the history of Greek gyros in the United States

The history of Greek gyros.

Learn how the Greek gyro sandwich-like meal came to the United States.

The History of Greek Gyros

Greek gyros have a long and fascinating history. They have always been popular in the Mediterranean countries but gained popularity in the United States in the early 20th century. Greek immigrants began emigrating to the U.S. shortly after World War II, fleeing the economic hardships in their homelands. As they settled in America, the Greek population increased dramatically, and gyros followed them. This growth in Greek-American communities coincided with the American fast-food revolution.

Authentic greek gyros

A traditional Greek gyro is a delicious Greek dish made from thinly sliced meat baked on a vertical spit and served with a tangy sauce called tzatziki. It is most commonly made with lamb, but beef and pork are also available. In Greece, gyros are a popular meal choice. 

Greek food culture is deeply rooted in the regions across the U.S. Historically, Greeks began to migrate to the United States after World War II to escape the economic hardships of their homeland. The gyro was also brought with them as they immigrated to the United States with the repeal of a Greek immigration ban. As the Greek population grew, so did the food industry providing Greek-inspired items.

Gyros can be made at home using a grill or cast-iron pan. In addition, you can make your own gyro meat by preparing the gyro meat on a spit. This gives the meat a slightly different texture than other gyros. And you can add your own Greek salad and tzatziki sauce to make the dish truly authentic.

Origins of Greek Gyros

While it may not be the most traditional of foods, Greek gyros are a great example of a cross-cultural cuisine. While they are traditionally made with meat, gyros can also be filled with a variety of other ingredients. The meat is usually ground beef or lamb, but sometimes chicken or falafel is substituted. Other common toppings include pickled vegetables and lettuce.

The history of Greek gyros is a fascinating tale. The gyro’s creation owes much to the conflict between Greece and Turkey in the early twentieth century. During the Greco-Turkish War, the Turkish Muslims were removed from Greece, and Greeks were forced back home. This “Asia Minor Catastrophe” resulted in a cultural exchange of sorts. Immigrant Greeks merged with the Turkish and Armenian populations in Eastern Europe, which gave rise to a hybrid cuisine that had a distinctive flavor.

There are a few tales of how the gyro was first introduced to the U.S., but George Apostolou, who says he served the first gyros in the United States, in the Parkview Restaurant in Chicago, in 1965, and nine years later opened a 3,000-square-foot manufacturing plant, Central Gyros Wholesale, stands out as the “Father of the Gyro.”

This delicious food continues to be a popular lunch and dinner option and favorite comfort food at many restaurants. Although gyros originated in the Mediterranean, they are now available worldwide. 

Ingredients of a Greek Gyro

The ingredients of a Greek gyro vary from country to country, but most gyros are a combination of beef, ground lamb, or a blend of both. In the United States, gyro meat is often ground beef, but in Greece, it’s a blend of lamb and beef. Tzatziki sauce is a refreshing and flavorful accompaniment that adds a pop of freshness to the sandwich.

Traditional gyro meat is cooked on a vertical spit, then sliced off. After cooking, it is flipped over and browned on the other side. To finish, the gyro must be a minimum of 160 degrees Fahrenheit. The loaf pan should be rotated in the oven during baking. If the loaf pan becomes too greasy, remove it and discard the fat.

The Greek gyro is traditionally served with tzatziki, a spicy sauce made from ground beef or pork. However, today, gyros are often served with french fries, potato chips, Greek yogurt, and tomatoes. Besides pita wraps, they can also be topped with fried potatoes. 

Health benefits of Greek Gyros

The health benefits of Greek gyros may surprise you. Gyros are packed full of protein and are typically lower in fats and sugars. A balance of carbs, protein, and fat is vital for a balanced diet. The main difference between gyros and other types of meat is the type of meat used. The meat is cut uniquely and is wrapped up in a pita bread. In addition to the meat, a gyro has other ingredients like cucumbers and spices.  Greek gyros are healthy and delicious. Because they are often made with lamb meat, they are low in calories and packed with protein.