chopped
4 each garlic cloves, peeled and smashed
4 each garlic cloves, roasted
1 each Meyer lemon, zested (optional)
1/4 cup oregano, Mediterranean variety, fresh leaves or 2 teaspoons dried
1/4 cup parsley, Italian, fresh leaves only
1 tbsp thyme, fresh leaves or 1 teaspoon dried
1 tsp rosemary leaves, minced
1 1/2 tbsp kosher salt
1 tsp fennel seeds, toasted and ground
1 tsp black peppercorns, freshly cracked, fine
1/2–1 tsp chili pepper flakes (optional)
1 lb. lamb or beef or both, ground
1/2 lb. goat, ground (or increase lamb mix to 1-1/2 pound total)
1/2 lb. pork, ground course, for sausage
2 tbsp olive oil, preferably garlic flavored

In a measuring cup, add the breadcrumbs and top off with your beer of choice. Let the crumbs sit for 30 minutes to fully absorb the beer.

Remember that the overall flavor profile will change based on the beer. Choosing an IPA will add a touch of bitterness, while accentuating the herb mix in the finished product. Adding a Brown Ale will increase the melanoidin malt complexity, giving more roast/meatiness to the final product. A Stout will increase the roast/coffee complexity, giving the lamb flavor more depth.

In the bowl of a food processor, add the onion, garlic (raw and roasted), lemon zest (if using), oregano, parsley, thyme, and rosemary. Pulse the machine several times to break up the ingredients and cut them into finer pieces. Then turn the food processor on full for 30 seconds or until the mixture is almost smooth, but still has a little grit left to it.

In a spice grinder or clean coffee grinder, add the salt, fennel, black pepper and chili pepper (if using). Pulse this mixture to create a fine spice powder. Add this spice mix to the food processor and pulse to combine. Then transfer the mixture to the bowl of an electric mixer. Reserve the food processor bowl for another use.

Next, add the ground lamb, goat and pork to the electric mixer’s bowl. Once the meats are combined, add the beer-soaked breadcrumbs. Fit the mixer with a paddle attachment and turn on to its lowest speed. Let the meat mix combine with all the other ingredients for about a minute, then increase the speed to medium high and beat for another 3 minutes. This will fully incorporate the salt and start to break down the protein fibers. The meat will first look like hamburger meat, then start to become more paste-like and tacky.

Try to find the best quality meat. Because lamb and goat are not overly fatty, the pork adds some fat and extra richness to the finished product. If you do not like lamb or cannot find goat meat, beef can be substituted; a 80/20 blend of meat to fat ratio is ideal. 

Turn off the mixer and remove half of the meat mixture and place it back into the food processor bowl. Purée the meat in the food processor for 1 minute, scraping down the sides once or twice if needed. The idea is to end up with part paste, part courser meat, so that the final product has more texture and bite. Add the meat paste back into the mixer and combine for another minute on medium speed.

Transfer the finished mixture to an airtight bag or sealable container, removing any air pockets as you pack the meat. Seal and refrigerate for at least 4 hours, and preferably overnight. This not only marinates the meat and lets the flavors infuse together, but allows the salt to do its magic and cure the meat slightly.

Preheat the oven to 275–300°F. Set aside a sheet tray lined with parchment paper.

Remove the meat mixture from the refrigerator and divide it into two equal portions. Form the meat mixture into a long rectangular shape, about 4 inches wide and 2 inches high. The rectangle can be as long as needed. Square off the edges as much as possible. Repeat with the remaining portion of meat. Rub each meat slab with 1 tablespoon of roasted garlic oil and a light seasoning of salt, coating it evenly.

Place into the center of the oven and slowly bake the meat until its internal temperature reaches 155°F, about 45 minutes. This slow roasting method will just cook it through while helping the meat retain its moisture. Remove the meat and let it rest for 30 minutes, to cool and re-absorb its juices.

Once at room temperature, wrap the meat in plastic and place it in the refrigerator for at least an hour and up to 3 days before serving. I know, this seems crazy and takes extra thought, but the results are well worth it.

When ready to make a gyro, remove the meat from the plastic and slice it into quarter inch thick pieces. Now it’s time to think about how you want to brown the meat. Noting that the meat is already cooked, the idea is to add a quick char and caramelize the edges. Below are few preparation options:

Preheat your oven’s broiler to high. Line a sheet tray with aluminum foil and arrange the meat slices to maximize the amount of meat per tray. Place under the broiler for 2–4 minutes, making sure to evenly brown the meat as it re-warms. You might need to move the tray to get an even browning, depending on the size of your broiler.
Set up your grill with hot coals or your gas grill on high and preheat for 30 minutes. Clean the grill and lightly coat the grate with oil to prevent sticking. Using tongs, arrange the meat slices on the grill and cook for 2–4 minutes to re-warm and lightly brown the meat.
Arrange the meat in a disposable aluminum pan, place into a pre-heated wood fired oven (about 600-800°F) and cook for 4 minutes, or until the edges begin to brown.
Place the meat in a hot sauté or cast iron pan and quickly brown it in a touch of oil, cooking on each side for 1–2 minutes.

The meat is now ready to make into a gyro for serving.


Photo by Sean Z. Paxton

Gyro Wrap
No gyro is complete without the yogurt sauce and the tomato salad.

Serves: 8 guests

Yogurt Sauce Ingredients:
3/4 cup plain yogurt (cow, sheep or goat milk), whole, unsweetened variety
1/4 cup mayonnaise or aioli
1 each garlic clove, large, peeled and grated on microplane
1 tbsp olive oil, extra virgin
2 tsp Meyer lemon, juice
1 tbsp Italian leaf parsley, stems removed and minced
1 tbsp mint leaves, minced
1 tbsp fennel frond, minced
1/2 tsp kosher salt

In a bowl, mix together the yogurt (preferably sheep milk) along with mayonnaise, garlic, olive oil, lemon juice, parsley, mint, fennel frond and salt. This sauce can be made in advance and will keep in the refrigerator up to four days.

Alternatively, to make a thicker sauce, strain the yogurt (any variety) before mixing in the other ingredients. Start by placing a fine mesh strainer over a bowl. Add the yogurt, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 1–6 hours. The longer it sits, the more whey will drip into the bowl, turning the slightly runny yogurt into a yogurt-like cheese.

Greek Salad Ingredients:
1 tbsp malt vinegar
1 tbsp olive oil, extra virgin
1 tsp kosher salt
1/2 tsp black pepper, freshly cracked
3 each tomatoes, preferably heirloom varieties, mixed, cored and chopped
1 each cucumber, peeled, seeds removed and sliced
1/2 each red onion, peeled and sliced thin
1/2 each fennel, core removed, sliced thin
4 each fresh pita or Beer Pita Bread

In a bowl, add the malt vinegar, olive oil, salt and pepper and lightly whisk together. Add the sliced tomatoes, cucumbers, red onions and fennel. Mix to coat the vegetables in the vinaigrette and refrigerate until ready to use.

To Make a Gyro:
Warm a pita using the same heat source as you used to brown the gyro meat. Add several slices of meat down the center of the pita (not inside), top with a few scoops of Yogurt Sauce, then top with a generous amount of the Greek Salad. Fold the pita into a taco shape and use some aluminum foil to hold it together. The Gyro is ready to serve! For some heat, add your favorite hot sauce as desired. Pair this with a hoppy IPA, a malty Brown Ale, or a roasty Stout.

This gyro can also be made into a salad. Prepare everything as above, and use 1/2 cup of mixed salad greens in place of the pita. Lay the browned meat on top and garnish with Yogurt Sauce and Greek Salad. The toppings will have enough moisture to create a dressing for the greens.