Barbecue Bible!

Our textbook
Season 2

Show 210: A Little Lamb

Two of the professor's recipes in this all lamb lesson play off the classic Turkish combination of lamb and eggplant - one where luxurious racks of lamb that get the royal treatment in a recipe Steven learned at the opulent Ciragan Palace Hotel. The second, Lamb and Eggplant Kebabs, comes from the kebab parlors that line the streets of Istanbul. He shows off spicy Australian-style lamb steaks, good enough to convert any committed beef eater, and caps it all off with a certified party showstopper, rotisseried whole leg of lamb.

On the menu (page numbers indicate page in the Barbecue! Bible, unless otherwise noted):

  • Rotisseried Leg of Lamb with Lemon and Butter (page 81, recipe follows)
  • Rack of Lamb Ciragan Palace (page 88)
  • Australian Lamb Steaks with Sichuan Pepper Rub (page 187)
  • Lamb and Eggplant Kebabs (page 231)


Spit-roasting, also known as rostisserie grilling, has fallen somewhat out of fashion. When I was a kid, everyone in the neighborhood had a rostisserie attachment for his grill. Most grill manufacturers still make rotisserie attachments: I'm not sure why people don't use them more. Perhaps in this burger and chicken breast era, we're too hurried for the time it takes to spit roast a chicken or leg of lamb.

This is a shame, because nothing can beat the gentle, even heat and internal basting that come with spit roasting. Spit roasting combines the charring properties of direct grilling with the gently penetrating heat of indirect cooking. The rotating motion bastes the meat with the melting fat. These virtues are not lost on the French or Brazilians, who have made the rotisserie the focal point of their grilling.

Rostisserie grilling is particularly well suited to chicken, game hens, and ducks, not to mention cylindrical roasts, like pork loins and rib roasts. In Uruguay, I know a pit man who cooks garlic rolls on the rotisserie. In Paris, I've seen cooks grill spare ribs, lamb shanks, and whole lambs and suckling pigs on the spit.

When buying a rotisserie attachment, look for a motor with an on-off switch (adjustable speeds doesn't hurt either) and a long enough cord to reach your outlet. Be sure the device comes with a mounting bracket that will fit on your grill.

The spit itself should have adjustable prongs for holding the food in place. Another nice feature is a counterweight, which helps reduce the strain on the motor.

Here's how to set up your grill for rostisserie cooking:


Build a fire; the coals should be hot.

Rake the coals into two parallel rows: one about 4 inches in front of where the spit will turn and one about 4 inches behind where the spit will turn. Place a drip pan in the center under the food. Skewer the food on the spit and turn on the motor. Add fresh coals every hour.


Preheat the front and rear burners to high. Place a drip pan in the center under the food. Skewer the food on the spit and turn on the motor.

printer-ready version

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