Ready to try the best doner kebab recipe? This homemade Turkish döner kebab is juicy and packed with so much flavor. With one simple technique, you can make this classic Turkish street food at home with just a few ingredients!
If you love Turkish food as much as we do, you know that some of the best-loved recipes on our blog are Turkish including kumpir, lahmacun and karniyarik (stuffed eggplant). Today's recipe is a popular Turkish street food you're probably familiar with: döner kebab. It's similar to shawarma and gyro, but with some differences which I'll explain later in this article. Keep on reading to learn how to make the best meat doner kebab!
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Turkish doner kebab
The word döner comes from dönmek which means to rotate or turn. Doner kebab literally means rotating kebab (or roast). Dating back to the 19th century Ottoman Empire, döner is made with layers of chicken, beef or lamb plus some fat stacked on top of each other on a vertical rotisserie stick. The meat is roasted slowly until the outer layer is fully cooked, then shaved thinly and served in different ways including wraps and served on a plate with fixings (more on that below).
When I was living in Istanbul almost 10 years ago, I remember finding a good doner shop in every corner of every neighborhood and they were always delicious and fresh. I had a friend who's mom was an excellent cook and when she saw how much I loved doner, she taught me how to make it at home using just a few ingredients.
With a simple technique of rolling the mixture into a log and freezing it, you can have restaurant quality doner at the comfort of your home.
Doner kebab vs Shawarma vs gyro
While doner kebab, shawarma and gyro are all cooked on a vertical rotisserie pit, it's important to know they're not the same. Shawarma is popular in Arab countries, gyro is associated with Greece and doner kebab is a classic in Turkey.
Not only do each of these dishes differ in the spice mix used to season them, they are also served with different fixings. For example, shawarma is always served with pickled turnips and toum (garlic sauce) and sometime hummus (if served as a platter) whereas gyro uses tzatziki and doner is typically served without sauces.
- Ground beef or lamb: To make homemade doner kebab without the spit you see in restaurants, you can use ground beef, lamb, or a combination of both. You need about 1 ½ lb. ground meat, I prefer the meat with 15% to 20% fat for maximum flavor.
- Onion: White or yellow onion works for this recipe. We are using grated onion and its juice for this recipe which not only adds flavor, but also keeps the mixture juicy.
- Yogurt: Use plain regular or Greek yogurt. Both whole milk or low fat would work.
- Spices: To bring the flavors together, we're using a combination of Aleppo pepper (pul biber in Turkish), cumin, salt and pepper. Keep in mind that we want the flavor of the meat to shine therefore don't overuse the spices.
How make doner kebab
- Grate the onion and place it in an average size bowl. Add in the yogurt, Aleppo pepper, cumin, salt and black pepper. Stir to combine.
- Place the ground beef in a large bowl and add in the onion and yogurt mixture. Mix well using your hands (I usually wear a cooking glove) and make sure all is combined well. Alternatively, you can use a food processor for this step. The mixture will be a bit sticky and that's okay.
- Line a baking sheet or a board with plastic wrap and transfer the meat mixture onto the plastic wrap. Shape it into a log, about 2 inches in diameter. It doesn't have to be perfect, but it needs to be intact. Wrap tightly with the plastic wrap and twist the ends. I like to wrap the log in 2 or 3 layers of plastic wrap to make sure it's fully intact.
- Place the doner kebab log in the fridge for 1 hour so it becomes more solid. Then move it to the freezer and let it freeze for at least 8 hours or overnight.
- When ready to cook, place a pan over medium high heat and take the doner out of the freezer. Let it sit for a few minutes but no more than 5 minutes or it'll be difficult to slice. Unwrap the log and thinly slice it using a sharp chef's knife.
- Place the sliced doner pieces in the pan in one single layer and sear for 1 to 2 minutes on each side until fully cooked and brown. Transfer to a pate and cook the next batch. If needed, place the log in the freezer to avoid thawing.
Tips to make the best doner kebab at home
- Choose the right meat: Use meat with 15% to 20% fat or a combination of beef and lamb for the best results.
- Use the right pan: Since you're cooking thinly sliced frozen meat, it's best to use a large pan so you can cook as many pieces as possible in one round.
- Mix well: You need to use some elbow grease and mix the meat and onions with the spices really, really well until it's sticky and very well combines. This way you make sure that the meat mixture is easily sliceable. You can also use a food processor to blend the mixture.
- Roll tightly: Super important! Make sure to roll the meat very tightly so it's dense and you can later slice it easily.
When you visit a döner shop in Turkey, you have a few options on how you'd like to have your food: wrapped in lavash (dürüm), in a fluffy bread like pita (tombik), in a sandwich bread such as a hoagie (ekmek arası), as a plate (porsiyon) with fries or over rice (pilav üstü). You can enjoy any of these variations at home, too!
Just like beef shawarma, while the meat has a lot of flavor, the whole dish comes together when you use the right fixings. To serve doner, you need fixings such as pickles, tomatoes and sumac onion. If desired, you can also add some ezme and fries for more flavor. Some Turkish shops also add ketchup and a bit of mayo. A glass of Ayran (Turkish yogurt drink) would go so well with a doner wrap!
Storage and freezing
Beef doner kebab is best served immediately. However, if you have leftovers, store them in an airtight container and refrigerate for up to 3 days. To reheat, place the pieces in a pan over medium heat, and flip them a couple of times.
What's great about this doner kebab recipe is that you can freeze the doner log for up to 4 months. When ready to cook, simply take the log out of the freezer, let it sit on the counter for 5 minutes and follow the cooking steps of the recipe.
Frequently asked questions
No necessarily. I've used olive oil, butter and no oil to cook doner and it doesn't make that big of a difference, especially if you're using a nonstick pan.
I don't recommend using only lamb since the flavor can be very strong for some.
Not at all. You can cook as many slices as you like, wrap the remainder of the log in a plastic wrap and freeze again until next time.
More Turkish recipes
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Best Doner Kebab Recipe (Beef or Lamb)
- 1 onion
- 2 tbsp plain yogurt
- 1 tsp Aleppo pepper
- 1 tsp kosher salt
- ½ tsp black pepper
- 1 teaspoon cumin
- 1 ½ lb ground beef 80% to 85% lean
- 6 lavash bread or pita
- 1 batch sumac onion
- 2 roma tomatoes sliced
- 1 cup pickles preferably cornichons
- Grate the onion and mix it with the yogurt, Aleppo pepper, salt, black pepper and cumin. Add this mixture to the ground beef in a large bowl and mix using your hands until all is well combined.
- Line a baking sheet or a cutting board with plastic wrap and transfer the ground beef mixture onto the plastic wrap and form it into a log, about 2 inches in diameter. Wrap tightly with the plastic wrap and if needed, use double layer plastic wrap. Place the log in the fridge for one hour and then move it to the freezer and freeze for 8 hours (overnight).
- When you're ready to cook, place a large pan over medium high heat. Take the doner kebab log out of the freezer and let it sit on the counter for a few minutes (no more than 5 minutes). Unwrap the log and using a sharp chef's knife, thinly slice the doner.
- Arrange the sliced doner pieces on the pan in one layer and sear for 1 to 2 minutes on each side until fully cooked and brown. Transfer to the serving plate and sear the next batch.
- To make the wraps, place the lavash or pita on a board and top it with the doner, sumac onion, tomatoes and pickles. Wrap tightly and serve immediately.
- Use a large pan to sear larger batches of the doner pieces so the uncooked meat doesn't thaw as you cook.
- You can keep the doner kebab log wrapped in the freezer for up to 4 months.
- Store the leftovers in an airtight container and refrigerate for up to 3 days. Reheat in a pan over medium heat for 10 minutes, flipping halfway through.
- It's important to use meat with a good fat content (15% to 20%) both for flavor and texture of the doner.
- Make sure the onion is grated finely and don't add any large pieces of onion to the mix.