Lamb is the preferred meat of Greeks--especially at Easter. It's hard to imagine an Easter celebration in Athens (not to mention in Chicago, Boston, or Astoria, New York), without a fire pit where whole lambs are spit-roasted to mahogany crispness. The following recipe calls for butterflied leg of lamb, which you can cook easily on a backyard barbecue grill. The turning motion of a rotisserie will give you the best results, but you can also cook the lamb using the indirect grilling method.

Serves 12

  • 1 butterflied (boned) leg of lamb (about 6 pounds)

for the spice mix:

  • 2 tablespoons kosher salt
  • 2 tablespoons dried Greek oregano
  • 1 tablespoon ground white pepper

to prepare the lamb:

  • 2 lemons, cut in half
  • 1 stick (8 tablespoons) unsalted butter, at room temperature

for the basting mixture:

  • 1 cup Greek olive oil
  • 1/2 cup fresh lemon juice
  • 1/2 cup dry white wine
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 4 teaspoons dried Greek oregano
  • 2 teaspoons black pepper

1. Make the spice mix by combining the salt, pepper, and oregano in a bowl. Spread the leg of lamb open and season the inside with 1/3 of the spice mix. Squeeze the juice of half of 1 lemon over the meat and cut the half lemon rind into 1/2 inch pieces. Rub the surface of the lamb with 4 tablespoons butter and sprinkle the lemon pieces on top. Fold the lamb back into a cylindrical roast and tie it with butchers string or pin shut with bamboo skewers. Let it marinate for 4 to 6 hours.

2. Two hours before you pan to serve the lamb, set the grill up for rotisserie cooking and preheat to high. Place the lamb on the spit and rub with lemon and the remaining 2 tablespoons butter. Generously season with spice mixture. Place the spit on the rotisserie and start grilling. Meanwhile, combine the ingredients for the basting mixture (olive oil, lemon juice, wine, garlic, oregano, and pepper) in a large bowl and whisk to mix.

3. After 15 minutes, restir the basting mixture and use it to baste the lamb all over, using a long handled basting brush. Baste every 15 minutes. From time to time, reseason the lamb with spice mix. If using a charcoal grill, replenish the coals as needed. As the lamb fat melts, it may cause flare ups. Snuff these out by flattening the coals with a metal spatula or with a few squirts from a water pistol.

4. Cook the lamb until crusty and brown on the outside and the meat is well-done and tender. The internal temperature will be 170 degrees. (Greeks like their lamb well done.) Unspit the meat on a cutting board and let rest for 10 minutes. Remove the string or bamboo skewers, slice the meat, and serve.

Note: to grill the lamb using the indirect method, preheat the grill to 350 degrees. Place a drip pan in the center and place the lamb over it. You'll need 2 to 2-1/2 hours cooking time.

© 2006 Steven Raichlen | site design Benjamin Wilchfort