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What is DöNer Kebab?

Mary McMahon
Updated May 16, 2024
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Döner kebab is a traditional Turkish dish made from meat roasted vertically on a spit. It is closely related to Greek gyros and other traditional spit-roasted meats from around the Mediterranean and Middle East. In addition to being abundant street food in Turkey, these kebabs can be found in nations all over the world with large Turkish populations, especially Germany and Great Britain. In these countries, the dish has acquired its own unique flavorings and twists, mingling native and Turkish tastes.

To make döner kebab, meat is filleted and compressed onto a large spit, forming a long cylinder of meat. The spit is oriented vertically, with a heat source on one side, and then it is slowly rotated to cook the meat. As people order, the cook shaves off small pieces of cooked meat, gradually exposing uncooked layers for cooking. The meat is rich and flavorful, as it is cooked slowly and it bastes itself in its own juices.

The meat of choice for döner kebab is lamb, although beef may be used as well. Because Turkey is a Muslim country, pork is not usually an option, although some cooks might offer chicken, fish, or other unusual meats. The meal is traditionally served with bread, such as pita, to hold the meat and soak up the juices, and it is also offered with an assortment of sauces and garnishes, depending on where in the world it is ordered.

At a minimum, two sauces are available with the dish: a yogurt sauce and a hot sauce. Many cooks also prepare tahini and several different versions of yogurt sauce with ingredients like garlic, cucumber, and fresh herbs. The meat may also be served with shredded cabbage or lettuce, tomato, onions, or pickled chilies. Some people also enjoy a fiery glass of Raki with their meal.

Although döner kebab is particularly associated with street food and carry out, it is also sometimes offered in sit down restaurants, in which case it may be presented on a plate with rice and other foods. Some stores also use larger breads, like Indian naan, to wrap their meat, creating a bigger portion, and adventurous cooks even add curry powder and other unusual ingredients to their marinades.

Making the dish at home is not generally practical, since it requires a large amount of meat and a specialized vertical spit. People who want to mimic the flavor might want to try making shish kabobs, which can taste quite similar.

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Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a DelightedCooking researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments
By anon360185 — On Dec 24, 2013

I have found that the more hardcore Muslim the proprietor of the kebab shop is, the better the kebab. If you find a shop with a calendar showing a map of the quasi-state of Palestine as a sovereign state and men with beards and caps rivaling Osama, you have hit the kebab jackpot!

By anon360060 — On Dec 23, 2013

Turkish? Perhaps in Germany it's considered from Turkey. Don't tell that to the Saudis, the Jordanians, the Lebanese, etc., etc.

By BAU79 — On Dec 18, 2012
@jonrss - It is harder to find a good kebab in the states, but it is not impossible. I know that some of the wing shops around my house sell them. And there are a lot of small ethnic restaurants that basically do the same thing as the chip shops in the UK -- pizza, burgers, fries and kebabs, late into the night. Look around next time you get a craving.
By jonrss — On Dec 17, 2012

I lived in the UK for a while and I fell in love with kebabs when I was there. I can't believe they are not more popular in the states! After a night at the pub, what is better than a big piece of bread filled with delicious meat, veggies and sauce? So much better than a burger.

By serenesurface — On Mar 17, 2011

You can have kebab and gyros at home if you want. They actually sell the gyro meat half cooked and frozen. It's what the gyro stands use too. You just have to cook it for a minute or two on the pan and fill pita bread with it.

Tzatziki sauce is available in grocery stores but it's real easy to make, so I don't buy the ready made ones. You need thick plain yogurt, cucumber, dill, garlic and a little bit of olive oil, that's it. I also like to sprinkle some crumbled feta cheese and some tomatoes on top of my gyro. I think it's a great meal if you are in a rush because it's ready real fast and very tasty too. My gyros are just as good as the ones they sell at restaurants and gyro stands.

By burcidi — On Mar 15, 2011

My friends and I went to a Turkish restaurant the other day and I ordered something called Iskender Kebab. The meat was basically the same as the doner kebab I had in Germany, except that it was put on top of cubed pita bread, smothered in tomato sauce and butter and served with plain yogurt. It was so good!

I really want to travel to Turkey sometime soon and try the authentic Turkish food there. I'm lucky that there are some Turkish restaurants around the DC but I feel that food is best tasted in that country itself. I met a lot of Turks when I was in Germany and there were Turkish doner kebab restaurants practically at every corner. They told me a lot about Turkey and Turkish food. It sounds like a fantastic place. I know the food is great for sure.

By fify — On Mar 13, 2011

In Turkey, doner kebab (also spelled kabab and kebap) is the number one street food. There are two main kinds available there, chicken and beef and doner is served in traditional Turkish bread that is similar to Italian white bread. The main garnishing for doner kebab is onion. Some restaurants have additional garnishing like parsley and dry chilli pepper, but yogurt or tahini sauce is not served with doner in Turkey. The drink that goes best with doner is ayran, a yogurt drink that is made with plain yogurt, salt and some water.

Any other way of serving doner is probably an attempt to attract foreign customers unfamiliar with the Turkish doner in other countries. They might make it similar to gyros because more people are familiar with gyros than doner.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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