Pork souvlaki is the ultimate Greek street food and taverna offering. Recreate it at home with this authentic souvlaki marinade recipe and zippy ladolemono dressing as a finishing touch.
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- Read on for step-by-step pictures and relevant tips (2 mins)
Greek Souvlaki is Skewered Food
Souvlaki means skewered food pieces, plain and simple. The word σουβλάκι (souvlaki, plural souvlakia) is a dimunitive of the word σούβλα (souvla), which means a spit. Souvlaki, a small spit, literally means a skewer. Similarly to the situtation with the Turkish word shish, whatever you skewer becomes souvlaki. By far the most popular meat used is pork, followed by chicken and mixed meat (pork and chicken). There are also numerous vegetarian souvlakia consisting of veggies and often halloumi cheese.
Whatever the choice of food to go on the skewers it is marinated first and grilled for maximum flavor. A cold pilsner or other light lager and a couple of juicy pork souvlakia make for a fabulous street food experience when visting Greece and you will not have to look hard – souvlaki is ubiquitos.
NOTE: In some parts of Greece, notably Athens and the south the word kalamaki is used synonymously with souvlaki.
What is The Best Cut of Pork for Greek Souvlaki?
Pork shoulder or pork neck for its generous fat marbling and strong flavor. In the US this means you will be looking for boneless Boston butt or pork collar (coppa, neck). Alternatively you can use boneless country style ribs (which are ribs in name only and are actually carved from the shoulder area). Finally, pork belly meat, trimmed of excess fat and without the skin is also a delicious cut to use for pork souvlaki.
- They key ingredients in the simple, yet flavorful marinade for souvlaki pork (and other meats, cheese and veggies) are extra virgin olive oil, lemon juice and very important – oregano. It has to be Greek oregano (typically dried even though fresh can be used). Oregano (rigani, translates to “joy of the mountain”) is the most Greek herb of all and its distinct flavor is essential to an authentic pork souvlaki.
- Additionally, salt and pepper as seasoning and depending on where you are in Greece garlic, onion or both. Sometimes a splash of white wine is added (or wine vinegar). Lemon zest and local honey are used in some parts of the country.
- The marinade in this post hails from near Thessaloniki in the North. It includes garlic and a grated onion – a true stroke of genius. We prefer it to other versions we have tried over the years – the flavor of the onion really infuses the surface of the meat better and the little bits of it stuck to the pork contrbute to a fragrant caramelization during grilling.
NOTE: There are many regional variations of souvlaki marinades, my grandmother used to say that every house in every town and village has their own preferred version which is of course the best one and you’d better not argue.
Choice of Skewers
The street food version of souvlaki is inevitably prepared with wooden skewers which are easily discarded and the meat pieces are smaller. These are perfect for wrapping in a pita. In tavernas and restaurants the meat pieces tend to be bigger and metal skewers are used as well.
NOTE: If you prefer, thread the skewers and then marinate the meat, which is the traditional way. We prefer to marinate then thread because the marinade reaches all around the pork better when the skewers are not part of the mix and also it is really not that hard to thread right before you cook the souvlakia. Additionally, you can soak the skewers in water while the meat is marinating. Threading after marinating is also much more convenient when using metal skewers.
- Prep. Cut the pork in pieces and prepare the souvlaki marinade.
- Marinate. Dilligently mix pork morsels and marinade to coat every piece. Let the pork absorb the flavors, covered and refrigerated, for at least two hours – overnight is ideal.
TIP: It is better to cut the pork into smaller pieces rather than larger. With the smaller cubes (traditional for street food) you get increased total surface area for the marinade to work on and the souvlakia will cook through easier, all the way to the center of each piece.
- Thread and grill. Skewer the marinated pork pieces while still cold and allow them to come to room temperature on the skewers. Do not rub away the marinade. Grill over medium-high heat and turn every 3-4 minutes, as needed, until the skewers are completely cooked through. Depending on the size of the pork cubes it may take 10 to 15 minutes.
- Finish. Brush the cooked skewers with ladolemono (see below) and sprinkle with sea salt and a bit of dried oregano.
How to Make Ladolemono
Ladolemono translates to ‘lemony oil’ and while it is incredibly simple to make it delivers an impressive vibrancy of flavor. Many Greeks will say that a souvlaki without a generous slathering of ladolemono doesn’t taste right. At a minimum you should squeeze a bit of lemon juice over the cooked pork.
To make ladolemono you simply need to mix extra virgin olive oil (Greek preferred) with lemon juice in a 2:1 ratio. The best way to make it is to combine the two ingredients in a small jar, close the lid and shake vigorously until the mixture is homogenous.
Type of Pita Bread to Use for Pork Souvlaki Wraps
The flat, pocketless type of pita bread is the one to use for souvlaki wraps. It needs to be suitably large for the skewers (thread them accordingly). You can also grill it lightly to warm it through and boost its flavor. Again, in Athens and the south a souvlaki pita is known as pita-kalamaki.
No Grill, No Problem
Grilling is the traditional way to prepare souvlaki, but if you are making some at home when firing the grill is not an option you can either use a griddle placed over two stove burners or cook the souvlaki in the oven.
- For the griddle version you need medium-high heat on the burners in use and a generous coating of oil in the areas where you place the souvlakia. Turn the skewers often and cook for about 10-15 minutes depending on how big the meat pieces. Have patience before you first lift them – the meat can initially stick to the griddle’s surface but will release once it chars, then turning will be easier.
- For the oven, place the souvlakia on a greased baking tray and use a preheated oven and broiler (about 375 – 400 F). Bake for about 15 minutes or until the pork gets tender and then finish with the broiler on, turning frequently, for a nice char to form on the surface. Use metal skewers.
Pork Souvlaki-Pita Traditional Garnishes
A souvlaki-pita has a few traditional garnishes besides the slathering of ladolemono. Typically these are tomato slices, thinly sliced onions, tzatziki sauce, a sprinkle of paprika and often times a couple of fries. Shredded lettuce is less common.
Pork Souvlaki Merida
Merida is the Greek word for portion and refers to a plate of souvlaki accompanied by fries, quarters of pita bread, veggies and tzatziki and ladolemono sauces. In a way, a deconstructed souvlaki pita.
How to Make Chicken Souvlaki and Lamb Souvlaki
Exactly the same way, just use chicken meat or lamb meat instead.
- If chicken, preferrably thigh meat or at least a mixture of thigh and breast because breast meat tends to dry out very quickly. Also note that chicken souvlaki will cook a bit faster.
- If lamb meat, use lamb leg or shoulder (well trimmed of fat).
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- 2 lbs pork shoulder, boneless*
- sea salt, to taste for seasoning
- 1 onion
- 3 cloves garlic, minced
- 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
- 1 tbsp (heaping) dried Greek oregano
- 1 lemon (juice of)
- 1 tsp coarse salt
- 1/2 tsp pepper
- 4 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
- 2 tbsp lemon juice
- Cut the pork shoulder in small, bite-sized pieces. Trim excess fat.
- In a non-reactive container (or freezer bag) large enough to accomodate the pork grate the onion, add the minced garlic, oregano, olive oil, lemon juice and salt and pepper. Mix and add the pork pieces. Mix again making sure pork is well coated. Cover and refrigerate. Marinate for at least 2 hours, overnight is best.
- Soak wooden skewers in water before you thread the souvlaki. Skewer the meat while still cold from the refridgerator and allow to come to room temperature before you grill it.
- Preheat grill to medium-high.
- Make the ladolemono dressing - in a small container for which you have a lid add the olive oil and lemon juice, close and shake vigorously until the liquid is homogenous.
- Grill the pork souvlaki turning every 3-4 minutes until tender, cooked through and nicely charred (about 10 - 15 minutes, depending on size of pork cubes). You can also lightly grill pita bread.
- Place cooked souvlaki on a serving plate and drizzle or brush with ladolemono. Sprinkle with sea salt and a bit of dried oregano and serve.
*Use the marbled Boston Butt pork shoulder or pork neck for very juicy souvlaki. Alternatively you can used pork belly (no skin). The fat will render during grilling and both flavor and mositen the pork.
To serve Greek Souvlaki Pita Wraps have available:
- pita bread (fluffy, pocketless kind)
- tzatziki sauce
- tomato slices
- onion, thinly sliced
- fresh Greek oregano or parsley, finely chopped to spinkle over wrap
- paprika (for seasoning, optional)
Complete steps 1-3. Place griddle over two stove burners set to medium-high. Generously oil the griddle and cook the skewers for 10 to 15 minutes, until tender and nicely charred. Turn frequently. Brush with ladolemono before serving.
Complete 1-3 but use metal skewers, no soaking required. Preheat the oven to 375-400 F. Arrange the souvlaki on a greased baking sheet and cook until tender, about 15-20 minutes. Turn on the broiler to finish, turning frequently to avoid exessive charring. Brush with ladolemono before you serve.
Nutrition Information:Yield: 8 Serving Size: 1
Amount Per Serving: Calories: 462Total Fat: 38gSaturated Fat: 11gTrans Fat: 0gUnsaturated Fat: 24gCholesterol: 102mgSodium: 490mgCarbohydrates: 3gFiber: 1gSugar: 1gProtein: 27g
Nutritional data assumes rendered pork fat is being consumed - clearly it is not. The same applies to the olive oil in the marinade and dressing.