This delicious chicken souvlaki recipe has juicy, tender chicken thighs, homemade Greek pita bread, a honey mustard aioli, and lots of aromatics.
What is souvlaki?
Souvlaki is the closest thing Greeks have to fast food. It is probably a much healthier option from the various fast food burger versions as it is always made with fresh ingredients.
Souvlaki consists of small pieces of meat grilled on a skewer or in a gyro (meat cooked on a vertical rotisserie) wrapped in Greek pita with tomatoes, onions, and tzatziki sauce. The meat usually used is pork, although chicken, beef, and lamb may also be used.
Is gyro souvlaki the same as a kebab?
Gyros and souvlaki are the Greek variations of a kebab. The iconic Greek gyros and souvlaki skewers were introduced to Athens in the 1950s by immigrants from Turkey and the Middle East; gyros was originally known simply as döner kebab. In the 1960s, vendors began selling dishes in the same style made with souvlaki skewer, which resembles Turkish shish kebab but is usually made with pork.
Around the same time, the Greek word gyros replaced döner kebab, and the Greek style of the dish became very popular.
Some may refer to souvlaki skewers as kebabs, but they are not properly called that in Greece. Greeks call the grilled pieces of meat on a skewer kalamaki. The usual order of souvlaki kalamaki is a couple of skewers served with a couple of pieces of grilled bread.
This is chicken gyro souvlaki
My love for chicken gyro made me find ways to replicate the flavor and texture as close as possible. I don't have a vertical rotisserie -I wish- so I cut the chicken in thin strips that resemble gyro and grill it. I make this chicken souvlaki recipe often for my family. It is everyone's favorite.
- I use skinless and boneless chicken thighs. I cut the thighs into smaller vertical pieces and marinate to infuse flavor. After marinating for about an hour, they grill on a hot cast iron grill pan.
- Chicken souvlaki usually includes a mustard/yogurt-based sauce. I instead love to pair mine with a honey mustard aioli; it is garlicky, sweet, and tangy, perfect with chicken.
- Instead of the traditional tomato wedges, I use a fresh tomato bruschetta topping with small diced tomatoes, red bell pepper, garlic, olive oil, balsamic vinegar, and fresh basil. It is simple and goes really well with this recipe.
- I also love making my own pita bread. The Greek pita bread is like a flatbread, does not have a pocket like the middle eastern kind. My recipe is easy, and in no time, I have 4-6 delicious pitas for souvlaki.
Ingredients for the chicken souvlaki marinade
- Extra virgin olive oil
- Lemon juice
- Fresh thyme, rosemary & sage
- Dried oregano
- Dried mustard
- Sea salt
- Freshly ground pepper
- Red pepper flakes
This marinade results in a tender, moist chicken with crispy, nicely charred edges. A hot grill pan and the addition of honey in the marinade ensure the chicken will have that delicious chard we all love.
My preferred cooking method is using my cast iron grill pan. I live in an apartment and don't have an outdoor grill, so this is the best way to achieve the desired result. I place a cast iron grill pan* over high heat and wait for it to get hot. I add a little olive oil, and I grill the chicken pieces in small batches.
*A regular cast iron pan will work just as well.
An alternative cooking method is to broil in the oven. I preheat the oven to 400 F. I add the chicken in a single layer on a baking sheet, and I bake for 15 minutes. I turn on the broiler and broil for 5 minutes (tops). Again, I recommend a test drive for each method to ensure the chicken is cooked well. It should have nice crispy edges and a soft and tender middle. There should be no pink in the middle at all.
The ideal cooking method is on an outdoor charcoal grill. If you are fortunate to own one, this is the method you should use to produce the best results. The same rules apply here too. Grill the chicken until it has nice charred edges and it is still tender and juicy inside. There should be no pink in the middle at all.
How to assemble a souvlaki
You place a pita bread on parchment paper ⅓ bigger than the pita.
Add 3-4 chicken pieces right in the middle.
Add the tomato mix, as much as you like (usually, 2 tablespoons are enough but each person has different needs ☺️
Add 1-2 tablespoons of the honey mustard aioli.
Fold the souvlaki to create a sandwich. Use the parchment paper to wrap it. Fold the extra paper nicely under the souvlaki to secure it. Enjoy!
It is important to warm up the pitas before assembling the chicken souvlaki. There are two ways to do it.
My favorite is grilling the pita for a minute or two on the same pan I cooked the chicken.
An alternative method is in the oven.
Preheat the oven to 400 F.
Place/select two racks in the oven one in the middle and another right under it.
Place a baking sheet in the lower rack to catch any drippings.
Brush some of the marinade you used for the chicken on both sides of the pita bread. Place it directly on the first rack. Warm it up until pita starts to brown but is still soft, 1-2 minutes. Don't overcook it!
Helpful Q & A
Yes, you can. Cut the chicken breasts in long strips, about ⅓ of an inch thick, and marinate for at least an hour in the fridge.
No, you don't. Use this Stonefire naan bread or various Greek flatbreads that are available on the market. A middle easter kind of pita with the pocket will work just as great.
First of all, don't crowd the grill pan; just cook 2-3 pieces at a time. Adding too many lowers the temperature, and the protein boils instead of the grill. The addition of honey in the marinade will ensure delicious crispy edges on the chicken pieces.
You may also like
- Check out the traditional pork souvlaki, it is great for entertaining. Our friends love it and participate in cooking!
- This lovely cinnamon roasted chicken makes the house smell like Thanksgiving!
- This braised chicken in tomato sauce is delicious and so easy to make.
Check all the pantry items a Greek kitchen wouldn’t go without.
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Chicken Gyro Souvlaki With Pita & Mustard Aioli
for the marinade
- 3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
- 1 tablespoon honey
- 1 lemon juiced
- 2-3 garlic cloves sliced
- 1-2 fresh thyme leaves
- 1 tbsp fresh rosemary leaves
- 2+3 fresh sage leaves
- sea salt
- freshly ground pepper
- 1 tbsp red pepper flakes
- 1 tsp dry oregano
- 2 large chicken thighs Skinless & boneless, sliced in ½ inch strips
- 4 Greek pita bread
For the tomato bruschetta
- ½ red onion finely diced
- 1 large ripe tomato finely diced
- 1 red bell pepper finely diced
- 1 tablespoon fresh basil leaves minced
- 1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
- 1 tsp balsamic vinegar
- sea salt to taste
For the mustard aioli
- ⅓ cup mayonaise
- ⅓ cup dijon mustard
- ¼ cup honey
- 1 garlic clove minced
- freshly ground pepper to taste
- Cut the chicken into thin strips lengthwise and transfer to a bowl.
- In a bowl, mix all the marinade well and pour them all over the chicken. Make sure the chicken is completely coated. Let it marinate for an hour or overnight.
Make the tomato bruschetta
- Dice tomatoes, bell pepper, and onions. Mince the garlic and basil. Add all in a bowl. Add one teaspoon of balsamic vinegar one tablespoon of olive oil. Season with sea salt to taste. Leave tomato bruschetta to sit to allow flavors to develop.
Make the honey mustard aioli
- Mix ⅓ cup of dijon mustard, ⅓ cup mayonnaise, and ¼ honey in a small bowl or jar. Mince one garlic clove and add it in. Add some freshly ground pepper. Stir everything well. Set aside till serving.
Grill the chicken
- Place a cast-iron grill pan over high heat. Add a tablespoon of olive oil. When the pan is hot, add one or two chicken pieces and test how long it is best to grill it. If your pan is very hot, cook 2 minutes per side should be plenty. Make sure the chicken is cooked through with juices run clear, and there is no pink in the middle. The edges should char, and the flesh should remain tender but fully cooked.Once you determine the right amount of time to grill, cook the rest of the chicken in small batches.It is important not to crowd the pan, and do not turn the chicken too often.
Warm up the pitas
- You can warm up the pita bread for a minute or two over medium heat using the same pan you cooked the chicken. (There is no need to add any oil, there is plenty of fond and liquids on the pan already.)An alternative method is in the oven. Preheat the oven to 400 F.Place/select two racks in the oven, one in the middle and another right under it. Place a baking sheet in the lower rack to catch any drippings.Brush a little of the marinade you used for the chicken on both sides of the pita bread. Place it directly on the first rack. Warm the pitas until they start to brown but are still soft, 1-2 minutes. Don’t overcook it!
Assemble the souvlaki
- Place pita bread on parchment paper ⅓ bigger than the pita.Add 3-4 chicken pieces right in the middle.Add 2 tablespoons of the tomato mix, 1-2 tablespoons of the honey mustard aioli, and fold the souvlaki to create a sandwich. Use the parchment paper to wrap it. Fold the extra paper under the souvlaki to secure it. Enjoy!
- If you are running out of time and can't make the honey mustard aioli, mix ⅓ cup of mayonnaise with ⅓ cup dijon mustard. It's a great substitute for the sauce.
- The same goes for the tomato bruschetta mix. No time? Cut tomatoes in wedges and slice some onions, and you are good to go.