Kebab vs. Souvlaki

What's the Difference?

Kebab and Souvlaki are both popular dishes in Mediterranean cuisine, but they have distinct differences. Kebab is a Middle Eastern dish made with skewered and grilled meat, typically lamb or chicken, and often served with pita bread, vegetables, and a variety of sauces. It is known for its flavorful and tender meat, often marinated in a blend of spices and herbs. On the other hand, Souvlaki is a Greek dish consisting of small pieces of grilled meat, usually pork, chicken, or lamb, skewered on a stick. It is traditionally served with pita bread, tzatziki sauce, and a side of Greek salad. Souvlaki is known for its simplicity and freshness, with the meat being marinated in olive oil, lemon juice, and herbs. While both dishes are delicious and share some similarities, they offer unique flavors and culinary experiences.


Photo by Victoria Shes on Unsplash
MeatTypically lamb or beefTypically pork or chicken
SkewerUsually cooked on a vertical rotisserieUsually cooked on a horizontal skewer
MarinadeOften marinated in a mixture of spices and yogurtMarinated in olive oil, lemon juice, and herbs
Serving StyleOften served in a pita bread with various toppings and saucesUsually served on a plate with pita bread, tzatziki, and salad
Popular VariationsDoner kebab, shish kebab, adana kebabPork souvlaki, chicken souvlaki, lamb souvlaki
AccompanimentsTzatziki, hummus, pickles, onionsTzatziki, Greek salad, lemon wedges
Photo by Anima Visual on Unsplash

Further Detail


The Mediterranean region is known for its rich culinary traditions, and two dishes that have gained international popularity are kebab and souvlaki. Both kebab and souvlaki are delicious grilled meat dishes that originated in different parts of the Mediterranean, but they share some similarities as well. In this article, we will explore the attributes of kebab and souvlaki, highlighting their differences and similarities, and ultimately helping you decide which one suits your taste buds best.

Origin and History

Kebab, also spelled kabob, has its roots in the Middle East and Central Asia. It is believed to have originated in ancient Persia, where it was initially prepared by skewering small pieces of meat and cooking them over an open fire. Over time, kebab spread across the region and evolved into various regional variations, each with its own unique flavors and cooking techniques.

Souvlaki, on the other hand, hails from Greece. The word "souvlaki" translates to "little skewer" in Greek, which perfectly describes the dish. It is said to have been inspired by the ancient Persians' kebab, brought to Greece by Alexander the Great's soldiers during their conquests. Since then, souvlaki has become an integral part of Greek cuisine and a beloved street food option.

Ingredients and Meat

When it comes to the ingredients, both kebab and souvlaki share some common elements. The primary component of both dishes is meat, typically lamb or chicken, although beef and pork are also used in some variations. The meat is usually marinated in a blend of herbs, spices, and oil to enhance its flavor and tenderness.

However, the key difference lies in the way the meat is prepared and presented. In kebab, the meat is often minced or ground and then molded onto skewers, creating a cylindrical shape. This allows for a more even cooking and a unique texture. On the other hand, souvlaki features larger chunks of meat, typically cubed, threaded onto skewers. This results in a more substantial and rustic presentation.

Spices and Marinades

Spices and marinades play a crucial role in both kebab and souvlaki, infusing the meat with distinctive flavors. In kebab, the marinade often includes a combination of spices such as cumin, paprika, coriander, and turmeric, along with garlic, lemon juice, and yogurt. This blend of spices gives kebab its characteristic Middle Eastern and Central Asian taste.

On the other hand, souvlaki marinades typically consist of Mediterranean flavors like olive oil, lemon juice, garlic, oregano, and sometimes a touch of red wine vinegar. The marinade enhances the natural flavors of the meat and imparts a tangy and herbaceous taste that is synonymous with Greek cuisine.

Accompaniments and Serving Styles

Both kebab and souvlaki are often served with a variety of accompaniments, adding depth and diversity to the overall dish. In the Middle Eastern and Central Asian kebab tradition, it is common to serve kebab with rice, grilled vegetables, and a side of yogurt sauce or tzatziki. The yogurt sauce provides a cooling contrast to the spices and adds a creamy element to the dish.

In Greece, souvlaki is typically served with pita bread, tzatziki sauce, and a fresh Greek salad. The pita bread acts as a vessel for the meat and other fillings, while the tzatziki sauce adds a refreshing and tangy element. The Greek salad, consisting of tomatoes, cucumbers, onions, olives, and feta cheese, complements the flavors of the souvlaki perfectly.

Cooking Techniques

While both kebab and souvlaki are grilled meat dishes, the cooking techniques used for each differ slightly. Kebab is often cooked on a skewer over an open flame or charcoal grill, allowing the meat to develop a smoky and charred exterior while remaining juicy on the inside. The cylindrical shape of kebab ensures even cooking and prevents the meat from falling off the skewer.

Souvlaki, on the other hand, is traditionally cooked on a skewer over a hot grill or griddle pan. The larger chunks of meat require a slightly longer cooking time to ensure they are cooked through while still maintaining their tenderness. The result is succulent and flavorful meat with a slightly crispy exterior.

Regional Variations

Both kebab and souvlaki have numerous regional variations, each with its own unique twist on the classic dish. In the Middle East, you can find variations such as Iranian koobideh, Turkish shish kebab, and Lebanese shawarma. These variations often incorporate different spices, herbs, and cooking techniques, resulting in a diverse range of flavors.

In Greece, souvlaki is not limited to just lamb or chicken. Pork souvlaki, known as "gyro," is immensely popular and often served in a wrap with pita bread, tzatziki, and various fillings. Additionally, seafood souvlaki, featuring shrimp or fish, is a delightful coastal variation that showcases the versatility of the dish.


In conclusion, both kebab and souvlaki are delicious grilled meat dishes that have captivated the taste buds of people around the world. While kebab originated in the Middle East and Central Asia, souvlaki has its roots in Greece. The two dishes differ in terms of meat preparation, spices, marinades, accompaniments, and cooking techniques. Kebab offers a minced and molded meat experience with Middle Eastern and Central Asian flavors, while souvlaki presents larger chunks of meat with Mediterranean influences.

Ultimately, the choice between kebab and souvlaki comes down to personal preference and the flavors that resonate with you. Whether you prefer the smoky and spiced kebab or the tangy and herbaceous souvlaki, both dishes are sure to satisfy your cravings for Mediterranean cuisine.

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