HOME > Chowhound > General Topics >


Difference between schwarma and a gyro?

is there any?

  1. Click to Upload a photo (10 MB limit)
  1. I've been told there really isn't, but my experience here is limited. I've only ever had chicken schawarma and lamb gyro.

    My understanding is that gyro is Greek while schawarma is Turkish. Both have meats roasted on a turning spit...gyros, though, have to be on a vertical spit, while schawarma meat can be on either a vertical or horizontal spit. The final difference, I've been told, is in the toppings - a gyro generally includes lettuce, tomato, onion and tzatziki, and really doesn't differ from those toppings too much, but schawarma can differ through the addition of carrots and cucumbers and othe salad-type ingredients.

    The meat on either is most often chicken, lamb or beef, and both are most often served in a pita.

    They are basically the same with different names owing to different origins with only the roasting method and toppings possibly, but not always, differing. That's the way I've heard it described to me, but I have no authority on the matter.

    1. Agree with MonMauler.

      The only discernible difference (to me) is that I often find French fries added to the gyros.


      1. There's been a thread going over the differences here - http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/875444

        But to give my summary, I would say the difference is more along the lines of "regional variation" such as a conversation talking about barbeque in the Carolinas vs Kansas City vs Texas etc. The basics (meat cooked on a rotating spit) are the same - it's typically served in bread (either in wrapped bread or pita) - and it's typically served with toppings. Though the regional Damascus shwarma can just be meat wrapped in a very thin laffa (or lavash depending on your linguistic choice) and given a kind of "panini" treatment.

        Schwarma is rare to seen served with any dairy and instead of tzatziki, it's tahina. Also a mix of fresh and pickled veggies, serve as toppings as well as french fries and very rarely fried eggplant or cauliflower (more typically seen at falafel places, but sometimes make the shwarma crossover).

        Schwarma is traditionally made with lamb, however turkey being cheaper, has probably become more popular in restaurants (in the Middle East). Not that it's more desirable, but it's cheaper.

        Ultimately, saying there's no difference between a shwarma and gyro is saying that all Mediterranean food is exactly the same. But there aren't major differences either.

        1 Reply
        1. re: cresyd

          Tahini dressing is a defining feature of shwarma. Also, at the Lebanese place in my neighborhood, they use toum (a garlic spread) on their chicken shwarma, but not on the beef. If you ask for it, they will give it to you, but they will look at you like you are completely insane.

          Also, I have never been served anything other than slices of stacked, marinated meat on a shwarma sandwich; however, gyro and doner are almost always slices of "lamb spam" rather than actual stacked whole chunks.

        2. In my experience a gyro always refers to a sandwich (wrapped in bread with toppings).

          Shwarma itself is just the meat which can be made into a sandwich or not.

          10 Replies
          1. re: Steve

            The real difference is the langauges. Doner is Turkish, Shwarma is Arabic, and Gyro is Greek - how things progress from there will vary.

            1. re: cresyd

              You've hit on a fundamental problem here. "Gyro" is going to mean different things to different people in different parts of the world. There's a Canadian thread where the OP was looking for "real gyros" where, according to the poster, what they were REALLY looking for was (a) slices of seasoned meat that were (b) stacked on a rotating spit and (c) served on a pita. That's what I would call shawarma. He did NOT want the Kronos/Kontos style Americanized processed lamb "burger" on a spit, the latter is probably what you'll find in most American Greek carryouts, although many of those are ditching the spit machine in favor of zero-prep pre-sliced gyro-style bologna strips. It's gotten to the point now where a lot of food trucks are serving "kabobs" that are basically chunks of that gyro burger meat stuck in a pita, because apparently you can charge more for something exotic like a kabob than you can for something pedestrian like a gyro.

              1. re: monkeyrotica

                Uff....that sounds horrifying.....

                I currently live in Jerusalem, so the "burger on a spit" is not something I now encounter. Though unfortunately lamb on a spit is not very common. Essentially all three terms (gyro, shwarma, and doner) as well as an Armenian term all relate to "turning" - basically all of these items fall under the category of rotisserie meat. The most common denomenator of what kind of meat is how cheap it is in the area and that will influence the most common type available.

                To me "marinated strips of meat layered around a spit that turns" is the most important definition of any of the terms. The starch or toppings are all a matter of preference rather than authenticity.

                1. re: cresyd

                  The "burger on a spit" is a lot less revolting than it sounds. It is merely very finely minced meat, fat and spices. It's no more different than a hot dog or other some sort of smooth sausage.

                  I think you hit on all the major relevant points on gyros, döner, shawarma, including my favorite topping for the latter: pickles, lettuce, tomato, onion, french fries and tahini. I'd never turn gyros into quite such a gut bomb.

                  1. re: JungMann

                    Yes, just as bad as most hot dogs. Quite a bit worse than a halfway decent sausage. Equal to a burger you'd find in 7-11.

                  2. re: cresyd

                    What is common to find in Jerusalem?

                    1. re: Steve

                      In Jerusalem, you (unfortunately) don't see very much toum or garlic mayo for shwarma (which is unfortunate because it's used a lot in a lot of other food) - but in addition to adding zhug (a spicy condiment) there's also often the option of adding amba (a mango pickle sauce most common in Iraq) in both Jewish and Palestinian shwarma places.

                      In Palestinian shwarma places, you will typically see toppings that include the tomato/cucumber salad, pickled cabbage salad (of both red and green), pickles, pickled onions with sumac, and french fries. Lots of tahina. Shwarma is mostly street food, but it's also very commonly available at sit down restaurants as either the "sandwich" or served on a plate with pita on the side, french fries, etc. Recent feature has been that outside of Damascus Gate, there used to be a number of guys with carts serving kebabs in pitas with salad and nothing else for quite cheap. This moved actual restaurants/cafes to start selling their own kebabs for a similar price - so the shwarma in a pita in that area can now sell for twice the price of a lamb kebab. Strange features of capitalism.

                      Hummus is often available in Palestinian places, but it's more common to add to shwarma in Jewish places. Jewish places will often have all of those condiments and additional ones (particularly in places that also specialize in falafel). In Jewish shwarma places, fried cauliflower and eggplant can also be available - but it's most commonly used as a falafel topping. Hummus is commonly eaten with shwarma (if you want tahina only speak up fast). In Jewish Jerusalem, seeing shwarma in a sit-down restaurant is very rare.

                      And based on this post alone, it's making me think that I've perhaps had one too many shwarmas in my day.

                      1. re: cresyd

                        Thanks for the reply.

                        Aside from the toppings, what is the meat actually made of in a Jewish or Palestinian shwarma?

                        1. re: Steve

                          Shwarma in Israel is generally strips of real meat, not a spam -like substance. Most common is turkey, often with a blob (to use the technical term) of lamb fat placed at the top of the skewer to flavor the meat as it cooks. Capon and beef are also used. Sometimes it is possible to order half and half. This is in Jewish shwarma places. Don't know about Arab ones. BTW, using the term "Palestinian" as synonymous with "Arab" is a bit of a misnomer, since there are also Palestinian Jews.
                          For what it's worth, unlike what was posted above, I've never seen a horizontal shwarma skewer, only vertical.

                          1. re: almond tree

                            Without getting into politics of the terms (which unfortunately it's not really possible to avoid in this region) - in my post when I use the term Palestinian that would correlate with how you use the term Arab.

                            Most Palestinian shwarma (that would be found in Jerusalem or places in the Galilee), is made of turkey. A very few places with have lamb. Some Jewish places will have lamb as well as veal, but it's just very uncommon.

            2. A Greek gyro is sliced lamb from a spit with tzatziki, veggies and sometimes French fries. An American gyro (originating in Chicago) uses a dense spicy lamb-beef blend.

              Shwarma is a middle eastern wrap - can be chicken, beef, lamb, etc. I've only ever seen it cut off a vertical spit, but I guess that varies. Tahini sauce is traditional, and pickled turnips, etc. Where I live a shwarma is always chicken and always garlic sauce. Not tahini.

              Then you have your doner kebab, originating in Turkey. It is popular in Germany, and there is a variation of it in Canada called a "Halifax Donair" which has meat similar to American gyro meat (only all beef) and a sweet white sauce, onion and tomato.

              2 Replies
              1. re: existential_crisis

                Where I live (DC), shwarma can just be a pile of meat on a plate, though you can order it as a wrap as well.

                1. re: Steve

                  Same goes for doner, souvlaki, etc. In some places you have to specify a wrap if you want a wrap,. In Halifax you have to specify a platter if you want a platter.

              2. As a rotating meat enthusiast, I have Opinions on this subject.

                Middle eastern (UAE) shawarma:
                Cones of sliced meat on a vertical spit. The spits are usually installed on the outer wall of the building, to prevent heating the place up too much. Most places have a choice of chicken or 'meat' (beef and/or lamb; not sure). Some also had a third spit with spicy chicken. Usually ordered as a 'sandwich', in thin, chewy Arabic bread that's split and rolled up. Chicken shawarma comes with garlic sauce, pickles, and a few rogue fries. Meat comes with tahini sauce, parsley and pickles. Many of these stalls also sell falafel. The meat was a bit crispy and fairly lean, and it usually took two or three wraps to make a meal, with some pickles on the side.

                Greek gyros:
                Usually pork, roasted the same way as shawarma. The 'sandwiches' are larger, meatier, greasier and more sacrilegious than Arabic shawarma wraps. Served on a thick, fluffy Greek pita with fresh vegetables (tomato and/or onion, I think), a few thick-cut fries, and tzatziki. One of these is plenty.

                US (Chicago-style) gyros:
                Cylinders of heavily seasoned sausagey meat, usually a beef and lamb mixture. Served on a Greek-style pita. Usually comes with fresh tomato, onion, tzatziki, and far too much shredded iceberg. Not Chicago's finest culinary contribution, but it can still do the job late at night if the cook takes the time to brown it properly.

                US shawarma:
                Generally found at gyros places run by middle eastern people. Usually marinated chicken or beef, grilled or griddled instead of spit-roasted. Sometimes cooked with onions and tomatoes. Often served on a Greek-style pita, though some places keep a supply of Arabic khubz around for this. Usually served with hummus and, again, too much lettuce.

                (There are places in the US that do proper gyros and shawarma, but you'll probably have to eat a lot of mystery meat before you find one. I am fortunate to have such a place nearby.)

                I have little experience with doner kebabs and tacos al pastor.

                1. Are you asking the difference between the words or the meats or the sandwiches? Because both words can refer to meat or sandwich and depending on where you are, the words are used to refer to the same thing or different things.

                  In most of the USA, Gyro's are finely chopped meat pressed into a cylinder (like a skinless sausage). I don't ask how they bind it together, I don't want to know. Then it's roasted on a vertical spit, the outer layers shaved off and stuffed into a pita with various extras, typically onion, lettuce, tomato and tzatziki sauce or hot sauce.

                  In most of the USA, people call that very same finely chopped meat pressed into a cylinder Shawarma.

                  I've been led to believe that in the Middle East (and places with a sufficient concentration of immigrants from the Middle East), Shawarma is slices of lamb (and sometimes beef as well) marinated and threaded on the same type of vertical spit used to make Gyros.

                  In my limited experience, chicken Shawarma or Gyros usually aren't ground first.

                  There's pretty solid articles on the topic at Wikipedia.


                  Tacos Al Pastor are said to be what happened when Lebanese people immigrated to Mexico and showed Shawarma to the Mexicans. The Mexicans, wisely enough, said: "That looks pretty good, but I bet it'd be better if I used pork and pineapple and anatto and orange juice and chile powder to marinade the pork." Or course I'm paraphrasing a bit.

                  3 Replies
                  1. re: JimGrinsfelder

                    My view would generally agree with Jim's, although the word "gyro" is not in use in British English.

                    In the UK, the original kebab retailers tended to be Cypriots of Greek origin. They sell doner kebabs - processed meat (similar to sausage meat, if you will) pressed together into a cylinder which is cooked vertically and then shaved off into the bread. I assume that this is what Americans would usually call a gyro.

                    More recent immigration has been from the Middle East and they have brought sharwama. The difference is that this is identifiable chips of meat (chicken or lamb) also pressed together into the cylinder.

                    1. re: Harters

                      Based on my experience - I would put it out there that the US ground meat version is probably a variation of the initial theme of gyro/shwarma/doner. And that is that it involves using some of the cheapest meat available.

                      1. re: Harters

                        I think in some countries, it is the organ doner kebabs you need to watch out for.

                    2. As I know them:
                      GYRO is a mixture of ground meats slowly cooked on a rotating spit.
                      Shwarma is thin slices of different types of meat piled together and also cooked the same way.
                      From 20 feet away they both look the same. Like a giant bee hive.

                      1. Aside from the meatloaf style gyro which is very obviously different the basic difference between gyro and shawarma is int he marinade.
                        It's not quite this simple and of course can vary from country to country, town to town and person to person but.......

                        Shawarma is marinaded in yogurt and a spice mixture similar to curry. In Lebanon they'll use Lebanese spice.

                        Gyro will be marinaded in something much more simple. Salt, pepper, paprika and oregano


                        2 Replies
                        1. re: Davwud

                          Davwud, your last sentence: please add cumin powder and/or coriander seed powder.

                          1. re: Davwud

                            The shwarma that I've seen never has meat marinated in yogurt - so that may be a regional difference within the Arabic speaking world. Though the use of a complex spice marinade is something I've seen.

                          2. no difference. a world of difference.