Grilled Sweetbreads, an intro to Offal

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img_4389The sweetbreads I’m discussing and cooking with today are considered offal. To look at sweetbreads, one would make the common mistake of thinking they are brains (in fact they are not).img_4049-1

Sweetbreads come from the thymus glands, located at the chest entry, just before the trachea. They are only found in young animals as they atrophy with age.

Sweetbreads can come from pig, cow or sheep but the most valued and delicious ones are the veal sweetbreads.

It is thought that the name Sweetbreads came from Old English: Sweet describe the sweeter, delicate taste of this meat (sweeter than other meats) and bread, deriving from the Old English word “braed”, meaning flesh.

Many of you may be like me and you don’t eat liver…sort of. To this day, I cannot down a bite of liver, bacon-wrapped chicken livers get stuck in my mouth yet I can eat foie gras, Kokoretsi, Magheritsa, pates and in this instance…sweetbreads.img_4375

Let me make this clear – despite sweetbreads falling into the offal category, they taste nothing like them. Sweetbreads are no doubt responsible for my being able to enjoy some foods with offal.

My very taste of sweetbreads was in the early 90’s when our family was invited by the Demopoulos family to be treated to a day of mezedes (appetizers), a whole lamb on the spit, drinks, dancing and much laughter.

Sweetbreads were part of the array of mezedes and I’ve had them enjoyed them ever since. So, if you’re type that was like me, wouldn’t touch anything remotely near liver, organ meat or offal, I invite you to try sweetbreads. You better butchers will carry them and ask only for the veal sweetbreads.img_4381

They can be poached, braised, fried, roasted or in this case – grilled. Whichever method you choose to cook them is up to your mood and what your fancy that day. Just remember that a quick step of blanching them should be followed-through each and every time. Blanching will tenderize the sweetbreads, speed up your cooking time, allow you to easily remove any veins and the thin membrane that covers them.

I’ll be adding more sweetbreads recipes to the site. There just aren’t enough sweetbreads recipes around and I love them. These grilled sweetbreads are a standard for my family’s Greek Easter. You may choose to skewer them or not. I chose to for easier handling on a busy grill.img_4391-1

Here, after I’ve blanched the sweetbreads, I tossed them in some olive oil, sea salt and black pepper and placed them on the grill (medium-high heat) and finished them off with a sage ladolemono (oil/lemon sauce).

Grilled Sweetbreadsimg_4396

1 to 1 1/2 lbs of veal sweetbreads

2 tsp. of salt

1 Tbsp. of wine vinegar

sea salt

ground black pepper

Sage Ladolemono

1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil

a squeeze of fresh lemon juice

2-3 sage leaves, finely chopped

lemon wedges for garnishakakies-06

  1. Place the sweetbreads in a pot of cold water and allow them to soak for at least an hour. Drain and refill the pot with another water to cover the sweetbreads. Add the salt and vinegar and and slowly bring up to a boil over medium heat.
  2. Immediately drain and cover them again with cold water. Allow them to cool to room temperature. Remove the membranes and any visible veins and reserve.
  3. Pre-heat your gas or charcoal grill. Drizzle some vegetable oil over your sweetbreads and toss to coat. Pass skewers (if using wooden skewers, soak over night) through your sweetbreads and then season both sides with salt and pepper.
  4. Prepare your ladolemono by adding oil, lemon juice and finely chopped sage in a jar and shake well to emulsify. Reserve.
  5. Over a medium-high grill, cook your sweetbreads for about 5-6 minutes a side or until golden brown and still slightly soft to the touch.
  6. Brush your sweetbreads with the sage ladolemono and sprinkle some coarse sea salt. Serve with some good crusty bread, a wedge of lemon and open a bottle of Kir-Yanni Akakies Rose.

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© 2007-2009 Peter Minakis

© 2009,
Peter Minakis

. All rights reserved.

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30 Comments for “Grilled Sweetbreads, an intro to Offal”


Oh, I love sweetbreads! This looks great, I already have some sage in the garden and the grill is itching to be used. Yay!


Ok… they look, really, really, good. It’s that mental thing I have going on. I think I’d have to be told first they were something else, then yell “surprise” to me afterwords!


This is my favorite dish of the banquet. Thanks for all the information Peter.

I always order them in restaurants, but have not cooked them myself. Will do soon!


I love your website. The photography is top-notch and it’s great the way you introduce followers to the Greek culture through food. Feel free to check out myblog


I’ve never had sweetbreads, but I’m sure I would like them because a) they look divine, and b) I actually like chicken livers! So I bet other types of offal would agree with me :)


Peter, I follow the same philosophy as you when it comes to offal. “Glykadia” are something I never considered to fall into the offal category and remember eating them as a kid. Great presentation and I love the sage ladolemono idea!


The first time I had sweetbreads there were so good I asked my dining companion why we didn’t eat them every single day? Her reply was, “uh, because then we’d all get fat. They’re as rich as foie gras.” Well maybe not that rich, but they are rich, and so so good. Thanks for your write-up and recipe!


this is very creative – i’ve never had them like this; we usually fry them

i remember being able to buy them in new zealand in small packets, but here in crete, they is more demand than supply, so i can never get them

we had some recently, when we bought a whole goat…


they really look delicious…I only wish you didn’t say what they were. But, I guess, I have to put my big girl apron on one of these days and try it.


I had ever tried sweetbreads until I was in culinary school. The compromise w/ our teachers was that if you hadn’t had it before, you had to try it. If you didn’t like it, no big deal. But you HAD to try it.
I HAD to try sweetbreads and was shocked at how much I liked them! But we didn’t have them grilled like this, and I would be excited to try them!


I am sure I’ve had sweetbread before. In Mexico we eat every single part of the animal in different ways, but grilled sound very appetizing. Yummy


Yes, I thought they were brains! They look delicious. Can’t say I’d make them myself but I’d give them a try if they were prepared for me!


I enjoy glykadia as well. But I also enjoy liver. Grilling them sounds amazing–I’m so used to eating them fried, but I can imagine how good the taste of grilling and slathering in latholemono should be.


Liver and sweetbreads I would be in heaven. Oh wait headcheese too for the fond memories of grandparent’s house.

I normally pan fry them but definitely going to try them grilled here soon.


and i thought u were talking about “breads” LOL never heard of these, but they look quite a summer time outdoor thing to do!


I agree with your sentiments about sweetbreads, Peter. I never thought I would like them, but I adore them! These look great.


My local butcher shop sells sweetbreads at an incredibly affordable price. I’ve been looking for a simple and straightforward way to prepare them. Thanks for this!


We usually just quick pan fry the offals from the animal we slaughter but grilling sounds even better idea! Sauce is lovely too!


[…] Sweetbreads, yum! These morsels are the Thymus glands of a calf. I gently poach them, remove their thin membranes, season them and grill them. As a little twist, I also marinated them in some minced garlic, olive oil and smoked paprika. These simple flavours complemented this rich delicacy. Gawd I love Easter! […]


I was about eight or nine years old and a fussy eater at that point when on a days visit to one of my aunts, her husband asked if I’d like cutlets for lunch.
I said yes, as mince meat cutlets were one of my favourites.
Sure enough I enjoyed the lunch, even though it wasn’t quite like my mothers offering, slightly smoother, a fleshy veal escalope (another favourite, I told you I was fussy) texture as opposed to the mince type.
It wasn’t until after lunch and my comment that it was even better than my mum’s preparation that my uncle told me we’d been eating bread crumbed sweetbread cutlets.
He was a scaly wag of the first degree.
These days as ofal, sweetbread are next to impossible to obtain, so I do have some withdrawal symptoms creeping in.