Want to feed a crowd and impress them at the same time? Then put Smoked Leg of Lamb on your list! When done right, lamb can be both succulent and flavorful. But many folks are hesitant to cook it due to the strong gamey flavor often associated with lamb. I’ll show you in this smoked leg of lamb recipe how to tame that flavor for a dish everyone can enjoy!
How To Control Gaminess In Lamb
You might think that all the flavor of lamb is concentrated in the meat. But it’s actually the fat that is responsible for that unique lamb flavor. Other meats have a high concentration of both saturated and unsaturated fatty acids, but in lamb, there are additional branched-chain fatty acids (BCFAs). These fatty acids are produced when rumen bacteria start to break down their food. The BCFAs are quite volatile, which is why they’re quickly picked up by humans—hence, the “gamey flavor”.
When the lamb is exposed to oxygen for a long time (as in the case of low and slow smoked leg of lamb), the BCFAs start to oxidize, and the gaminess will become even more pronounced.
In my Boneless Rotisserie Leg of Lamb recipe, I showed you how to tame the flavor using heat. But you can also use a little chemistry with natural ingredients. To accomplish this, add antioxidants in the preparation of the lamb. First, I like to add mustard all over the lamb. The mustard acts as an antioxidant and will help to control how the flavor develops. It also acts as a binder, and it’s bright yellow color—so it’s easy to see if you missed a spot!
Rosemary is also an antioxidant. So in this recipe, it doesn’t just add flavor, it also helps to dampen that unwanted gaminess.
Which Countries Produce the Best Lamb?
If you’re going to smoke a leg of lamb you want to start with the best meat, right? Me too! So I asked my YouTube audience which country produces the best lamb. As you’d expect, the answers ranged from the obvious (Australia, New Zealand, and the US) to some more obscure places like Wales and South Africa. Some of the comments were likely based on patriotism. But there are some real differences that come from the farming methods – and more specifically the feed.
Australian lamb (like the one pictured) are almost always free range, feasting on sweet grasses their whole lives. Farmers in the USA pasture-graze their lambs, but then grain finish them (similar to how cows are raised) – which produces a much more mild, yet rich taste. In my opinion the tastiest US Domestic leg of lamb is the one sold by Meat N’ Bone. Use coupon code EMV10 at Meat N’ Bone to save 10% off this or any other product site-wide.
How to Smoke Leg of Lamb
You can cook leg of lamb either for slicing or for pulling – this recipe is for slicing. One of these days I will put together an article about how to make pulled leg of lamb!
Lamb takes very well to low and slow cooking, as long as you follow my instructions above about using antioxidants to control the BCFAs. You’ll be smoking this leg the whole way at 250°F until the internal temperature reaches 130°F-135°F (medium rare). Don’t prepare smoked leg of lamb to a rare temperature. Unlike lamb chops, leg of lamb isn’t great prepared rare. If you like your lamb cooked to medium, target 140°. Any higher and you might as well take it all the way over 200°F for pulled lamb – but like I said that’s another recipe altogether!
I like to smoke using a sweet wood like plum for this recipe. Plum wood goes extremely well with ginger, garlic, and rosemary—it matches the lamb perfectly and makes for an interesting flavor profile. If you don’t have access to plumb, use a sweet wood like apple. I’d stay away from cherry, mesquite and similar woods – those flavors will be overpowering with this mix of herbs and spices.
The Best Smoked Leg of Lamb
- A Smoker, or a Grill set up for smoking
- 8 lb Bone-In Leg of Lamb
- 6 cloves Fresh Garlic
- 0.25 oz Fresh Ginger
- 3 sprigs Fresh Rosemary
- ¼ cup Yellow Mustard
- 2 tbsp Ground Black Pepper
- 1 tbsp Kosher salt
- 1 tbsp Granulated Garlic
- ½ cup Apple Cider Vinegar
- 1 cup Organic Apple Juice
- Set up your smoker for indirect cooking at 250°F
- If you bought a large leg of lamb, it should have three distinctive parts: a piece of the hip, top of femur and thigh, and the knee and lower leg. Trim off the shoulder part, so it’s just the leg. Don’t throw away your trimmings, you can always use it for lamb sausage!
- Trim any loose hanging fat. Don’t trim the fat cap—during the low slow cooking, it will render, adding flavor to the lamb.
- Instead of doing a complete Frenching of the leg at the start, you will do a quick prep so you can French it after cooking. Since it's for presentation, doing it beforehand keeps the bone nice and white for presentation, otherwise, the smoke will darken it.Make a deep cut into the meat. During the cooking process, this thin piece of meat will dry out, and making a deep cut into the meat will make it easier to remove after its cooked. Cut down to the bone.
- Score the fat cap in a diamond pattern to expose the meat (do not cut through the meat completely!). This helps to render the fat, and will allow the herbs and spices to penetrate to the meat.
- Make a few small slits into the meat along your scoring pattern. These slits will become small flavor pockets when you add herbs and garlic into them (in a few steps – patience!)
- Slice each garlic clove in half. This will help to release some of the oils and improve the flavor.
- Peel the ginger and slice thinly. Chop the rosemary into 1 ½ to 2-inch pieces.
- Cover the underside of the lamb completely with the mustard. Season generously with the SPG seasoning.
- Turn the leg of lamb over, so that the scored side faces upwards. Apply the mustard into the meat. Season generously with the SPG seasoning. Stuff the garlic and ginger into the slits you made earlier. Do the same with the rosemary.
- Place the leg of lamb on the grill and insert a temperature probe into the thickest part of the meat. Close the lid and get your smoke started.
- Spritz every hour with your ACV/Juice spritz solution, double-checking the temp each time with your handheld thermometer.
- Once you reach your target temperature (135°F for Medium Rare), remove the leg of lamb from the smoker and let it rest tented in foil for at least 20 minutes. If you let it rest longer, wrap in a towel and place it in a closed cooler to keep the temperature from falling too far.
- Remove the "frenched" meat from the bottom of the leg – it's now so overcooked that it should come right off in your hand.
- Slice and Serve!