Greek souvlaki was one of my go-to lunches when I lived back East. A staple of any decent Greek diner, which is redundant if you’re in Jersey, you’d also see good souvlaki at the “roach coaches” all over town, and especially on street corners in Manhattan. (A roach coach, if you’ve never heard the term, is what everyone used to call a “food truck.” It was a rougher time… )
What is it? Grilled pieces of meat on a pita with cucumbers, onions, tomatoes and “special sauce,” which was either some sort of tomato-based red sauce that I’ve yet to decipher, or the more typical tzatziki (tzat-seekie), which is a yogurt-cucumber-dill-garlic sauce. Basically Greek mayo. You could commonly get pork, chicken or lamb. I’d alternate depending on my mood.
Well, lamb is really close to venison, so here you go. Venison souvlaki. While it sounds all exotic, it’s basically Greek tacos. Really good, super fun to eat. The diners and roach coaches made the sandwiches for you, but I like to lay everything on the table and let people make their own.
Depending on my mood, I will either make pitas myself using this recipe, or just buy them. Don’t want any bread in your life? Eat these with potatoes, fried with lemon and thyme. Also traditional, and what you got if you ordered the “souvlaki platter.”
Making this souvlaki recipe is pretty straightforward, but you do need to remember one thing: Your grill or flattop or frying pan or whatever needs to be really hot. The reason is because the meat is in small pieces so it needs to cook fast in order to not dry out. Blasting it with the grill cover open will get you there pretty well.
But keep an eye on your venison, as it can go from rare to medium to “aw crap I wrecked it” in about 2 minutes.
Remember it is better to have nice, tender meat than pretty grill marks on the outside — this is a sandwich, after all. You can’t see the grill marks, but you sure as hell can tell of the meat’s overcooked.
Any Greeks out there? How is your souvlaki recipe differently from me? I’d love to hear about regional differences.
- 1 1/2 pounds venison backstrap or leg meat, cut into 1-inch chunks
- 1/2 cup olive oil
- 1/4 cup lemon juice
- Zest of a lemon
- 2 tablespoons dried oregano
- 2 teaspoons dried thyme
- 2 teaspoons black pepper
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 2 tablespoons lemon juice
- 7 ounces of Greek yogurt
- 1/2 cup diced cucumber, peeled and seeded
- 1 tablespoon dill
- 2 garlic cloves, minced
- Salt and black pepper to taste
- Red onions
- Lemon wedges
- Pita breads
- When you are cutting your venison (or lamb, or beef, for that matter), make sure it is free of all silverskin and sinew. This will make the meat easier to eat in the pita. Cut them into smallish chunks -- remember, you are going to eat this as a sandwich of sorts, not as a big kebab. Add the meat to all the marinade ingredients in a sealable plastic bag, mix well and put in the fridge for at least 2 hours, and up to a full day ahead.
- Meanwhile, make the tzatziki sauce by mixing all of those ingredients together. Keep that in the fridge until you are ready to serve.
- Chop all your accompaniments: Tomatoes, cucumbers, lemons, red onion, etc. If eating raw red onion isn't your cup of tea, soak the sliced onion in lemon juice or white wine vinegar while the meat is marinating. This quick pickle will pull the harshness right out of the onions.
- When you are ready to rock, get your grill very hot. Make sure the grill grates are clean. Salt the venison liberally, and skewer the venison pieces together -- this is not how I normally do meat skewers, but jamming them all together helps keep these small pieces of meat from overcooking. Lay the skewers on the hot grill and cook them with the grill cover open until they are medium, about 4 minutes per side depending on how hot your grill is. I use the finger test for doneness to determine when to pull the meat off. Keep it on the skewers while you take it to the table.
- To serve, lay everything out and let people make their own little pita wraps. Serve with a nice light Greek red wine, a dry rose or a crisp beer or three.
Josh Sparks says
Fantastic!! This will become a staple in our house.
Steve Engelhardt says
Hank, as always you exceed expectations! This was another amazing dinner. Thanks for the recipe!
Ed Chinchar says
Amazing, used trimmed brisket pieces folded up tight on the skewers because we ate all the backstrap with many of these other recipes, but it worked great. Double portions for everyone, great dish!!!!
Chris Gavin says
I didn’t think it was possible to make good venison gyros until I found this recipe. Hits it out of the park!
A simple but perfect recipe. The tzatziki sauce is easy but oh so good. A definite must
Absolutely phenomenal!! We will definitely be making this again!! We used small Naan bread for the pitas.
Dyane Howard says
Hi Hank, Just found your website while looking for a different way to cook with Venison. Just one quick question, why no salt in the marinade? I always thought salt was a staple in meat marinades. Thanks for the awesome website!
I have made souvlaki with lamb before. Don’t know why I never tried it with venison. We eat a lot of venison and I am always looking for something new to keep it interesting. It’s all good, but this is REALLY good! Made it exactly as written. It’s darned sure now on my “what to do with venison tonight” rotation. Thanks!
Jennifer Johnson says
Made this today and it was kickass delicious. When I told my Mississippi born and bred father I was going to make venison souvlaki he abruptly proclaimed “your going to ruin the deer loin!”. He only ever flours and fries his loin. In the end it was a hit. I substituted
sour cream for tatziki for my less adventures folks. But I had been dreaming of tatziki flavors for awhile and it was so spot on perfect!! Thanks so much … I always enjoy and appreciate your posts. As my dad said, “whatever you did to that deer meat was pretty darn good!”
Al Quackenbush says
Oh. My. I know what I will be trying this weekend. What a great dish that all can enjoy! Thanks for sharing Hank. Damn, now I am craving souvlaki.
Hank Shaw says
Steve: I’d love to write one. Someday!
Looks awesome…any chance of a venison cookbook coming out in the near future? Not all of us have internet access where we deer hunt.