Remember when I teased about the grilled leg of lamb and how to earn your grilling apron in my article about grilling? Well, I grilled another one last weekend and this time I’d like to share the details of how to make a perfectly grilled leg of lamb.
And if you subscribe to our weekly newsletter, I’ll even tell you the recipe for my killer marinade (just kidding, it’s included I’m this article…but you should subscribe anyway).
The leg of lamb I bought weighed 6.8 lbs. That’s the weight before prepping it. And by prepping, I mean trimming it. Yup, most of the fat on the outside has to go. Leaving it on will not make the meat more tender. Tenderness and flavor in meats comes from the marbled fat within the cut, not from “above.” Also, if you leave this fat on, it will render and drip into the grill, creating unwanted flare-ups. In addition, the marinade that you rub on the outside fat will end up in the fire. What a shame. There goes your flavor.
How to trim a leg of lamb
First things first. Make sure you have a large enough chopping board and a sharp knife. I like to use my boning knife, but a chef’s knife works too.
Next, make sure to pat dry the leg of lamb. This way it will be easier to hold on to, plus you have to dry it anyway before putting the marinade on.
Now let’s have some fun! First, cut off the meat around the bone, along the narrow end (see the photo below). It’s mostly tendons and fatty meats that are best used in a stew or broth. I ended up cutting off about one pound. Plus, it makes the whole leg look sexier 😆
Next, remove the thick flap of fat on all sides. Underneath you’ll see some blue skin. If you can, remove it. Some people claim it makes the meat taste gamey when left on, but I normally don’t bother with removing it.
After removing one pound of leg meat, I removed another 12 oz or so of fat. So the 6.8 lb leg of lamb ended up weighing about 5 lbs (precooked).
With the hard work behind us, we’re ready for the next step.
How to marinate a leg of lamb
First of all, if you’re making a marinade with herbs, garlic, etc, I’d recommend using a mortar and pestle. It’s not just the meditative aspect of hand grinding your ingredients like it’s been done for thousands of years, but it will also incorporate all the aromas into an incredible paste that you’re tempted – don’t – to just eat out of the mortar. My go-to mortar and pestle is a heavy, unpolished granite piece and does a fabulous job grinding stuff.
Besides the “classic lamb marinade ingredients” like garlic, rosemary, olive oil, lemon juice, salt, and pepper, I add coriander seeds and lemon zest. Try it, it’s phenomenal.
First, grind all the dry ingredients before adding the lemon juice and olive oil.
Once your marinade is all mortared and pestled, it’s time to rub it in. Grab your leg of lamb and make a couple slits along the meat, about 3 inches long and 1/2 inch deep. Pour the marinade in your hands and rub it evenly all over. Make sure you also push some into the slits.
Put the leg of lamb in a large enough dish, cover, and marinate anywhere from 2 hours to overnight. The longer you let it marinate, the deeper the meat will absorb the flavor and the lemon juice will break down the meat’s fibers (making it more tender).
How to grill a leg of lamb
Low and slow. Yes, you want to grill your leg of lamb over indirect heat on an open grill. Remember: small cuts – high heat, large cuts – low heat.
I started the fire about an hour before I planned to start cooking, using mostly oak and maple. Then, about halfway through cooking, I added some trimmings from our fig tree to add just a hint of sweetness. This will require some hands-on attention, so you’ll have to put the beer down for a couple minutes.
Here’s how it’s done: add the fig tree trimmings to the grill and wait for them to catch fire. Next, put your grill cover on to “extinguish” the flames. This will create lots of smoke. Leave the cover on for a couple minutes. Remove the cover and let the fig tree trimmings re-catch their flames. Again, put the cover on to create smoke. Repeat about 3 to 5 times.
When is my grilled leg of lamb perfectly cooked?
The moment your meat thermometer reads 125-130°F (medium-rare), remove from heat and let it rest, loosely covered, for about 20 minutes before carving. Depending on the heat of your wood fire and the size of your leg of lamb, it can take anywhere from 60 minutes to 1 hour 20 minutes to reach this internal temperature.
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Grilled Marinated Leg of Lamb
- 1 bone-in leg of lamb, about 7 lbs before trimming
- 6 cloves garlic
- 1 tsp coriander seeds
- 1 Tbsp kosher salt
- 2 tsp black peppercorns (tellicherry)
- 1 Tbsp lemon juice
- 1 tsp lemon zest
- 1 Tbsp rosemary, chopped
- 3 Tbsp olive oil
- Start a wood or charcoal fire
- Dry and trim leg of lamb
- Cut a couple slits along the meat, about 3 inches long and 1/2 inch deep
- Add all dry ingredients in a mortar and grind by hand
- Add lemon juice and olive oil and stir
- Pour the marinade in your hands and rub it evenly all over. Make sure you also push some into the slits.
- Grill over indirect heat, turning every 15 minutes or so
- If you like, add some apple, fig, or olive wood and create some smoke (see article)
- When the meat thermometer reads 125-130°F (medium rare), remove from heat and rest, loosely covered, for about 20 minutes. Depending on the heat of your wood fire and the size of your leg of lamb, it can take anywhere from 60 minutes to 1 hour 20 minutes to reach this internal temperature.
- Carve and serve
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