Most food historians agree that the name “gyro” and the current sandwich are relatively recent inventions originating in New York during the early 1970s. It’s thought that the modern gyro evolved from the traditional “Doner Kebab” of Turkey.
Any gyro spot will tell you this foodstuff is often mispronounced by those unfamiliar with its origins—most people pronounce it “jee-rohs,” “jai-rohs,” “gee-rohs,” or “yee-rohs,” when in fact it is correctly pronounced as “yee-rohs” (with a long e). This may be due to the various names given to gyros by different cultures; they each pronounced it according to their languages, which we will explore today.
Despite the popularity of gyro spots around America, no one can accurately map its origins. According to the New York Times, the gyro dates back to at least 300 B.C., when the King of Persia served spit-roasted meats to Alexander the Great’s army.
It wasn’t until much later that the upright rotisserie came into favor as a means of preparing these meats, though, since the modern form of the gyro first entered history and was reintroduced to the Ottoman Empire in 1830.
Priscilla Mary Isin, author of “Bountiful Empire: A History of Ottoman Cuisine,” noted that the Ottoman Turks likely began using vertical spits to save space in compact markets and shops. The dish that arose from these sizzling Turkish rotisseries is called the döner kebab.
While the ingredients in döner kebab differ from modern gyros, the resemblances in cooking technique—meat roasted on an upright rotisserie—suggest that döners played an essential part in helping the modern-day sandwich to develop.
However, even though this meal originated in several different places, the version served in Greece (and the U.S.) is particularly popular. In the 1920s, Greek, Turkish, and Armenian immigrants helped develop roasting meat. Then, as fast-food restaurants became popular in the U.S., these immigrants helped transform what had been Greek fast food into its current Americanized form. Gyros are readily available in Greece (called yiros) and the U.S. today.
While pizza and hotdogs became a U.S. diet staple in the 1970s, the gyro slowly built steam.
Between 1914 and 1920, a Greek immigrant named Constantine Butz patented a mechanized gyroscope in the US. Around that time, a Greek immigrant named Nicholas Kalitsounakis patented a meat roasting machine in Greece.
At the same time, a new generation of Greek immigrants in the US was opening comfortable restaurants that served American food and Greek food to fellow citizens. As the Chicago Tribune noted, most of these Greek businesses were named after their owners and were decorated with items related to Greece, such as maps.
Meanwhile, the first man to sell gyros in the US claims he opened Parkview Restaurant in Chicago and began serving them in 1965. By the time New Yorkers started slinging street-side gyros at Olympic speeds, industry-minded Chicagoans had already started imagining how to mass-produce gyros for hungry consumers.
It was only a matter of time before gyro spots popped up on every block and corner.
Americans have gone gyro crazy ever since! Business Wire reports that Arby’s sells over 27 million gyros a year, not counting the seven different styles listed on their menu! That’s a massive number! Kronos Foods CEO Michael Austin shared back in 2016 that the U.S. consumes over 300,000 of these Mediterranean sandwiches a day! WOW!
The gyro has become so popular that it has its holiday: National Gyro Day on September 1!
If you want to create your gyro at home, take heed: you’ll need an upright rotisserie, the right seasonings, spices, and recipes. It’s possible with a lot of practice and time, as long as you’re okay with not getting it right the first few times.
So instead of wasting precious time and effort on cooking this American favorite, order from your favorite gyro spot: George’s Gyro Spot in Chesterton, Indiana! We serve our affordable food quickly with exceptional service, be it dine-in, drive-through, or take-out! We’re ready to take your order!