Preparing a leg of lamb on the barbeque grill is a popular option for special occasions, holidays and dinner parties. Lamb has a distinctive, strong flavor that is complimented by cooking it over an open flame. Unlike burgers and steaks, a leg of lamb requires more time and special care, but results in a unique and dramatic main course.
Choosing A Leg Of Lamb
The leg is the meatiest part of the lamb and therefore can weigh up to 10 pounds. Be sure to choose a leg that will fit easily on the grill. Leg of lamb is packaged either boneless or bone-in. Bone-in requires a longer cooking time and is more difficult to carve. Boneless cuts may be butterflied for an even thickness that will allow for direct grilling. A butcher or meat cutter should be able to butterfly a pre-packaged leg of lamb at the grocery store. If the leg has not been butterflied it will probably be tied with string after the bone has been removed.
Preparing The Meat
Lamb is a bold-flavored meat that requires strong seasonings. Rosemary and garlic are the two most popular spices, but it can also be seasoned with lemon, cilantro or mint. Lamb can be either marinated in liquid prior to cooking, or seasoned with a dry rub. Start by trimming most of the fat from the meat to prevent flare-ups on the grill.
To marinate the leg of lamb, use vinegar or lemon juice and combine it with chopped garlic, rosemary or cilantro, and black pepper. Coat the lamb with the marinade and place it in a plastic bag or bowl for several hours or overnight.
To create a dry rub, mix the spices of your choice and roll the entire leg in the mixture. Some cooks also like to score the meat with a sharp knife and place peeled garlic cloves into the cuts. While this is a very effective method of seasoning the meat, garlic will become bitter when burnt so the cloves should be removed before serving. Seasoned meat can be refrigerated or cooked right away, however the longer the meat marinates, the more the flavors will develop. Vinegar or citrus juice helps to tenderize the meat and distribute the seasonings.
The size of the leg of lamb means that it must be cooked slowly for a long period of time. Butterflied legs can be cooked directly on the grill because they will cook fairly evenly. However, bone-in and tied legs require slow, indirect cooking on a rotisserie or spit. Either way, the meat should be placed directly on the grill for about 10 to 15 minutes to sear the exterior and create a crispy coating that will seal in the juices. For direct grilling, make sure the meat is turned frequently so that it heats all the way through. If cooking on a rotisserie, lower the heat and cook the lamb for at least 20 minutes per pound. An eight-pound leg will need to cook for at least 160 minutes, or two hours and 45 minutes.
Test For Doneness
Lamb must reach an internal temperature of 145 degrees and is traditionally served rare to medium-rare. Lamb gets very tough when it reaches the medium to medium-well range (over 160 degrees). Because the cooking time can vary, it’s important to check the temperature with a meat thermometer (away from the bone) after the first hour of cooking.
After removing the lamb from the grill, let it rest for about 20 minutes before slicing so that it remains juicy. Lamb should be sliced thin, and an eight-pound leg will yield approximately six servings. The bold and somewhat gamey flavor of lamb is best paired with cool creamy side dishes such as potato salad; cucumbers in sour cream, yogurt or tzatzitki sauce; and mint jelly. Other excellent combinations are potatoes, carrots and yams.