The Secrets to Cooking a Perfect Leg of Lamb
Bone-in or boneless? What are the best lamb recipes? When is it done? Here's all you need to cook lamb right.
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Rosemary, Fennel, and Pepper-Crusted Leg of Lamb. Photograph by Olga Ivanova.
Few things say “Easter dinner” like lamb on the serving platter — particularly leg of lamb. But while you might be well versed in cooking chicken, beef, and pork, you probably don’t make a lamb roast regularly. Maybe it’s even your first time.
You’re not alone. Not even close to alone. Per capita annual consumption of lamb in the U.S. hovers at around 1 pound. (Compare that to about 113 pounds per year for chicken.) So if you’re lacking confidence in your lamb-cooking skills, you’re in good company, says Megan Wortman, the executive director of the American Lamb Board.
Wortman notes that a lot of people reserve lamb for special occasions, and she identifies a reason for any lack of confidence. “If you’ve never tried cooking lamb or you only have that one recipe that you’re comfortable with, you don’t have the confidence to try other cuts.”
With a little know-how, one handy tool, and the right recipes, we’re here to change that.
Jump ahead to:
Your secret weapon: a meat thermometer
Whether you’re cooking for Easter dinner or another family gathering, you want to nail this. Wortman offers a confidence-building tip. “It’s really not different from . . . a nice steak or a pork chop. We teach people to get a meat thermometer, and you can’t go wrong.”
May we suggest the Yummly Smart Thermometer?
With convenient app-based cooking assistance, timers, and alerts, the Yummly Smart Thermometer tells you exactly where you stand with the internal temperature of the meat. This is particularly important because oven and grill temperatures can vary and if not monitored, your beautiful roast leg of lamb could go from medium-rare to overdone surprisingly quickly.
Rosemary, Fennel, and Pepper-Crusted Leg of Lamb with the Yummly Smart Thermometer inserted into the thickest part of the meat. Photograph by Olga Ivanova.
Following the insertion guide on the Yummly app on your phone, you’ll insert the Thermometer into the thickest part of the meat, not touching the bone, all the way to the black ceramic cap, so no metal is exposed. Then roast or grill the meat and wait for the alert on your phone to tell you it’s done.
Once you take the lamb off the heat, the Thermometer takes into account the resting time needed for the juices to settle back into the meat. This is an important part of the total time for a recipe and shouldn’t be skipped. Just wait for the alert to tell you when it’s time to carve!
Bone-in vs. boneless leg of lamb
One consideration for leg of lamb is bone-in versus boneless. “The positive of bone-in is that you can actually find it now,” Wortman says. “You don’t always see it, apart from holidays. And it’s a showstopper. It actually cooks faster than boneless because the bone works to heat the roast up more quickly.”
If you go with a boneless roast, you are likely to find it sold rolled and tied. Wondering how to butterfly a leg of lamb? Just unroll a boneless roast and make a few slices to even out the thickness. You could also ask the butcher to do this for you.
The basics: how to roast leg of lamb
Let's start with a very simple recipe to learn how to cook leg of lamb. Yummly's Rosemary, Fennel, and Pepper-Crusted Leg of Lamb has no marinade, just a rosemary-mustard paste that you combine in a small bowl and then rub all over a bone-in leg of lamb.
Set the meat on a sheet pan with the fat side up. There’s no need to let the lamb come to room temperature.
Leg of lamb cook time
How long to cook leg of lamb depends on the recipe, the oven temperature, and the size of the piece of meat. For this recipe, pop the 5- to 6-pound bone-in leg of lamb into the oven at 350°F, and in about 1 ½ hours, it’s done.
Leg of lamb temperature
At 350°F, the 5- to 6-pound bone-in leg of lamb takes about 1 ½ hours to reach medium-rare (135°F). If you prefer rare or well-done, just adjust the time. And of course, be sure to preheat the oven before cooking.
How to carve a leg of lamb
The Yummly recipe also includes how to carve a leg of lamb: On a cutting board, and using a sharp knife, slice along the length of the bone and as close to the bone as you can to remove a large section of meat. Turn the lamb over and repeat to remove the other large section of lamb. Trim off any remaining meat from the bone. Cut each section of lamb across the grain into ¼- to 1/2-inch-thick slices.
Ready to give the recipe a try?
6 more favorite leg of lamb recipes
No matter whether you choose bone-in or boneless, there are so many recipes! Let’s begin with some of the classics.
The Mom 100 uses Dijon mustard and panko bread crumbs for a delicious crust in a leg of lamb recipe that she calls a “showstopper.” An overnight marinade boosts the flavor without contributing to prep time on the day of cooking.
For garlicky goodness, this simple 6-ingredient roast takes advantage of elemental ingredients such as black pepper, kosher salt, fresh rosemary, and 8 garlic cloves to gently complement and highlight the flavor of a boneless leg of lamb. The basic outline of this straightforward recipe: Place the lamb in a roasting pan, cook for about 2 hours 30 minutes (but check your meat thermometer!), remove from the oven, let rest, and serve.
For a new spin on the tradition of mint sauce with lamb, make a fresh mint pesto with almonds, lemon zest, extra-virgin olive oil, and chili flakes. Spread that inside a boned leg of lamb, roll and tie the meat with kitchen twine, and roast it in a hot oven.
If you’re wondering how to cook a butterflied leg of lamb, start here with this grilled leg of lamb. Unlike recipes that involve a tied roast, with this one you'll pound the boneless lamb to an even 1 inch thickness. A lively combination of olive oil, fresh mint and lemon zest, and garlic serves as both sauce and marinade for the lamb. (Plan on marinating it overnight.) The next day, you’ll grill the meat to juicy perfection in only 8 to 10 minutes per side, since the meat is thin.
Similar in concept to the Rosemary and Garlic Leg of Lamb Roast, with plenty of fresh herbs and garlic, this recipe shows you how a couple of small changes in technique can create a different result. Instead of coating the lamb in chopped garlic and herbs, you’ll roast it with garlic heads and rosemary sprigs next to the meat. At serving time you’ll deglaze the pan drippings with Madeira wine, squeeze in the soft garlic cloves, and voila, you’ll have a beautiful pan sauce.
Red wine and lamb are a match made in heaven. If you’re ready to take on a more ambitious cooking project, try brining your leg of lamb for 24 hours with red wine, salt, and plenty of fresh herbs and garlic. You’ll get a recipe for roasted leg of lamb that’s deeply seasoned all the way to the bone, with additional slivers of garlic on the outside.
Recipes for lamb racks, chops, and steaks
If a large lamb roast sounds like too much of a good thing, think beyond the leg to other cuts of meat. Lamb racks, chops, and steaks are solid options that come in manageable serving sizes.
You’re familiar with lamb chops. A rack of lamb is just the loin chops before they’ve been cut apart. For this recipe you’ll marinate a rack with garlic, rosemary, thyme, and olive oil. Start it in a hot oven to brown, then reduce the heat so the meat cooks evenly to the center.
Treat yourself to tender rack of lamb seasoned with Dijon mustard and rosemary, and glazed at the last minute with cherry preserves and balsamic vinegar. A two-zone grill set-up gives you perfect browning, and the Yummly Thermometer guarantees the right doneness.
Plan on about half a rack per person when you’re cooking Australian lamb, as the cuts are generally much smaller than their American counterparts. The bones of two racks hold each other up in the oven for even browning.
These Mediterranean-style chops make another good option for those of us living where outdoor grilling season has begun. Here red wine and a marinade of 2 to 24 hours contribute to the lamb’s flavor. Once the meat is prepped, cook time is short — only 10 minutes on the grill.
An overnight marinade in a mix of garlic, shallots, fresh thyme, and rosemary gives these chops loads of flavor, but they take just a few minutes to broil.
Slice boned leg of lamb into thick steaks and you have a tender, tasty cut you can sear quickly on the stovetop. You’ll start by browning and crisping garlic and fresh herbs in oil, which gives you a dreamy topping for the juicy cooked meat.
Part of the charm of lamb leg is that it feeds a crowd — a bone-in American leg can run 5 to 6 or even 8 to 10 pounds; a boneless leg typically runs 6 to 8 pounds. (New Zealand and Australian lamb usually runs smaller.) Figuring about 8 ounces per person for bone-in lamb and 5 ounces for boneless, that size means a leg often provides leftovers.
First stop for leftovers: sandwiches that pair roast lamb with Italian cheese, a black olive spread, hearty bread, and more, for powerhouse flavors.
A traditional Moroccan tagine can take hours to cook, but when you start with leftover lamb and add spices, chickpeas, canned tomatoes, and dried apricots, dinner is ready in about half an hour.
In just a bit longer than it takes to cook a pot of pasta, you can simmer lamb in a savory sauce of vegetables, tomatoes, and herbs for an Italian-style, weeknight-friendly meal.
No matter which way you go, here’s the bottom line: You got this. Keep in mind a meat thermometer, resting time (for the lamb — but take care of yourself too), and a good recipe. Next time Easter rolls around, you might already have a favorite lamb recipe.
Explore more Easter favorites
You're well on your way with ideas for your Easter dinner main dish. What are you going to serve for brunch? Consider the delicious dilemmas in these next articles.
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