It’s become a kind of mini-tradition for me to post a picture of my first souvlaki of the summer to social media as a celebration of summer in Greece. Three years ago today, I posted this:
For obvious reasons, I won’t be going to Greece this summer, for the first time since 1998. It depresses me, so I’ve been doing research on how to make souvlaki in my backyard here in Colorado. (Note: never order souvlaki from any restaurant outside of Greece. It will be awful). It won’t be the real thing, for a variety of reasons, mostly the ingredients but also the absence of ice-cold Φιξ. I thought that my experience might be useful for some of my American friends and fellow souvlaki lovers, so here goes.
First, the meat: after consulting a bunch of videos about making souvlaki, I decided to start with Boston Butt. A lot of traditional Greek souvlaki seems to be made from the neck (λαιμό) or from pork belly (πανσέτα), but the key is to get a good mix of fat and meat so that the souvlaki stays moist. The guys at Whole Foods tried to convince us not to get boston butt for grilled meat, which just confirms that Americans don’t understand meat on a stick.
Step two was grilling. (Most places don’t season the meat until after the grilling is finished, so I did the same). I used our gas grill, which is sub-optimal, and I quickly realized that the arrangement of the grill was also not what I needed:
Typically when you grill souvlaki, the ends of the skewers are off the flame, allowing them to be easily turned, and the grill perpendicular to the souvlaki, like so:
I ended up turning my souvlakia around on the grill so that they grilled properly, but it made the skewers impossible to touch. Once I got them off the flame, I hit them with flaked sea salt (Maldon) and Greek oregano from Methana, and plenty of lemon juice. The result was actually pretty good:
These souvlakia were decent. I’d give them a ‘B’ (Sarah gave them a ‘B+’). The mix of meat and fat was good, and they weren’t dry. The next time, I’m going to try the following tweaks:
- soak the skewers (the kalamakia) for longer, so they don’t burn
- oil the grill so that the meat doesn’t stick to it
- salt the meat before I grill it. This is not traditional, but my souvlakia needed more salt and seasoning
- cook them on a medium flame and then increase the heat at the end to make sure that the fat crisps up properly (this time, I started with a high heat and finished the souvlakia on lower heat to cook them through)
- hit them with more salt immediately after I take them off the grill.
I’ll report back once I’ve made these tweaks. Of course, to do it right I should really just use wood charcoal instead of gas, which is convenient but the flavor is bad.