My Big Fat Greek Sandwich

Greek Diner

GUEST: Waiter #1, Waiter #2

    This is a gyroscope, that is a device composed of a weighted flywheel on an axle, which is free to move in any direction. When the wheel spins fast, the gyroscope demonstrates conservation of angular momentum, that is, the axle resists reorientation.

WAITER #1: You know, the Greeks invented those things, you know.
WAITER #2: [continues to clean the counter with Windex]
AB: No, actually. I didn't know that.

    Now gyroscopes make many modern marvels possible, things like non-magnetic ship-board compasses, and motorcycles, which are stabilized by two gyroscopes, the front and back wheels.

W1: You know, the Greeks invented those too. Say, you should mention the Greek word "gyros" which means "to turn".

AB: I'll be sure to get on that.

    Now since it's been anglicized, "gyroscope" is pronounced with a "j", even though the root word "gyros", is pronounced with a "y" sound. And that explains why this [gyroscope] is a "gyro" [JI-row], and this [sandwich] is a ...

W1: Is a "gyro" [YEAR-o] sandwich.
AB: Yes. Gyros are composed of a lot of ...

W1: Mouth-watering lamb, onion, tomato, and tzatziki sauce, wrapped up in a warm pita, which, by the way, was invented the Greeks.
AB: Really. Well, I know a few Persian descendents who might argue that point. But that's another show.

    Now most people assume that a gyro sandwich—which, as far as I'm concerned, is the finest sandwich on earth—is ...

W1 & W2: You're welcome.

... is impossible to make at home. This, of course, is not so. All it takes is a little semi-specialized equipment, some know-how, and a serious appetite for ...

["Good Eats" theme plays]

Greek Diner

    [Looking at the lamb, on a vertical skewer] Would you look at that. Huh.
    If there is any mystery to making gyros—and I'm not saying there is—but if there is a mystery to making gyros, it has definitely got to be this meat. He [the waiter] says this is lamb, but exactly what cut would you call this? I mean, is it from the leg, is it from the rib, the breast, the shoulder? No sir, I think what we've got here is a tightly-grained and highly-spiced meat loaf.

W1: Hey, did you know that meat loaf was also invented ...
AB: I know, by the Greeks, right along with sports, politics, and theater.
W1: And don't forget about architecture. I mean, don't you remember Corinthian, Doric, and ...
AB: ... ironic, don't you think.
W1: I think that's "ionic"
AB: Whatever. How does this thing work?

Harry's Farmers Market: Marietta, GA - 9:35 AM

    Gyro loaf is built upon a foundation of ground lamb which just so happens to be my favorite store-ground meat product. It is versatile, it is flavorful, and it's usually a buck or two cheaper than ground beef chuck. Now I'm going to lay claim to two pounds of this fine product. But if there wasn't any here, I would ask them to grind up two pounds of this lamb stew meat. Or even better, I would ask them to grind up two pounds of boneless lamb shoulder steaks.

Sheep were the first animals to be domesticated.

The Kitchen

    Start your gyro loaf by chopping one medium onion, then move that to a food processor, and take that for a spin until it is very finely chopped, but not puréed.

1 Medium Onion Finely

    Now we need to get most of that moisture out of there, so place a tea towel inside a bowl, and then just dump the onion on top of that. Pull up the corners, and wring it out. You'll be surprised how much juice comes out of one onion. And we don't want that in the loaf.

    Move that back into the food processor, along with a tablespoon each of minced garlic, dried rosemary, and dried marjoram, half a teaspoon of black pepper, and two teaspoons of salt.

1 Tbs. Minced Garlic +
1 Tbs. Dried Rosemary +
1 Tbs. Dried Marjoram
1/2 tsp. Black Pepper
    Freshly Ground
2 tsp. Kosher Salt

    Lastly, the meat. Two pounds of ground lamb. Just get that all into the machine, and purée to a smooth paste.

2 Pounds Ground Lamb

    This veers away from meat loaf land in several different ways. One, there are no fillers, no crumbs, no crackers, nothing that would hold moisture into the loaf. That's because we're after a tight, slightly dry texture here. And since we're processing this down to the state of a force meat or a kind of meat emulsion, we will not require the services of a binder such as eggs, which, of course, would bring more moisture to the party. And this looks pretty good. Time to shape and chill.
    Place two pieces of plastic wrap overlapping by about two inches on your favorite work counter and deposit your meat thusly. Just form that into a log / mound. There we go. Fold over the plastic, and then pull it back tight, to get a nice, tight, line, then roll it up. Now when you get to the end, take both of these [ends of the plastic wrap] and just twist. Roll the piece over and over again to tighten up the ends. That's going to put even more pressure on the meat. There.
    Now, gloves off. Move this to either a glass or metal container, because, or course, there's raw meat in here and we don't want any cross-contamination. And into your chill chest for at least two hours. That will provide time for the flavors to meld and the texture to firm up.

The gyro is said to have originated more than 2,000 years ago.

Outdoor BBQ

    For most of man's culinary history, the word "roast" has meant to cook near or over an open fire with a rotating spit. Now the word "spit" comes from the Old High German spizzi, meaning pointed. And with that in mind, it should be fairly obvious how this process evolved. But just in case, here's some highlights.

20,000 Years Ago - Tuesday

GUEST: Caveman

[Caveman eats a small piece of meat off a stick that was cooking over a fire]

20,000 Years Ago - Wednesday

[Caveman eats a 4 small pieces of meat off a stick that was cooking over a fire]

20,000 Years Ago - Thursday

[Caveman eats a larger piece of meat off a stick that was cooking over a fire]

20,000 Years Ago - Friday

[Caveman tries to eat an even larger piece of meat off a stick, but the stick breaks and the food falls into the fire]

Outdoor BBQ

GUEST: Young Spit Jack

    The concept improved with time. And eventually, the spit moved inside where poor young servant boys called "spit jacks" had to continuously crank the roasts in front of their master's fires. And in some households, trained dogs, running on little treadmills, replaced the boy. And eventually, weighted, or spring-loaded systems replaced even the best dogs. Leonardo Da Vinci, by the way, conceived of a spit system that was rotated by a windmill that was kind of mounted up inside the chimney – it was pushed by the rising smoke. I'd like to have one of those.
    While the spit, or, as the French called it, the rotisserie, finally became obsolete as a day-to-day cooking tool with the development of the enclosed Rumford oven. But that doesn't mean that the magic was gone.

SPIT JACK: [has been turning the spit the entire time]
AB: Hurry up there, boy.

    Cooking's hard work, you know.

Columbus brought sheep to the New World on his second voyage in 1493.


    Despite their popularity in Europe and American bistros—and of course Renaissance festivals—most Americans don't get much face time with rotisseries, and that's a real shame. Because what produced great eats a thousand years ago, still produces great eats today. Besides, you can't make a real gyro without a rotisserie. And that's okay, because, you know, most ... oh, c'mon, c'mon, c'mon [gesturing to enter garage] ... most American grill manufacturers at least do make rotisseries to go with their models. Some, like this top-of-the-line gas model, even include ceramic burners in the back of the grill just to cook whatever's spinning right here.
    Now if your grill's manufacturer does indeed make a rotisserie for your grill, that's probably going to be the best rotisserie for you. But if they don't, don't worry about it. There are plenty of aftermarket, universal rotisseries made ranging anywhere from twenty to a hundred and twenty dollars. Why the big price difference? Well, let's look at a pretty basic one here. I mean this is kind of the brass tacks. You get a motor. You get a mount: a nice, sturdy mount to go onto your grill. A rod: and you want to make sure that this rod is long enough to suit your grill. This one is a little on the narrow side. A couple of forks to hold the food. And you usually see this little guy right here. This is a counterweight that you can set so that if the load gets off kilter, the motor won't have to fight too hard.
    Now if you get into bigger, more elaborate models ... and this one is made to go over gas heat. Now this isn't really a rotisserie at all. It's more a basket with several clamps, so that you can just kind of roll up food of different types, maybe a little chicken, some vegetables, I don't know, a fish, and cook them all at the same time. Good idea. But the one I really, really, really like the best is back here.
    This is what you get for kind of the higher end of the budgetary scale. You get a much beefier motor, you get a rod that's very thick, and has, you see, it's shaped almost like an octagon. And that's so that these forks can lock into place. You get forks that have a lot of tines which we're going to take advantage of. And look, you even get a cute little carry handle. Let's take this one for a spin, shall we? Get it? Spin? Never mind.

Backyard Grill

    Under ordinary rotisserie conditions, these forks, or tines, of course, would pierce whatever critter or plant matter was going to be spinning here. But in this case, we're actually going to make a cage out of them. Now that means that our gyro loaf could be anywhere from this size [at tines' furthest spread] all the way down to this size [tines are pushed together]. But, I don't think I'd want to make a quarter-ounce gyro loaf. Now make sure that this guy [the first tine on the rod] is very, very tight—all these thumbscrews need to be extra tight—and then bring the meat into play. And of course, letting it refrigerate overnight is going to make it hang together much tighter. So, don't skip that step.
    Kind of shaping it into a round before you put it onto the rotisserie will also help. There you go. Now just put the skewer right up the middle. I'm not a doctor, but that has got to hurt.
    Put your hand here [above the base of the secured set of tines] to catch it so it doesn't go all the way onto the tines. You don't want it to get down into the mechanism there, or it might set and coagulate as it cooks making removal later a little bit difficult. And we bring the other guy on, thusly, with a little bit of space, also. There we go. And tighten that thumbscrew. And really, really get this on good and tight. Because if this works its way off during cooking, this whole thing will fall apart and that'll be bad. Now this is exactly what we're looking for. We don't want the meat to touch the tines, exactly, but as the rotisserie turns, the meat will jiggle. But, it'll be held in place by that cage.

    With our loaf properly impaled, we can now turn our attention to the grill. Now if you're one of those lucky dogs, like me, who has a rotisserie with a ceramic burner, go ahead and crank that up to high, thusly.



    If you've got a gas grill that has three zones running front to back, fire the back element on high, the front element to medium, and leave the middle one cold.

Gas Grill




    If your gas grill has three zones that go side to side, fire all of them on medium.




    If you've got a charcoal grill, make yourself a nice big fire, and evenly distribute the coals to the front and to the back of the grill.

No Coals

    Excellent. Let's load up!
    Regardless of your rotisserie, it will always mount with one end, like that. Now this one's got a little handle to help carry the rotisserie skewer, so I have to take that off so the lid will close. Then we just hit the button.
    Now we will need something to catch drippings and to block heat that might be coming up from direct burners underneath. So get yourself a double-thick piece of heavy-duty aluminum foil, and just kind of fold it into a little tray. Just kind of pinch the corners up like that and slide that directly under the meat. That's all. No tending. I let this go with high heat for fifteen minutes. Then I'll come back, turn it down to medium, and let it cook for twenty to thirty more minutes or until the center of the meat hits 165 degrees. Then we're going to turn off the heating element and just let it spin for about another fifteen minutes as the heat goes ahead and carries over to our final destination of 175 degrees.

Similar to "Farmer in the Dell",
Gyro Oli is a favorite children's game in Greece.

Backyard Grill

    Well it's only been fifteen minutes, and our gyro loaf is already looking golden brown and delicious. Why is that? Well, here's one of the great things about rotisserie cooking. You see, as the meat turns, of course, juices are being pushed out by heat. A lot of that evaporates, some of it drips down here into our little tray which is nice because it's going to help keep things clean. But a good bit of the fat clings to the meat, and continually turns around it, thus self-basting. In essence, this meat is frying, which is just another reason to take your dinner for a spin.
    Now I'm going to go ahead and turn this down to medium, and we'll come back and check on it in about another twenty minutes.

The Kitchen

GUEST: Television chef

TV CHEF: Folks, it's the Spin-O-Roast 3000. Not the 1000, not the 2000, but the 3000. We outdid ourselves this time. Look at this! You just put everything inside of it. Look at that, Cornish game hen, some artichokes, and other delicious vegetables. You just close the door and ignore. Look at this beautiful chicken that we made. Isn't that succulent and lovely? Oh, it's so nice for the kids. And look at this: delicious vegetables that we did so perfectly in the Spin-O-Roast 3000. It's the greatest culinary invention since fire. Don't rob yourself of this finger-licking goodness one moment more. Call me!

    I realize that some of you are forced to live grill-less lives. And because of that, you think that you cannot have a rotisserie, and therefore, homemade gyro. And you might be seduced by one of these, these table-top rotisseries that you see on late-night television. Well please do not do it. I have taken them all for a spin, and trust me, they don't get hot enough, they're too small to get the moist air away from the food, and, and they're difficult to clean, they're impossible to load. And although they will cook food eventually, they will not roast it properly. No, sir. If you want rotisserie at home, we're going to have to think like MacGyver.

    [Assembles a MacGyver-ish vertical rotisserie:

  1. mounts a motor to a wood base with the spinning hole facing up

  2. places a two part several-sided rod (that can be separated via a screw and tap) through a hole in a 9" pie tin

  3. tightens the rod into the motor

  4. places the lamb load on top of the road down to the pie plate

  5. places an appropriately wide Air Conditioning duct work over the assembly

  6. clamps two electric charcoal grill starter elements onto the duct work with the elements inside at the 12:00 and 3:00 positions

  7. plugs them in]

    Hmm, a little more than you're willing to go through? Fine. Then we'll think like Teddy Roosevelt who said, "Do what you can, with what you have, where you are."

The Kitchen

    While this method will not produce identical results to the rotisserie, it will get you close. Just make up one mess of your gyro loaf, just as before, push it into a loaf pan, and then put that into a 325 degree oven—Into a water bath, in fact, any vessel containing one inch of water. We're going to let this cook for one hour to an hour and fifteen minutes, or until the internal temperature hits 170 degrees. Oh, and the water bath will keep the outside from drying up.


    [leaves and returns and tests the loaf's temp, removes the loaf] I'll come back for the water when it's cooled down.
    Next step, pour off the fat. Of course, we don't have to worry about this with the rotisserie version. But, we definitely don't want this to cool with all this fat around.
    And now, to get a better texture, a tighter texture, we'll add just a wee bit of weight. I've just got a brick wrapped in foil here. [places the brick on top of the loaf] You could use a heavy book or something, but it would get greasy, you know? We'll come back when that's cool enough to handle comfortably.

Backyard Grill

    Fifteen more minutes have gone by, so it is time to take our little baby's temperature. I'm going to kill the rotisserie and just put our instant-read about halfway down. Make sure you don't hit the metal in the middle, of course, that would be way, way, way hot. By the way, because the piece of metal does run through the middle, and it does conduct heat, the meat does cook quicker. And cooking quicker means you've got more juice on the inside. A hundred and sixty-four degrees. Excellent! I'm going to kill the heat entirely, and then spin it for another ten to fifteen minutes, or until the temperature hits 175. Carryover is a beautiful thing.
    Oh, by the way, now would be a really good time to add a few pieces of foil-wrapped pita bread.

Meatloaf, aka Marvin Lee Aday, was born in Dallas, Texas in 1947.

The Kitchen

GUESTS: Deb Duchon, Nutritional Anthropologist

    Gyros are traditionally dressed with a garlicky, cucumber yogurt sauce, called tzatziki, which roughly translated means "garlicky, yogurt, cucumber sauce" ... I think. Anyway, Greek yogurt is very, very thick and creamy. And if you can find it in your area, you should absolutely use it.

    If not, you can make a reasonable facsimile by taking 16 ounces of plain, full-fat, American-style yogurt and just dump it right in the middle of a tea towel. I'm going to use the very same one that we drained the onions on earlier. Fold up the edges, close with a rubber band nice and tight, and then push a skewer or a chopstick through it [the rubber band] like this, and then suspend over a vessel that will catch the runoff liquid. Now, you want to let this sit either in a cool room or in a refrigerator for at least an hour; but two would be better.

16 Ounces Plain Yogurt

    By the way, the gyro sandwich isn't very old. In fact, the first time the word appears in print is about 1970 AD. And although it's got Greece all over it ... get it? grease all ... ahem, most nutritional anthropologists ... Ohh, I can't believe I said that.

DEB DUCHON:  ...  agree that gyros were actually invented in one of New York City's Greek communities, possibly at a Greek Orthodox festival.

    Tzatkiki, on the other hand is ...

DD:  ...  is very old, and very Greek, and normally made with Greek yogurt that's made with the milk of goats and sheep.
W1: [enters the scene] The Greek invented yogurt, you know.
DD: Oh, really.
W1: Uh, hm.
DD: So why do they give it a Turkish name?
W1: Just being neighborly. The Greek are a friendly people, you know.
DD: I know a few Cretans who might disagree with that.
W1: My best friend is from Crete.
DD: Oh, yeah?
W1: Yeah.

    Well, we'll just give them some privacy. Let's continue our prep, shall we? [knocking sound on the window]

AB: Bye-bye.

    For the sauce, we're going to peel one medium to large cucumber, split it in half, and then just use a regular spoon to scrape out the seeds. You want those all gone. Halve each of the halves and then slice into long wedges. That's going to make it a whole lot easier to chop. There. Now put that on a tea towel with a pinch of salt, and then wrap it up to pull out some of the moisture. 1 Cucumber Peeled, Seeded,
    & Finely Chopped

Pinch of Kosher Salt

    Then, finely mince four—count them—four cloves of garlic, followed by five or six mint leaves, also cut very, very fine. Put both of those in a bowl, along with two teaspoons of red wine vinegar, one tablespoon of olive oil, and just give that a stir. 4 Cloves Garlic Finely
5-6 Mint Leaves Finely
2 tsp. Red Wine Vinegar
1 Tbs. Olive Oil

    A couple of hours later, you can unwrap your yogurt, scrape it up, and add it to the bowl as well as the cucumber. Stir to combine and serve or store in the refrigerator for up to a week. It'll get better with age.

Outdoor BBQ

    The final fifteen minutes has passed and we'll take a temp just to be sure: 174 degrees. That's just fine. I'm going to re-insert my little handle here and we'll download our hot, hot pita. Ouch. And rescue our meat. There we go. This [dripping pan] I'll come back for after it's had a little time to set up.

The Kitchen

[AB assembles the gyro sandwich: slices off some of the lamb roast, places it on to of a hot pita dollops on some tzatkiki sauce, sprinkles on some chopped tomatoes, chopped onions, and feta cheese]

AB: [to Waiter #1 who is eating it] So, what do you think.
W1: Not bad. You must be Greek.
AB: Really. Never heard that before.
DD: This is a lot of food. We should have a party.
W1: Have you ever been to a Greek party?
DD: Oh, yeah, Cretans and all.
AB: Cool. Sounds fun!
W2: I'll get some plates. [exits with his Windex bottle]
AB: Okay. They're over there. What would we need more plates for?

The Kitchen

GREEKS: [off camera] Opa! [plate is thrown and breaks]

Transcribed and Proofed by Mike DiRuscio and Michael Roberts.
Proofed by Michael Menninger

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Last Edited on 08/27/2010