Grill Roasted Leg Of Lamb With A Lick Of Smoke
Leg of lamb a complex bundle of muscles and groups of muscles, with layers of fat and connective tissue throughout. It is thick at the hip end and tapers to the ankle end like a ham, and enough to feed eight or more. Here are four methods for dealing with the wonderful log of meat.
One way to cook a leg of lamb is to trim off the exterior fat cap, flavor the exposed muscle meat with a rub or marinade, and cook it the way nature made it, bone in. The fat cap just keeps flavor from getting to the meat, so it really has to go. Contrary to myth, the external fat doesn't make the meat moister. Melting fat on the surface will not penetrate the meat, it just runs off, and it will only block the seasonings from getting onto and into the muscle.And contrary to another myth, the bone doesn't add any flavor, but it does a pretty good job of holding all the muscles together.
The thick end can be cooked to a perfect medium rare, while the narrow end will be closer to well done. There's always someone who doesn't like red or pink meat, so this may suit your guests.
If you are going to cook a bone-in leg, have your butcher remove the "aitchbone" to make carving a lot easier. This is part of the pelvic bone and it has the socket into which the ball of the thigh bone fits. In the photo at right you can see the aitchbone in the lower left, the ball of the femur (thigh bone) peaking out of the thigh, and the tibia and fibula (shank) in the upper left.
The aitchbone is a major pain to remove at home. If it is still there when you get home, dig under it with your fingers and then, with a stiff knife, cut around the bone to release it. This can take you 30 minutes or more if you are careful to trace the odd shaped bone so you don't waste any meat. There are several tendons connecting it so just take your time and trace around the aitchbone with your knife until it comes off. And watch your fingers. I got a nasty cut doing this once. If you accidentally remove a good chunk of meat, set it aside, you can stick it into the roast near the ball and hold it in place with kitchen twine.
I also cut off the shank. This is the end that tapers to the ankle, it is tough, laden with leathery tendons, and always cooks well done because it is so narrow. I freeze the shanks, which look like turkey drumsticks, and slow smoke them or braise them in a slow cooker when I get several of them. You can even buy shanks if you wish.
There is an ugly tasting gland nestled in a triangle of fat near the knee. It won't ruin the meat when you are cooking, but when you carve the meat, be on the lookout for it. It is not as hard as bone, more like cartilage. You can see it in the picture of the carved boneless leg on the top this page. Make sure you don't serve it to anyone you like.
Boneless leg is rolled and tied into a more symmetrical shape, so it cooks more evenly and it is easier to carve with no bones in the way. It can easily be stuffed. I prefer cooking boneless legs (that's a boneless leg at right with a board sauce and another at right before slicing). You can have your butcher bone it for you, just make sure you ask for the gland to be removed.
Or you can bone it yourself, but it is tricky. Remove the aitch, the femur, and the shank, and any large deposits of fat, including the gland, slater the meat with seasonings, and then try to roll it back and tie it up.
You can even stuff it with dried fruits and/or seasoned bread crumbs. Prunes are a classic stuffing. Watch this video of a pro boning a leg.
Another great way to cook leg of lamb is to bone it out but not roll it up. When you are done you'll have a big flap of meat, perhaps 2' x 2' and ranging in thickness from 1" to 4". The top will be fairly even and smooth, but the bottom will be irregular and have mountains and valleys from the deboning effort. These nooks and crannies are perfect places to hide flavors. Just rub it on all sides with Dolly's Lamb Rub And Paste, let it marinate a few hours or overnight, and then roast it first over indirect heat at about 225°F, and then when it hits 115°F or so, move it over a hot direct flame and sear it dark. This is called reverse sear. Read more about reverse sear here.
Another method is to cut it into chunks and make kebobs or just grill them as chunks. In Western New York they are an artform called spiedies.
Recipe for bone-in leg of lamb easily adapted for boneless or butterflied
Makes. 8 to 10 servings
Takes. 1 to 24 hours to marinate, about 2 hours to cook to medium rare
About the lamb. A typical bone-in leg of lamb will usually be in the 8 to 9 pound range, perhaps smaller in spring. After trimming and removing the aitchbone, you'll have a hunk of meat weighing about 6 pounds. Remove the leg bone and you will have about 5 pounds of trimmed meat. There will be about 20% shrinkage while cooking.
1) Remove as much of the thick fat cap on the surface as possible and all the silverskin underneath.
2) Now gash the surface by stabbing it repeatedly about 1/2" deep and 1" apart or run a sharp blade across the surface in a checkerboard pattern making squares 1 to 2" wide. Click here to read more about the technique of gashing. Now use butcher string and tie the whole floppy mess into as much of a log shape as possible so it will cook evenly. Your string and knots are going to look sloppy, and you may have problems with loose flaps of meat on the ends, but get them tucked in. I've been known to use toothpicks, and even turkey lacers (shown at right).
3) Make the paste and swab it all over the meat and deep into the gashes. Wrap tightly in plastic wrap and place in a pan in the fridge in case the wrap leaks. Marinate for up to 24 hours, but if you're in a hurry, you can go straight to the cooker.
4) Roast the red peppers. You can do this days in advance. Slice the red peppers into slivers about 1/4" wide. You'll serve these on the side but they will often find their way onto a fork with some lamb. The go together like bedtime and counting sheep.
5) Prepare a board sauce heavy on rosemary and/or mint.
6) Preheat the cooker in a 2-zone setup so the indirect side is about 225°F. I know a lot of recipes call for higher temps, but I'm here to tell you, this cut performs much better at low temps so the tough connective tissues and copious fat can liquefy (read more about this concept in my article about meat science). If you have a digital thermometer with a probe that can be left in, insert it now. If you are cooking bone-in, make sure your thermometer probe is about 1" away from the bone. If you wish to add some smoke flavor, add a small amount of dry wood now, perhaps a handful, depemnding on your cooker. The more ventillation the more wood. Cook on the indirect side with the lid down until the meat hits about 110°F. Then move the whole clod of meat over to the direct heat side and sear it until it is dark on all four sides or until the meat is 130 to 135°F max. In the photo at right you can see how I used a pair of bricks wrapped in foil to hold the roast on edge and get an allover sear.
7) Carve it across the grain into 1/4" slices as needed. Serve with roasted potatoes, grilled zucchini, and a big red wine.
This page was revised 3/31/2013
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