I don't understand how gyros meat passes food safety rules

I had a gyros yesterday, as I do every couple months or so, and maan was it good. But every time I watch them make one, I wonder how this system passes muster. They’ve got this giant hunk of unrefrigerated meat sitting on a skewer. Then I order my sandwich and they turn on the rotisserie (the place was empty when I came in). But the thing is too big for them to take off the entire outer layer for my one sandwich, so they are either burning some (which I’ve never seen any evidence of), or they are dishing up meat that is borderline undercooked on the “inside side”.

And meanwhile, the interior meat is just sitting there at 90° or whatever for hours during slow periods, right? A Google search found a regulation for one county that required the entire spit to be used within four hours, and not re-refrigerated, for this reason: the interior meat is sitting at a “danger zone” temperature the whole time. But I can’t believe any but the busiest gyros restaurants are actually accomplishing this. (One wonders why they don’t use a much smaller spit to ameliorate this issue.)

I love the taste of gyros, and don’t recall ever getting sick from eating them; but the whole system just doesn’t seem to comport with modern food safety science. Am I wrong?

Any chance it’s pre-cooked and all they’re doing is warming it up? That would make it safer.

Good question, I don’t know.

I think its pasteurized while its mixed. Like that pink slime stuff. It’s not raw on the inside.

You can make it at home pretty easy, like a fine grain meat loaf.

Jamicat, those were both really interesting, thank you. My local gyros joint has those “ask for a Kronos!” (which I’m sure no one ever, ever does, LOL) table toppers everywhere. And that seriouseats dude: impressive commitment to experimentation.

But I watched the whole video and read the article thoroughly, and I don’t see where you get “pasteurized” from either one.

My guess is that they do one of three things:

  1. Pre-cook the meat, and simply use the spit thing to brown up the outer layers that they carve off and serve.

  2. They’re actually taking it from raw to fully cooked in an appropriate amount of time, but it just doesn’t seem like it. I’ve seen them have a couple of spits going- one just cooking, and one that they’re serving from. My guess is that if the radius of the meat is like 8", they probably cook the outer 4-5" completely before they serve from that spit, and then as they serve from it, the remaining meat gets cooked before the time frame is up.

3 (a variant of #2). They’re basically carving off the cooked parts as they go and keeping them hot, while the spit continues to cook. They serve out of a steam table, not directly from the spit.

It looks like you buy the cones raw, and the cooking actually happens on the spit.

It’s definitely not this. They have a little “catcher”, vaguely reminiscent of a dustpan, that they hold to catch the meat as they cut it off the spit with a long straight knife. (I found one on Amazon just now.) Then they go make the gyros directly from this meat without ever putting it anywhere else.

He said they were selling Kronos products but they say the same thing: Uncooked and preformed.

That said, if it’s sitting on a vertical broiler for hours, I’d assume the interior is cooking well before they slice off bits for your lunch.

But when they are not busy, it looks to me like they only turn the heat on right before they carve off the pieces for your order.

You sure it hadn’t been cooking for a while though and they just turned it off/down to prevent it all from drying out? The literature I looked at suggested that the vertical broiler cooks through (at least deeper than the outside quarter inch) so the outside gets a little crisp and the inside is cooked and moist. But if no one is at the restaurant, I’d assume they need to lower the heat or else the outside will be burnt and the inside overdone. The inside would retain the heat so you just get the outside layer hot again for the sandwich when you prepare it.

Of course, I have no idea exactly what happens at your specific gyro joint.

True, I don’t know what was going on earlier. But I really have to wonder, when the cone is at its largest (and BTW, I never seem to see it get really small: I wonder if the family just eats the remnants when it gets too small, or what?), if the deep insides get hot enough to kill germs.

I suppose that even if the germs run wild in there for a while, they are killed when the broiler gets them once they work their way in that far. But I never thought meat that rotted while raw was just magically okely-dokely once cooked. (Hmm…a friend of mine says about every fourth or fifth time he eats there, the meat tastes “off” though he never said anything about getting sick from it.)

A simple meat thermometer will show the internal temperature. I imagine they make use of it. Ask them if they’ll measure the internal temp for you. Tell them you have a very delicate gut and worry about undercooked meats. I imagine they are also visited by health inspectors from time to time. You can google to see if they have any health code violation records posted against them.

Well, the more or less classic method you just slap another slab on top. The cone us shaved down towards the bottom, but the slab itself is always changing; it moves down the spit. Since you shave off the bottom as well, you’re always getting the most cooked meat

There’s no telling if they’re using proper procedures, but they are supposed to be keeping the heat on to cook that hunk of meat through to the center in a reasonable amount of time. They don’t have to get it well done all the way through, heating and holding the temperature in the center at about 131F should be sufficient.

Good timing… I was at a fair yesterday and had a gyro that was pretty obviously not from a Gyrokone. I asked if the booth was run by a restaurant and said that the meat was delicious and seemed to be “home-made” rather than from one of those pre-fab things. She said that yes, they make their own meat and added that time and time and temperature control is almost impossible with the big cones.

They are shipped raw and frozen and cooked on the spit. If it’s busy, the meat may not be properly cooked before it’s sliced off the cone. If it’s not busy, you have to pull the broiler back to idle so the outer layer doesn’t burn while the inside is merrily incubating undesired forms of life. The current standard is “sensitive” food must be held below 41 degrees or above 140. If it’s in the 41-140 range for over four hours, it’s considered spoiled and can’t safely be served.

I would be worried about turning the heat off, too. That doesn’t sound normal. I don’t think I’ve seen that in any Greek restaurant I’ve been to. The broilers are always on.

Turning it off could be okay if they do it carefully and kept on top of it, but I doubt that they are that skilled. Likely, they are turning it off to save money and taking the chance that the meat doesn’t go bad. If they turn it on when you get there, they are warming the meat up for you, which means it had probably cooled down and could be starting to spoil.

If nothing else, it shows the restaurant is skimping on things trying to save money. There’s no telling what’s going on in the back where you can’t see. Maybe they’re buying almost-expired meat at a discount or things like that. A restaurant that’s stingy skeeves me out because I’m worried what else they’re doing to cut corners.

Kinda what I thought! Tastes so good though–really the best of all “fast” food, hands down, IMO.

Anecdote alert: There was this Mexican place by my house that had some of the best al pastor tacos I’ve ever had. Al pastor is marinated pieces of pork stacked up on a skewer and cooked exactly as a gyros or schwarma is. First few times I went there, it was perfect: Crispy caramelized pieces of pork, juicy interior, topped off with a bit of chopped pineapple from the top of the skewer. A few months later, things started going downhill. No pineapple, and they were finishing the meat on the griddle. The last and final time I went there, they just had raw meat stacked on the skewer, which was turned off, and they just sliced off the raw meat that’s been sitting there at room temperature for who knows how long to finish on the griddle. Needless to say, I did not order my usual, and they soon went out of business.

You think they changed because their electric bill was too high, or what?