How to explain this dish? A whole leg of lamb is boned and butterflied, marinated in a spicy sweet sauce then grilled over charcoal before being finished in the oven. The meat is succulent and tender with a char-grilled crust that adds the perfect undertone of flavor to the almost beef-like cook of the meat. It’s lamb for those who think they don’t like lamb: barbecued leg of lamb.
This recipe is a family go-to for feeding a crowd, impressing friends and creating the best leftovers ever for a sandwich. It came from my mother, who clipped it from a newspaper sometime in the 1960’s. It is a classic.
Sometimes it’s all about the meat. Especially if you are grilling outside. And if you are going to really make it count, you need to know how to bone and prepared your meat for the best result. That’s most of the work needed to prepare this tender and juicy butterflied and barbecued leg of lamb.
Sounds hard but it isn’t.
Start with a leg of lamb and a sharp knife.
Find the end of the bone then slip the knife in alongside the bone.
Take your time and use the knife to cut and scrape away the meat from the bone. Once you have felt your way to the end of the bone, cut straight up opening the meat so that the bone is fully visible. Carefully cut the bone out, turning the meat as needed to get around the bone without cutting through the meat.
Once the bone is out you will need to cut some slashes in the leg of lamb so that it opens out flat. Don’t cut all way through, you want to end up with one large piece of meat. Don’t worry if the meat is much thicker at one end than the other. That’s part of the genius of this recipe. The uneven thickness means you will end up with meat ranging from rare to well-done, pleasing all preferences and no one has to wait while the rest of the meat cooks.
Mix together all the ingredients for your marinade. Don’t be a snob, get the 1960’s favorite Catalina Salad Dressing (fat-free works best). So-called ”BBQ Spice” is harder to find but you can substitute any good spice mix or rub for barbecue that you like.
Rub this mixture all over the meat and put it in the refrigerator for at least a day, two or three is better. Turn the meat once a day in the marinade.
When it is time to cook your meat, get your grill ready. I prefer to use charcoal. I know, I know—carcinogens! But I don’t grill that often and I think the charcoal adds a layer of flavor which is worth the risk. I also appease myself and the gods by using a “chimney charcoal starter” which eliminates the need for a chemical fire-starter.
You will finish the meat in the oven so this is also a good time to preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
Once the fire is ready, set the rack about 6 inches above the fire and put the meat fat side down on the grill. Cook it for ten minutes and then turn it over and repeat on the other side until it is well browned and even a little charred. Now put it in the oven to finish for at least 20 minutes or until it has reached the temperature you like. I aim to make the thickest part of the roast between 125-130 degrees for a good rare to medium rare there. This means the thinner part will be better done for those who like it that way. If you don’t want any well done meat, you can cut off the thinner section when it is done and return the rest to the oven.
While the leg of lamb is in the oven, you can use the coals to grill vegetables: peppers, asparagus, corn, tomatoes. Whatever is in season.
Slice the lamb thickly and then sit back and listen to the quiet of happy eaters.
BARBECUED LEG OF LAMB
- 1 boned and butterflied leg of lamb
- 1 clove of garlic crushed and chopped
- 1 cup French Style (Catalina) salad dressing
- 2/3 cup onion chopped
- 2 tsp barbecue spice
- 1 tsp salt
- 1 tsp oregano
- 1 bay leaf crushed
- Mix together the marinade ingredients. Place the meat in a large bowl or container, pour the marinade over the meat and rub all over. Cover and refrigerate for at least one day or up to three.
- Grill the meat over a charcoal fire for ten minutes a side until well browned then move to a preheated oven for an additional 20-30 minutes until roast has reached desired level of doneness.
Note: “Barbecue Spice” was a readily available ingredient in the 1960’s and 70’s. If you can’t find it use any good barbecue rub. If you don’t have a grill the meat can be cooked under the broiler (4”-6” inches under the flame) for ten minutes on a side. Then turn the broiler off, set the oven temperature to 350 degrees and proceed as above.