Souvlaki, which means “little skewer” in Greece, came to the U.S. with Greek immigrants and became a staple of street carts, Mediterranean restaurants, even diners.
When you grill chunks of meat on skewers, you’re making souvlaki. Kebabs are the Arabic word for the same thing.
The protein can be beef, chicken, lamb, pork, a plant-based protein (photo #5), or a combination. You can also use meatballs, sausages, and cubes of a firm fish (e.g. salmon, swordfish).
If you prefer vegetables, those work, too (photo #2).
Classic souvlaki serves the grilled skewers on a platter with salad or other vegetables, fries, pita bread, tzatziki (yogurt dip), and a wedge of lemon.
A gyro is a Greek sandwich made not from skewered meat, but by thinly slicing meat from a large piece that’s grilled on a vertical rotisserie. The meat is wrapped in pita with tzatziki (in the Middle East hummus is used). Gyros are handheld street food, while souvlaki is typically plated. (Gyro means circular, referring to the rotisseried meat.)
A kebap in Greece is different from the Turkish doner kebab. A Greek kofta kebap is spicy minced meat, mixed with parsley, onions, and garlic, formed into balls or a longer shape and grilled on a skewer. (We suggested Americanized meatballs, above, but you can make a kofta recipe.)
You can serve the grilled skewers as snacks, appetizers (see photo #3), entrées, or as a base for sandwiches (photo #1). You can just slide the meat off the skewer into a piece of flatbread with a sauce, from Greek tzatziki to the numerous other flavorful sauce below.
Here are tips and some modern sauce pairings for summer grilling, from Flavor & The Menu, a website for chefs that follows restaurant trends, for the idea. It starts with a few tips:
SOAK the wooden skewers in a mixture of vinegar, water, and herb stems.* The skewers are traditionally soaked in water so they don’t burn while grilling, but this soaking “recipe” releases aromatics into the souvlaki, adding more flavor.
CREATE signature acid-forward marinades for the proteins. Be creative; for example olive oil, lemon juice, honey, garlic, oregano, thyme, smoked paprika, black pepper, and black lava salt.
ADD complementary dips to further distinguish the souvlaki, building on creamy/cooling tzatziki while pushing flavor boundaries.
SOUVLAKI & SAUCE PAIRINGS
Use flank steak, strip steak, or top sirloin for:
Elote Beef Souvlaki: Beef skewer + elote dip (Greek yogurt ranch, charred corn purée, Cotija cheese, chipotle powder, lime, cilantro) (more about elote).
Greek Beef Souvlaki: Beef skewer + spiced eggplant cream (roasted eggplant/onions, feta, Greek yogurt, Calabrian chile flakes).
Latin Beef Souvlaki: Beef skewer + chimichurri green goddess dip.
For the breast or thigh:
Alabama Chicken Souvlaki: chicken skewer + golden white barbecue dip (Greek yogurt, Alabama-style barbecue sauce, grated roasted golden beet.
Cabo Chicken Souvlaki: Chicken skewer + avocado lime tzatziki (with shredded raw jicama).
Greek Chicken Souvlaki: Chicken skewer + sunshine dip (sun-dried tomato, grated cucumber, oregano, chickpea hummus, Greek yogurt).
For the belly, loin, or tenderloin:
Greek Pork Souvlaki: Pork skewer + htipiti (Greek yogurt, feta, roasted red pepper, garlic, paprika, oregano, dill, lemon juice, olive oil).
Mexican Pork Souvlaki: Pork skewer + Mexican Cotija yogurt (roasted jalapeño, achiote, Cotija cheese, Greek yogurt, lime juice, avocado oil).
Southern Pork Souvlaki: Pork skewer + honey-hot mustard Greek yogurt, with crushed cracklings.
*This is a great use for herb stems that usually get thrown out. Toss them into the freezer. Of course, you can mix the different herbs in your soaking liquid.
 Classic souvlaki is served with pita, tzatzii (cucumber-yogurt sauce), fries, and often, onions (photo © Williams Sonoma).
 Vegetable skewers, with beef on the side, can be served with just about any dip (photo © Sun Basket).
 A fun idea for a first course: a kabob atop salad (photo © McCormick).
 Argentinian-style: beef skewers with red chimichurri sauce. Here’s the recipe (photo © McCormick).
 Plant-based fish skewers from Good Catch.