Greek style souvlaki with homemade tzatziki
Updated 25 May 2023
Chicken or pork Souvlaki is quick and easy to prep, and so delicious! Marinated cubed chicken breasts or pork tenderloin are threaded onto skewers and grilled until juicy and tender. Serve souvlaki over rice or wrap it in a warm pita bread (homemade pita is the best) with lettuce, onions and tomatoes with loads of tzatziki for a perfect meal or enjoy it over a bed of greens for an epic souvlaki salad or serve as an appetizer or meze or mezethaki. The Mediterranean flavors are always on point and you will be making these tasty skewers all grilling season! They are perfect on the grill but can also be made stove top on a grill pan or skillet or even in the oven - all options below in post so you really have no excuse not to make them!
What is souvlaki?
In short souvlaki, plural souvlakia, is a popular Greek fast food (street food) made of small pieces of meat and sometimes vegetables grilled on a skewer. It is usually eaten straight off the skewer while still hot. These Greekstyle kabobs are marinated in a herby marinade with oregano garlic, lemon, olive oil and seasonings. So simple, but amazingly flavorful. Nothing beats the smell of a hot grill going with either meat or veggies on it. You can smell it wafting in the air a mile away. Souvlaki comes from the word Souvla which means “spit” or “skewer” in Greek — the rod on which meat is roasted. Appropriately since souvlaki or also commonly known as kalamaki, is meat or veggies grilled on skewers. The most common meat used in souvlakia or kalamakia is pork, but chicken, beef and lamb also make the cut. Regardless of the meat, although for souvlaki I’m totally partial to pork, it’s the marinade that really makes these little guys irresistible! For the most flavourful souvlaki I like to marinate the chicken for a least 30-60 minutes. It allows ample time for the meat to soak in all the flavour and when it comes to the pork it tenderises it a bit too. Using a tougher cut of meat will require longer marinating time. The lemon and vinegar almost act like a brining liquid which helps make the pork a little more tender and juicy. Of course you’re not using even close to the amount of salt you would in a brining liquid but it still does the job.
Greek Chicken Souvlaki Recipe Ingredients
- Chicken: skinless bone less chicken breasts or boneless skinless chicken thighs can be used and sliced into bite-sized pieces - ½-1 inch cubes. They can be made with just about any protein though - the next most popular is pork tenderloin, beef tenderloin or lamb (cooking times will vary depending on meat)
- Extra-Virgin Olive Oil: extra virgin olive oil for the chicken souvlaki marinade
- Lemon Juice & Zest: Freshly squeezed lemon juice and zest. You can also substitute the lemon juice with red wine vinegar or use both like I do but that is optional
- Oregano: I used dried. Use mediterranean or greek oregano for best flavour for the souvlaki
- Salt & Pepper: Season to taste.
- Garlic: Use as much or little as you like! I use grated or minced fresh garlic but in a pinch garlic powder works beautifully as well
Optional Flavour Boosters and Add ins
- Red Wine Vinegar: I love the flavour it adds along with the lemon juice but feel free to use one or the other
- Shallot: I like to grate in a shallot or mince ir fine or use dried onion powder for the marinade -it adds loads of flavour but this is optional
- Paprika: it adds a touch of flavour and colour to your souvlaki
- Greek yogurt: yoghurt in a marinade tenderizes meat much more gently and effectively than regular marinades. While acidic vinegar- or citrus-based marinades can toughen proteins like chicken breast to a rubbery consistency, yogurt slowly tenderizes them, resulting in meat that can practically be pulled apart by hand. This is sort of non traditional but a great add in esp if you are doing a short marinade and want super tender chicken souvlaki
How to Make Greek Chicken Souvlaki
- Marinate: Combine chicken and the rest of the marinade ingredients to a large sealable freezer bag or airtight container. Mix everything together well to coat each piece of chicken. Marinate for at least 30 minutes, up to overnight. (NOTE: If you are marinating your chicken for long periods of time like all day or overnight I recommend leaving out the lemon juice and vinegar but leaving the zest in the marinade. The acidity from the lemon juice essentially cooks the chicken and potentially can create a mealy or leathery texture chicken.)
- Soak Skewers: if using bamboo or wooden ones in water while chicken marinates. Soaking the skewers before grilling keeps them from catching fire on the grill.
- Assemble Skewers: Preheat your grill or grill pan over medium-high heat. Skewer the pieces of chicken, not too tight to allow for the chicken to cook evenly
- Grill or Cook: Place the skewers on the grill and cook for about 3-5 minutes per side, or until completely cooked through. Remove from grill and tent with foil and allow to rest a few minutes before serving
Can I Make Chicken Souvlaki Without a Grill?
Yes you absolutely can - you can either use a grill pan or a skillet stove top instead or you can can even make them in the oven:
- Grill Pan or Skillet: heat and brush grill pan or skillet with olive oil over medium-high heat then pace skiers in hot pan and cook 3-5 minutes per side or until golden and cooked through
- Oven: Bake chicken skewers in a preheated oven at 450 degrees F on a baking sheet with rack for 12-15 minutes then turn on the boiler for 1-3 min until deeply chicken is golden and cooked though with areas that are slightly charred
- Air fryer directions: Bake at 400°F / 204°C for 15 mins flipping half way through cooking time. Internal temperature should be at least 165°F
What to Serve with Greek Souvlaki
Once they are grilled to perfection you give them a good dowsing of lemon juice or lemon parley oil and a sprinkle of sea salt and they are ready to plate or put into pita/flat bread with the usual suspects — some chopped tomatoes, onions as pictured. Some other popular toppings included chopped lettuce, feta and french fries. I also love them loaded with some grilled red peppers or eggplant too! Yum! Of course you cannot have souvlaki with out tzatziki — basically what Greeks use to fend off close talkers. Hehe! Yes beware and be warned you will have some pretty pungent garlic breathe going on after eating even just a little bit of it. But so worth it! I’m so partial to it and also take it so for granted in a way!! It’s a fabulous almost refreshing sauce which adds so much to grilled meats. I love it with Greek style rice too and just about anything really! It’s the raita of the Greek world.
Here are some great options for serving souvlaki with:
- Fresh Homemade Pita Bread
- Classic Greek Village Salad (Horiatiki)
- Watermelon Feta Salad
- Classic Greek Lettuce Salad (Maroulosalata)
- Greek-Style Potato Salad
- Greek Asparagus Salad
- Greek Style Green Bean Salad
- Homemade Tzatziki
You guys just have to try this super basic and easy recipe. Do roast them in the oven if you don’t have a grill and to get them a little charred just broil them on each side for a few minutes when they are just about cooked through. Or instead of threading the meat onto skewers, simply cook it in a grill pan until it’s nicely charred. They will be equally delish! I love mine with my homemade pita bread in my pantry staples section that is so soft and chewy and delicious. Like I said before souvlaki isn’t souvlaki without a creamy tzatziki sauce. I love to prep my easy and delicious tzatziki made with strained Greek Yogurt when I’m marinating the meat. I usually strain the yoghurt and marinate the meat overnight. Then they are both ready the next day to grill and to mix with the rest of the ingredients. Add a Greek Horiatiki salad loaded with feta cheese and Kalamata olives and you are good to go! It’s the perfect dish for outdoor grilling and entertaining and also great for meal prep! Enjoy!
Make Ahead, Storage & Freezing
- Make Ahead: the chicken can be marinated up to a day ahead - just follow the note about marinating overnight or fo long periods
- Storage: Cooked Chicken souvlaki will keep for up to 4 days stored in an airtight container in the fridge. Reheat in the oven, stovetop in a skillet or in the microwave
- Freezing: You can freeze chicken kebabs/skewers for up to 3 months before or after cooking them. If you cook them first, you will need to allow them to cool before bagging them up and placing them in the freezer. Provided they are well wrapped and protected, chicken kebabs will freeze well. If you are freezing them uncooked freeze them skewered and marinated and thaw fully in the fridge overnight before cooking so that they grill up evenly without any frozen areas in them.
If you liked this recipe you will love these:
- 2 lbs of chicken or pork cleaned and cut up into ½-1 inch chunks (chicken breast or chicken thighs, pork or beef tenderloin or lamb)
- 10 inch skewer sticks (either metal or bamboo skewers)
For the Chicken Souvlaki Marinade
- 1 tablespoon dried oregano
- 2 tablespoon red wine vinegar (optional)
- ¼ cup olive oil
- Juice and zest of one lemon
- 1 teaspoon salt
- ½ teaspoon black pepper
- ½-1 teaspoon paprika (optional)
- 3 cloves of garlic grated or 1 teaspoon garlic powder
- 1 small red shallot peeled and chopped finely or ½ teaspoon onion powder (optional)
- ¼-½ cup greek yogurt (optional)
For the Lemon Parsley Sauce (optional)
- ¼ cup fresh parley chopped
- 3 tablespoons olive oil
- Juice of half lemon
- Salt and pepper to taste
- Pita bread or flat bread
- Diced tomatoes
- Sliced red onions
- Chopped lettuce
- Crumbled Feta Cheese
- In a large bowl or in a large freezer bag, toss or combine the chicken or pork with all the ingredients (except the skewers of course- hehe) and cover and marinate for 30-60 minutes or overnight (see note below about overnight marinating)
- ½ hour to an hour before you are ready to grill soak your skewers in water to help them stand up to the heat of the grill if using bamboo or wooden skewers - skip this step if using stainless steel skewers
- Place or thread meat on skewers removing any big chunks of onion or garlic and set aside while you heat the grill (I use larger skewers so you can let the unused part of the skewers hang outside the grill — makes for easy handling and turning and a less charred skewer)
- Heat the grill to medium-high heat and grease it before putting on the skewers
- Make Lemon parsley sauce if using: Mix the dressing ingredients together and set aside
- Place the skewers on the grill and let them grill untouched for 3-5 minutes, flip them and let them grill for another 3-5 minutes or until fully cooked (cooking time may be a little longer with chicken and with larger chunks and will vary if using pork or beef). Chicken should read 165 degrees F with a thermometer, 145 ºF for pork and 145-160 ºF for beef and lamb.
- Remove from grill when done and tent with foil and allow them to rest a couple of minutes before serving. Just before serving squeeze some lemon juice or drizzle with the lemon parsley sauce if using on them and sprinkle with a little extra salt if desired
- Serve them with warm pita or flat bread heated up in the oven or you can lightly oil a frying pan and fry them lightly on both sides or grill them, as well as topped with some chopped tomatoes, red onions and definitely a good dollop of tzatziki and if you dare add some feta and French fries in there too.
- If you are marinating your chicken for long periods of time like all day or overnight I recommend leaving out the lemon juice but leaving the zest in the marinade. The acidity from the lemon juiceessentially cooks the chicken and potentially can create a mealy or leathery texture chicken.
- Soak your skewers: Soak wooden skewers in water for at least 30 minutes before adding the meat and vegetables. Soaking the skewers before grilling keeps them from catching fire on the grill, even after being frozen. Soaking skewers can be done while you marinate the chicken and prepare the vegetables.
- Do not over cook chicken souvlaki - use a meat thermometer when in doubt - these skewers don’t take long to cook