Lamb is an amazing delicacy, however I have found that there are quite a few people out there that aren’t fans of lamb! I can only wonder if it is because they’ve never had a properly cooked/prepared lamb. Here, we are going to walk through an herbal smoked leg of lamb roast. (If you don’t have a smoker, this is pretty good in the oven too)
As a side note, I question why it’s called “leg of lamb”. Why isn’t it leg of chicken? or leg of turkey? Lamb seems to be the special one that gets the leg preceding the animal, as if to put it up on a pedestal. I agree, lamb is that good.
If you are looking for lamb but something a bit more romantic for two, check out my lamb pops!
Shopping for Leg of Lamb
When shopping for some lamb, you’ll find that lamb primarily comes from Australia. So getting fresh lamb, never frozen, might be a challenge unless you are raising your own lamb or your local butcher has access to local farmers. However, since they are flash frozen and slowly defrosted before you see it, there really isn’t that much of a difference. Lets talk about taste and cuts…
There are two main types of lamb that will drive taste; Grass fed vs grain fed. This is the same type of taste difference you get between wild and farm raised salmon. Some people have the distinguishable palette to have an opinion on it… others don’t really care.
I’ll tell you Q’ers, grass fed is the clear winner in my book. Grass fed lamb tends to have a bit more more protein and less fat than a grain fed lamb. People say that “fat is flavor”; I’m not sure who coined this phrase, but we need to stop it. Lamb is much higher in the bad saturated fat than beef, so I’d like to minimize that.
With that said, leg of lamb is a very delicate red meat (yes, lamb is a red meat). If cooked right, it is more tender than a filet mignon and has a lot more flavor!
When you go to the store, you will likely see labels like “lamb shank” or “portion of lamb shank”. For leg of lamb, you want the upper portion! It is typically packaged as what looks like a large roast.
The upper portion of the leg is the tender sirloin that is full of flavor and needs very little assistance in getting even more tender. When you handle the package, it will be very soft and fluid. This will be very different than the lower leg shank. Most recipes for the upper leg are cooked to a med-rare temperature. This is what we are cooking for this recipe.
The shank is actually the lower portion of the leg, and is very lean and tough. When you handle the package, it will be very firm, and look more like an actual leg. Typically it is separated from the upper leg at the joint. Most recipes for the lower leg shank are low and slow with braising to internal temperatures greater than 190 degrees F and are pulled meat. This is NOT what we are cooking in this recipe. Do not purchase this for this recipe.
If you happen to purchase a leg of lamb with both the upper and lower portion, you can separate the two at the joint.
We are going to break the prep into two parts: Meat and Rub. Both need a few hours to rest; Let the salt work on the meat, and let the vinegar work in the rub.
The Meat Prep
Alright, lets get going! I am going to assume you have purchased a bone in upper leg portion. If you have the opportunity, you could ask your butcher to debone it for you. For this prep: we are going to trim off the hard fat, ensure the fat cap is as slim as we can make it, butterfly and debone, roll, and brine.
Using a very sharp knife like a Mercer boning knife, begin to trim off the hard fat. This is the fat that is not soft and squishy. The hard fat will not have time to melt like the softer fat and we are only cooking to medium rare. Once completed, roll over and remove as much of the silver skin as you can.
Remove the Bone
Locate the bone on each end of the leg. Using a sharp knife,
– Slice Along the Bone – Make a slice to the bone along this line.
– Slowly Slice Along/Around the Bone – Then slowly start to slice along and around the bone.
– Lift and Slice – Lift the bone from one end and use the knife to slowly separate the meat from the underside of the bone.
– Remove Tendons – Most of the time, the bone will hold onto the tendons, but investigate for whitish/blueish looking tendon material on the meat and carefully slice off.
Your goal is to remove the bone with minimal damage to the meat as possible.
The Roll and Brine
Now that you have a beautifully butterflied leg of lamb, our next task is to massage the leg into a uniform roll. At this point, you will likely find that there is a large hunk o’ meat on one side, and a slightly smaller hunk on the other, and it is separated by a thin layer of meat/fat.
Your goal is to massage the lamb into the most uniform roll as possible and trussed up using cotton butcher string. It may take some massaging to accomplish, but a uniform roll is the most important part to an even cook!
Now dry brine with a 1/4 teaspoon of course kosher salt per pound. If you are a normal Q’ reader, you may notice this is half of what I would normal dry brine with. This is because we are not doing a full normal dry brine… There is plenty of moisture in this lamb and I am not keeping the dry brine on for more than 4 hours (although you can). I am also going to be putting salt in an oil rub later, so I do not want to over salt the meat!
Put the lamb in the refrigerator uncovered for four hours.
The Rub Prep
Lamb pairs amazingly with garlic and herbs. It’s like Bonnie and Clyde, Peanut Butter and Jelly, or Red Solo Cup and Keg Party. You can experiment with typical barbecue rubs or other items, but please try this first…
You may have also heard of garlic/lamb strategies like creating slits in the lamb and inserting full or half garlic cloves into the slits and cooking… It does add a different profile, and every once in awhile you get a jolt of garlic, but I like a bit more of a uniform taste profile.
This rub is very garlic and rosemary heavy (but will calm with rest and heat) and I highly highly HIGHLY recommend using fresh rosemary. I have tried it with the dried from the spice aisle, and it just doesn’t work. You either get too much of an overbearing rosemary flavor, or nothing at all. Very inconsistent… please use fresh.
You will also notice that when you first make it, that the Dijon mustard is overpowering and quite the turnoff. Trust me, in about 2 hours, it will be a subtle note once it melds with the other ingredients.
Mince the Garlic – 10 cloves
Roughly Chop the Rosemary – 3 tablespoons , Remove rosemary from the stems and roughly chop
Mix – Mix in the oil, mustard, salt, pepper, garlic, and rosemary.
Rest – Let rest for at least 2 hours minimum.
Okay Q’ers! At this point you have a gourgeous lamb roll that has been dry brined for 4 hours and a garlic/herb rub resting for at least 2 hours. It’s a lot of prep but it’s easy street from here on out. Start those smokers!
Setup your smoker for indirect heat and maintain a temperature of 250 degrees F. While the smoker is warming up, go ahead and rub the lamb with the rub. Use it all!
Once your smoker is going and you have that thin whispy blue smoke, go ahead and put in the smoker. We are going to cook to an internal temperature of 140 degrees F, so make sure you have a reliable leave in thermometer.
If you want a medium leg of lamb cook, pull the lamb off the smoker when the internal temperature is 145 degrees F.
Once you pull the lamb from the smoker, let rest until the temperature is 145 degrees F internal for medium rare, or 150 degrees F for medium. Remove the butcher string, and begin slicing the roll at about ~1/2″ thick slices.
Make sure you save any of the rub and juices that falls off during slicing! You can dress the plated slices with a little more of that…
Oh man, it’s such a beautiful piece of meat. While I’m writing this, I’m still salivating at how good this roll is. Serve with some Basmati rice and a green like garlic butter kale and pair with a nice Cabernet Sauvignon.
Smoked Leg of Lamb
- Leg of Lamb Upper Portion
- ½ tsp/lb Course Kosher Salt
- 10 Garlic Cloves (minced)
- 3 tbsp Rosemary (roughly chopped)
- 2 tbsp Olive Oil
- 2 tsp Black Pepper
- 2 tsp Dijon Mustard
- ½ tsp Course Kosher Salt
- Trim meat and remove hard fat from lamb.
- Remove leg bone.
- Roll and truss into a uniform log. Apply 1/2 tsp of Course Kosher Salt per pound.
- Let rest in refrigerator uncovered for 4 hours.
- Mix all ingredients in a bowl and let rest at room temperature for 2 hours.
- Setup smoker or oven for indirect heat with an internal temperature of 250 degrees F.
- Apply all of the rub over the leg of lamb and place inside of smoker or oven.
- Cook lamb roll until a center internal temperature of:140 deg F – Medium Rare145 deg F – Medium
- Let lamb roll rest on counter until a center internal temperature of:145 deg F – Medium Rare150 deg F – Medium
- Remove string and slice into 1/2" slices and serve. Save some of the rub and juices that fall off during cutting and use on the plated lamb with it.