The Best Halifax Donair Recipe (A Taste of the East Coast)
It’s been a while since we’ve written a recipe review, so we decided to tackle one of Canada’s most beloved, late night, drunken foods — the donair. 🥙
If you’re Canadian, you definitely know what a donair is. If you aren’t Canadian (or if you are but somehow don’t know what a donair is), then here is a quick history lesson! This magical food is an old school dish from Turkey where it goes by the name of doner kebab. It is traditionally made with spiced minced lamb that is cooked, shaved thinly, and then placed into a pita or other flatbread along with veggies and some sort of sauce — similar to a gyro or shawarma, but so much better in every way.
In the early 1970s a Halifax man named Peter Gamoulakos created a version of the doner kebab which became what we know today as a donair. He swapped the minced lamb for ground beef (lamb is expensive yo) and developed a sweet-garlic sauce that would soon be the base for millions of drunken messes.
Now that the history lesson is over, let’s get to making a homemade donair! The most intensive part of this recipe is making the donair meat (which actually doesn’t take that much work). There are many different spice blends that people use to make donair meat — we chose to go with a supposedly authentic blend. If you think that we’re wrong, feel free to let us know by tweeting angry things at us.
Donair Meat Recipe
1 pound of lean ground beef
1 tsp salt
1 tsp dried oregano
½ tsp black pepper
½ tsp italian seasoning*
½ tsp garlic powder
½ tsp onion powder
¼ tsp cayenne pepper
*This reddit comment suggests swapping the Italian seasoning for za’atar spice — this apparently makes the donair meat that much better.
Making the donair meat is super simple. In fact, it’s probably the simplest recipe we’ve tackled thus far. All you have to do is to combine all the above ingredients into a bowl and mix them all together. You don’t want the meat to have the texture of ground beef — after you’re done combining the ingredients, it should almost be a meat paste. The best way to accomplish this is to knead the shit out of it. Squeeze it, slam it against the counter, rip it apart, and repeat. Once you feel like the meat has been adequately kneaded, and the spices have been incorporated, grab it and shape it into a giant meat ball. Then take it and slam it hard against the counter (or toss it back and forth between your hands forcefully). Flatten the ball, fold it in half, reshape it, and do it again. This will make everything smooth and homogeneous.
tl;dr: smack that meat.
🥙 Mediocre Tip: This recipe is great for when you want to let a little anger out.
Now that you’re done playing with your meat (lol), you have to make a decision. You can either shape it into a loaf and then bake it, or you can flatten it out into a thin meat sheet and cook it. Either way is acceptable, it’s up to you on how you want to do it.
If you go for the loaf method, you’re going to want to bake it at 350°F for about an hour. If you opt for the thin meat sheet like we did, bake it at 350°F for 10-15 minutes. We went with the meat sheet method, as it’s a lot faster and we were hangry.
🥙 Mediocre Tip: To make a flat sheet of meat, put your ball of meat on a tray lined with parchment paper. Put another piece of parchment paper on top of the meat and roll it out — this prevents the meat from sticking to your rolling pin. Remove the top layer of parchment paper before baking!
While the meat is baking, you have time to make your sauce and prepare your vegetables!
Donair Sauce Recipe
12 oz can sweetened condensed milk*
2 tsp garlic powder
4 tbsp vinegar
*You can use a can of evaporated milk and ¾ cup white sugar instead for the sauce. We actually recommend using evaporated milk instead, as you can control the amount of sugar to your liking, depending on how sweet you like your sauce.
The amount of garlic powder and vinegar is also subjective — we recommend adding, tasting, and adjusting to get the flavour you like best!
Assembling Your Donair
Before assembling, you’ll need to prep your vegetables. We recommend using iceberg lettuce, white/sweet onions, and roma tomatoes. Simply chop off the end of the iceberg lettuce and thinly slice to get nice strips of lettuce. Chop your tomatoes, thinly slice your onions (or chop, if you prefer), and you have the components of an amazing donair!
Sidenote: This article claims that lettuce in a donair is sacrilegious. Add lettuce at your own risk! We’re pretty sure this is an Alberta thing.
Like cheese? Shred or thinly slice some mozzarella cheese for your donair!
Optional: Once the meat is done cooking, slice it into thin strips and fry them in a pan. We don’t want to go crazy here — we just want to make them a little crispy. You can fry them in butter, vegetable oil, or some of the fat from the beef during the baking process. Whatever fat you choose, just make sure to go on a medium-high heat and stop frying when the edges of the meat strips get crispy, but not burnt.
When assembling your donair, go generous on the donair meat and toppings — don’t skimp out!
🥙 Mediocre Tip: Make sure that your pita bread is pliable. You want to be able to fold this bad boy without the pita tearing. You can steam the pita by wrapping it in a damp paper towel and baking it in the oven at a low heat for a few minutes, or you can do the same thing in the microwave for 10-20 seconds. Anything to make sure that the bread doesn’t rip with all dat meat inside.
Eat your donair over a plate, or wrap the bottom in foil so everything doesn’t drip everywhere.
Our Mediocre Thoughts
👨🍳 Trevor: Donairs are awesome. Drunk and need a snack? Donair. Hungover and need a snack? Donair. Just want a snack? Donair. Donairs are literally the answer to everything.
👩🍳 Brittany: I just really wanted a fucking donair.
Our Final Review
Taste: 5 wicked good pitas out of 5 🥙🥙🥙🥙🥙
Presentation: 2 drunken messes out of 5 🍺🍺
Affordability: 1 Newfie on pogey out of 5 💰
Disclaimer: We don’t hate Newfies, we just like to make jokes at your expense every once in a while.
If you’re missing the East Coast, this donair recipe will take you back home. Our review is simple because donairs are simple. They don’t look amazing, but they’re delicious. AND they’re affordable. Make your own donairs and put all the money that you’ll save into a high-interest savings account, because CPP won’t be around by the time you need it. (Just kidding, it’ll probably still be there.)
If this post did not quench your thirst for donair knowledge, you should check out Donair Academy by Fring Frang. It is literally the best possible thing you can do with your time right now. Seriously, it’s better than going on a date, watching Game of Thrones, or sleeping in. Just go play it and bask in the glory of an early 2000s themed point and click game. You can even make your own custom donair photos: