A smoked leg of lamb is a delicacy that is both enjoyable and easy to prepare. Pick a nice day to spend outside and have a beer or two at the ready.
Overall you have a few simple choices to make and once you’ve decided on a course of action you are good to go.
What type of wood to use for smoking lamb?
You can smoke a leg of lamb with equally good results using hardwoods such as apple, cherry, maple, hickory and oak. Most commonly you would add wood chunks or wood chips to heat producing lump charcoal or briquettes to impart a smokey flavor.
Overall we were impressed by the even and very clean burn of the olive wood briquettes (our first time using) in addition to the consistent temperature they delivered on a cold autumn day.
On top of that their very pleasant light smoke imparted a subtle floral and herbal flavor and there was no need to add wood chips.
Smoked Leg of Lamb Boneless vs Bone-in
Leg of lamb is typically sold split in two – the lower shank end and the upper, fattier sirloin end. Go for the latter if you can as due to its shape it cooks more evenly and is easier to carve.
Then consider if you want the bone-in or not. Your decision could be as simple as whatever is available at the meat department where you shop. Or driven by the basic pros and cons of boneless vs bone-in leg of lamb.
Generally, smoking a boneless leg of lamb takes less time than a bone-in leg.
We smoked a boneless piece of meat this time around. When the bone is removed the cooking time is shorter, the meat cooks more evenly and it is much easier to slice later on as you won’t need to ‘dance’ around a bone.
On the flip side a bone-in leg is thought to become a bit more flavorful during slow cooking and smoking. (Chris thinks this is difficult to determine with absolute accuracy:). But it does take longer to smoke and carving it is trickier.
To Trim or not to Trim the Fat?
We are in favor of leaving the fat on top of the leg of lamb. As it slowly melts away during cooking fat contributes deep flavor without which the lamb meat will not taste as good. Fat also gives texture as it permeates the lamb meat and makes it incredibly tender and juicy.
Why give up on the succulent and way more flavorful meat in result? You can always choose not to serve the fat once the leg of lamb is sliced.
How to Smoke Leg of Lamb – Step by Step
- Set up your smoker as per the manufacturer’s instructions and get the temperature up to 225 – 250 F. Add your choice of wood chips or chunks also as per the instructions of the manufacturer.
- Rub the lamb with your choice of seasonings. (We kept it simple because we really wanted the meat to showcase the delicate olive wood aromas. Just some salt, pepper and a bit of dry oregano, all to taste). Rub all sides liberally, including the fat cap if you chose to keep it.
- Place the lamb directly onto the grill/smoker rack, fat side up as seen above. Replenish the charcoal and smoking wood as needed to continue smoking in the 225 – 250 F range.
TIP: Be sure to completely thaw the lamb before smoking it.
When is the lamb done?
The internal temperature of the lamb is more important to take into consideration than its weight and the smoking time. Use a meat thermometer to determine doneness.
A smoked leg of lamb is cooked medium-rare when the internal temperature registers just over 140 F.
At higher than 145 F it gets into medium territory and will begin to slowly dry out. Once the lamb reaches the appropriate internal temperature remove it from the smoker, place it on a cutting board and let it rest for about 10 minutes.
You can drape it loosely with aluminum sheet to keep it warm.
Once the meat has rested carve it and serve immediately while it is still warm and juicy.
We also smoked baby gold potatoes and some fresh ricotta cheese (post about Smoked Ricotta coming up) to serve with the leg of lamb.
The smoke contributions of the olive wood briquettes were more prominent with the potatoes. Potatoes really lend themselves great to smoking, even the lightest of flavors seem to get amplified. Stoked to have tried olive wood briquettes.
Boneless or bone-in smoked leg of lamb - tender, juicy meat with pleasant smokiness.
- 2 1/2 - 3 lbs boneless leg of lamb (about 3/4 lb more if bone-in)
- coarse salt (sea or kosher) to taste
- black pepper, ground to taste
- dried oregano to taste
- your choice of smoking wood chunks or chips (apple, cherry, maple, hickory and oak will work well)
Set up your smoker as per the manufacturer’s instructions and preheat to 225 – 250 F. Add your choice of wood chips per the specifications of the manufacturer.
Liberally rub all sides of the lamb with seasonings blend. Either mix one with salt, pepper and oregano (all to taste) or use your favorite.
Place the lamb directly onto the grill/smoker rack, fat side up. Smoke. Replenish the charcoal and smoking wood as needed to continue smoking in the 225 – 250 F range.
Smoke until the internal temperature of the leg of lamb registers in the 140 - 150 F range. This is medium-rare going on medium. If you prefer it more done, leave it a little longer.
Transfer the lamb onto a cutting board and let rest for 10 minutes. You may loosely tent it with aluminum foil to keep it warm.
Carve and serve immediately.
We recommend a dry rub, especially if the leg of lamb has a nice fatty layer on the top. Use your favorite one.
Note that the cooking time is approximate. When smoking leg of lamb doneness is determined solely by the internal temperature of the meat. Be sure to use a food thermometer. We recommend 145 F for medium-rare. Continue smoking if you need it to be cooked more.
If you are planning to smoke the lamb without removing the fat (we hope so) consider that after it is cooked you can always reserve some of it to use when reheating any leftovers.
TIP: Even if you have just a bit of the lamb left over plus the reserved fat – slicing the meat thin and pan searing it with that lightly smokey fat makes for great crispy lamb meat for gyros. Tried and true and we recommend it! Even if you only get to make one gyro:)
What Beer to Pair it With
Of course Chris and I always have craft beer on the mind. So many options for smoked leg of lamb!
We personally favor lighter-bodied styles and especially like pilsners for their dry and crisp finish. In this particular instance we had one brewed in the more balanced Bohemian style with Noble hops – Soulcraft Brewing Sticky Pils. Very crushable while waiting for the lamb to cook and very well suited aromas and flavor wise for the mild floral and herbal smokiness of the meat.
Other sessionable styles to consider:
- dry-hopped pale ales or IPAs
- American blonde ales
- Bavarian or Czech pilsner, Munich helles
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