How to Prepare the Best Tsiknopempti BBQ Feast Like a Greek

Let the grilling begin! It’s Carnival time – known as Apokries – in Greece and Greeks across the country will be celebrating Tsiknopempti in all its meat-eating glory. This special Thursday of the year prepares us for the 40-day Lent period ahead of Greek Orthodox Easter. How you ask? It gives us the last chance to indulge in meat before we begin our fast. Yes, Tsiknopempti is a meat lovers’ celebration and is all about revelry and excess, or in other words, some good old fun before the discipline of Lent and Holy Week. Like all of Greece’s traditional feasts, it is mainly about sharing and getting together, about letting go and enjoying the here and the now with friends, families and colleagues. 

As many of The Greek Vibe’s friends are abroad, in the US, Canada, Australia, Germany and elsewhere, I’ve prepared this simple guide with my tips on how to celebrate Tsiknopempti like a true Greek and invite friends to this meat-eating extravaganza.

The Ultimate Guide to Celebrating Tsiknopempti the Greek Way

How to Prepare the Best Tsiknopempti BBQ Feast Like a Greek

1. Understanding Tsiknopempti

Tsiknopempti is celebrated on Thursday (this year on March 7), a non-fasting day of the traditional Greek Diet and during the second week of Greek Carnival (Apokries) festivities. The second week is actually known as “kreatini” or “meat week” and is officially – according to the Greek Orthodox Church – one of the last days we are allowed to eat meat as it prepares us for the 40 days of Lent in the lead to Greek Easter.

The term “Tsiknopempti” is derived from the words “tsikna” (which means the “aroma of grilled meat”) and “Pempti” (or Thursday), also known as “Smoky Thursday”.

On this day, Greeks far and wide eat meat! And in the past, it was a grand celebration at homes with massive Greek-style barbecue parties. I even have a friend who considered it bad luck not to “tsiknisi” the whole house… which means bringing the barbecue indoors too!

So if you’re in Greece on Tsiknopempti, cities, towns and villages will remind you of Dickens-era London only instead of fog, you’ll find yourself in a thick cloud of smoke (“tsikna”) from the meat drippings on grills and barbeques that is bound to whet your appetite.

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How to Prepare the Best Tsiknopempti BBQ Feast Like a Greek

Today many people prefer to go out for Tsiknopempti. Which means that all tavernas, restaurants, meze joints and even hotels have special Apokria decorations and offer a special Tsiknopempti menu for the day featuring what else? Grilled meats. Make sure to book ahead. You don’t want to find yourself missing out on the festivities. In the worst case scenario, however, you can always get a souvlaki but that may take hours of waiting in line for one.

Have in mind that on Tsiknopempti, lunch in large firms and companies is on the house and always includes meats. You’ll even see mini- or makeshift barbecues outside shops and stores whatever the trade.

Greece is not the only country with Tsiknopempti. Similar happenings are celebrated in Germany, where locals in the Rhineland observe Fat Thursday or Weiberfastnacht, Poland, Italy and Spain as part of Mardi Gras.

Which brings me to the most important part of this post: How to host the perfect Greek Tsiknopempti barbecue. 

2. Host a Big Fat Greek Tsiknopempti BBQ Feast

How to Prepare the Best Tsiknopempti BBQ Feast Like a Greek

– First name someone who will be exclusively responsible for firing up the barbeque and grilling the meats. This person is known as the “psistis” and should know their craft well! You don’t want burnt meat on this day.

– What’s on the menu for Tsiknopempti? Grilled meats, of course! Hopefully you’ve gone to the butcher’s or supermarket and purchased a variety of meats and cuts, including pork souvlaki (chicken too nowadays), sausages, lamb chops, and any other meats you like.

*Note: Tsiknopempti does not have to exclude friends who prefer to avoid meat. There are so many vegan and vegetarian options out there. Throw them on the grill too!

How to Prepare the Best Tsiknopempti BBQ Feast Like a Greek

– Marinate the cuts in the traditional mother’s “Greek mix”, which is oregano (I prefer this one)extra virgin olive oil (this one is a good and cheaper option from Whole Foods)sea salt and organic ground pepper for an authentic taste.

You could also use this spice mix which has all in one.

– Make your own tzatziki (this recipe is easy to make and turns out great) or buy some from a Greek supermarket near you. Regular supermarkets also carry tzatziki nowadays but you could always get some from a Greek restaurant near you.

– Buy paper plates (these are fancier and sturdier in blue and white), disposable forkspaper napkins – these are an absolute must, Greek beer, Greek wines and refreshments (yes, Greece even makes its own cola! It’s called Green Cola, is naturally sweetened, has zero calories and you can order here).

If you want to go as Greek as it gets you could order this 16-piece Greek-themed tableware kit for fun.

3. Organize a Grand Tsiknopempti Party

How to Prepare the Best Tsiknopempti BBQ Feast Like a Greek

In the past, as part of Apokries Carnival tradition, merry Greeks in costumes and funny masks – and mostly males dressed as women and females as men – would actually appear uninvited – aka crash the party. Tradition had it that the homeowner would have to treat guests to a meze of meat. 

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That said let’s get on with our planning.

– Tell your extended family and friends that you’ll be celebrating Tsiknopempti this year. Decorate your barbeque area or home with Greek flagsThese are perfect and can placed anywhere. My mother, almost 80, still does this. You do want a bit of blue and white and some photos of Greece to add to the immersive experience.

– You can even ask your guests to dress up in costumes for the party or why not set a theme? Greek night for instance!

4. Pump Up the Greek Jam & Let the Dancing Begin

How to Prepare the Best Tsiknopempti BBQ Feast Like a Greek

– In addition to the drinks, which are there to warm up the atmosphere and break the ice between Greeks and non-Greeks (who will initially be in a state of shock), get the Greek music playing. There are plenty of playlists available on YouTube or Spotify for the occasion

– If you want to go all out you could even hire a DJ or a local bouzouki band. 

– You should always ‘politely’ encourage guests to dance traditional “demotika” (folk songs) like the syrtaki or kalamatiano but the only true way to guarantee participation is to literally just pull or drag them into the dance frenzy (the Greek way)! And yes, don’t forget the “Opa” shout… it’s a way of release and a wonderful expression of joy.

5. Let Greek ‘Spirits’ Rouse Up the Crowd 

How to Prepare the Best Tsiknopempti BBQ Feast Like a Greek

– Your succulent meats go well with Greek wine or beers but you could also bring in the hardcore spirits like ouzo or tsipouro. If you’re guests are not Greek, maybe it’s a good idea to introduce them to ouzo or raki, slowing initiating them into the practice.

– Always remember when drinking ouzo, tsipouro and raki to serve traditional Greek mezedes (appetizers). For the ultimate guide go here. These may include feta cheese, Kalamata olives, tzatziki, grilled bread on the barbecue with a touch of garlic, dried oregano and extra virgin Greek olive oil.

How to Drink Ouzo, Raki or Tsipouro

6. Get a Souvlaki-making or -eating Contest Going

How to Prepare the Best Tsiknopempti BBQ Feast Like a Greek

– This part is particularly fun (and a bit messy) for kids and teenagers. Go from Tsiknopempti feast to Tsiknopempti contest: who could make the best “tylichto souvlaki”, which means making it into a gyro-like edible. I would refrain from ‘who can eat the most souvlakia’ contest. You wouldn’t want to go heavy on the Pepto-Bismol.

– Make sure to award the most creative and authentic souvlakia. Winner should get prizes. Like these: a Greek-themed sticker set, Greek ouzo-tasting candy (alchohol-free) or Greek evil eye wind chimes.

7. Explain What Tsiknopempti is All About to Foreign Friends 

How to Prepare the Best Tsiknopempti BBQ Feast Like a Greek

– Tell your foreign friends why Tsiknopempti is so important for the Greeks (go to the beginning of this post for a bit of help on that).

8. Bring Tsiknopempti to a Close with Greek Sweets

– No Greek feast can be complete without a sweet or should I say sweets in the end to sweeten the guests. You could again make your own or buy ready-made desserts. Or you could serve traditional Greek desserts like baklava, loukoumades, or galaktoboureko to satisfy your guests’ sweet cravings or even sweets you make best. And of course, a Greek spoon sweet is always a great and healthier option. Read more about my favorite Greek spoon sweets here.

9. ‘Kali Sarakosti’ 

Once Tsiknopempti is over, wish your guests “Kali Sarakosti”, warm wishes for a smooth 40 days of Lent until Greek Easter. Usually we say “Kali Sarakosti” on “Kathara Deftera” (Clean Monday) officially marking the end of Carnival season.

Let me know how you’re Tsiknopempti party turns out. And let me remind you that Tsiknopempti is so much more than just a barbeque; it’s about Greek hospitality, about coming together, safeguarding our traditions, and enjoying the gift of life.

♫ I end today’s post with a traditional song by one of my all-time favorite Greek singers, the great Stelios Kazantzidis in this 1960s tune titled “Siko Horepse Koukli Mou” … get up and dance my love!

How to Prepare the Best Tsiknopempti BBQ Feast Like a Greek

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