Why You Should Spit Roast Your Next Leg of Lamb
Sweet, succulent leg of lamb is one of the world’s great culinary treats. One of my favorite ways to cook lamb is to roast it on a spit.
It’s delicious, and there is something about watching a beautiful hunk of meat slowly spinning over an open fire that makes me want to grab a club and paint the cave red.
If you’re not familiar with spit roasting, think Fred Flintstone barbecuing in the backyard. Spit roasting or rotisserie is essentially a modern version of the earliest cooking our ancestors did – which is catch something, put it on a stick, hold it over a fire while turning it slowly to keep it from burning and to cook it evenly.
One advantage to cooking this way is that slowly rotating the meat allows it to continually baste itself in its own juices, which adds flavor and helps keep the lamb tender. The continuous basting is a big advantage spit roasting has over roasting the lamb in the oven or grilling it.
Oven roasting is the easiest way to roast something, all you have to do is season whatever you’re cooking and throw it into the oven with a good roasting pan. And while I will rarely turn down lamb cooked this way, actually never; I find that oven roasting doesn’t add flavor the same way spit roasting, grilling, or smoking do.
The two advantages spit roasting has over grilling, is lamb is generally so tender and has so much, wonderful, flavorful little lamb fat in it that it’s easy to have it flare up on the grill, which also makes it harder to cook evenly.
I find there is very little difference in the amount of work between smoking a leg of lamb or spit roasting it. I know it may seem counter-intuitive to smoke a leg of lamb since it’s a cooking method generally reserved for tougher cuts of meat that need to be slow cooked, but a smoked leg of lamb can be a magical thing, especially if you use olive wood and smoke gently.
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When I’m thinking about whether I’m going to smoke or grill lamb it usually comes down to how much time do I have, what do I want to serve with the lamb, and how much do I want to fuss with it and the side dishes. Since spit roasting bastes the lamb in its own juices, concentrating the lovely lamb flavors deep into the meat, it produces very rich tasting lamb.
This is why I like to serve it with something that balances the lamb’s richness; usually something fresh, like a lightly seasoned vegetable dish. If I want to serve something richer and creamier, such as cheesy polenta or risotto, then smoked lamb works better, because it takes on more complex flavors from the smoke and ends up with a firmer texture that compliments softer, creamier dishes.
There’s also a visual impact to spit roasting that only works if people are around to see it happening, which makes it a great thing to do when you’re having people over for the afternoon.
As long as you have the right equipment, spit-roasting is a very simple cooking method. All you need is a fire; I would recommend using a grill or campfire and not your neighbor’s garage or the pile of leaves they left out last fall and a rotisserie attachment for your grill. Rotisserie attachments usually range from $25 to $100 depending on your grill and your need for bells and whistles.
I also recommend using a rotisserie set up with an electric motor, which is a much better option than the old English method of having a small boy sit or a dog running on a treadmill in your kitchen to keep the meat moving all day long. I’m not kidding; they used to breed dogs to have short legs and long bodies specifically for this purpose.
Rotisseries for grills are pretty easy to set up, they usually have a bracket for each side of the grill, a small motor that does the hard work of turning the meat, a couple of heavy duty forks to secure your meat, and a long pointy metal rod. What’s nice with all of the kits and grills I’ve used is you only need to set-up the brackets once, and it only takes five minutes to get everything else set up each time you use it.
When roasting lamb, I like to keep things simple. Usually, it’s some fresh herbs like rosemary and thyme with a lot of garlic, a little lemon juice and olive oil to create a paste that will stick to all the lamb’s nooks and crannies while it roasts.
I know it may seem intimidating and bothersome to think about going through the process of roasting a leg of lamb over an open fire, but where else can you get in touch with your inner caveman and get lamb that is sweet and succulent on the inside and crispy and delicious on the outside.
Spit Roasted Leg of Lamb