This recipe was created in partnership with the American Lamb Board. All thoughts and opinions are always my own.
Leg of lamb, butterflied and marinated with the perfect blend of tastes and aromas before hitting the grill, is so delicious. Melt-in-your-mouth tender and full of flavor as well as possibilities. If you need an excuse to fire up the grill for something special, this is a great one.
The American lamb is definitely the star here: Elevated by an herby and complex marinade, it takes on that luscious smoky flavor from the grill. It pairs perfectly with grilled veggies you can make right alongside the lamb. And we can't stop eating the leftovers; they are even wonderful cold in sandwiches and on salads.
There are numerous ways to cook a leg of lamb. While the most popular is probably roasting, taking it outside to the grill is a worthwhile trip. And butterflying it will make it cook much faster than a traditional roast.
The goal is to develop a flavorful crust while perfectly cooking the interior from edge to edge. To achieve this, we utilize a two-zone cooking method with a hot side and a cooler side on the grill. We sear the butterflied boneless leg of lamb on the hot side of the grill, then move it to the cooler side to finish cooking (much like searing a steak on a hot stove, then moving it to the oven to finish).
Smoke is flavor. In fact, smoke is really the only way to add flavor that isn't an actual ingredient. We love smoke flavor, and it only comes from the grill.
What You Need
- Boneless American Lamb Leg, butterflied - Domestic American lamb is generally larger, milder and sweeter tasting than imported lamb thanks to a diet of grass and finished with grain. It also didn't have to travel thousands of miles to get here.
Your local butcher is usually the best place to source it. A butterflied leg will cook evenly and more quickly on the grill.
If it's boneless, more likely than not it is already butterflied, which is how they removed the bone in the first place. Though sometimes the "corkscrew" method is used to remove the bone. Your butcher can usually butterfly it for you if it isn't already. And if they only have bone-in, they can help you with that as well.
A whole boneless lamb leg is usually around 5 to 8 pounds and a half boneless leg is usually 3 to 4 pounds.
- Kosher Salt - The seasoning that will bring out all of the flavor. Use 1 teaspoon Diamond kosher salt (or ¾ teaspoon Morton kosher salt) per pound of lamb. Remember to salt at least 12 hours in advance if possible, and preferably 24.
- The Marinade - An herby balance with some aromatics and acidity includes shallot, garlic, lemon zest, fresh thyme, rosemary, oregano, smoked paprika, sugar, red wine vinegar, olive oil, black pepper and some red pepper flakes if you want a bit of extra heat. Feel free to play with the marinade with whatever you have in your pantry to make it your own.
See the recipe card for quantities.
Tools & Equipment to Make It Happen
- Sharp Boning Knife / Slicing Knife to trim excess fat and butterfly the lamb leg if needed.
- Grill - I prefer a charcoal grill, but any grill with a lid will work.
- Meat Pounder for evening out the thickness of the lamb leg so it cooks evenly.
- Long Tongs for working the grill.
- Remote Probe Thermometer Alarm for remotely monitoring the internal temp of the lamb and the grill.
- Instant-Read Probe Thermometer to verify doneness.
- Long Slicing Knife for slicing the cooked lamb into thin slices. I love this Granton knife for the task.
How to Grill Boneless Leg of Lamb
Step-by-step for how to prep, season and grill a leg of lamb.
- Prep the Butterflied Lamb Leg: Trim off excess fat, silver skin and any loose pieces that could burn on the grill. Score the fat cap into a crosshatch pattern, which will help it get crispy and also allow the marinade to penetrate into the meat. Pound the leg with a meat pounder to even out any thick portions so it cooks evenly on the grill.
2. Make the marinade by combining all the marinade ingredients in a food processor or hand blender or by using a mortar and pestle. You can make it into a paste, but it's totally fine if there is still a lot of texture.
3. Season all sides very liberally with kosher salt and then apply the marinade. Cover and refrigerate for at least 12 hours and preferably 24 hours to allow the salt and marinade to work their magic.
4. Remove the lamb from the refrigerator to temper for about 30 minutes while you prep the grill.
5. Set up the grill for two-zone cooking and preheat to around 400° F. For a charcoal grill, add the coals to one side and for a gas grill light only half of the burners.
6. Sear the lamb leg on the hot side of the grill for about 4 minutes per side to develop a nice crust.
Tip: To help avoid flare-ups, sear with the lid closed. If you do get flare-ups, move the lamb to the cooler side of the grill.
7. Move the leg over to the cooler side of the grill after searing both sides, close the lid and continue to cook until the desired internal temperature is reached (see chart below). A remote probe thermometer is essential for perfect results to know exactly when you should pull the lamb off the grill to rest.
Temperatures: Since we're grilling a large piece of meat at a somewhat high temperature, there will be some carryover cooking of 5 to 10 degrees. This is why we have a "pull temp," which allows the temperature to continue to rise while the lamb rests off the grill in order to reach our desired perfect internal temperature. Always use an instant-read probe thermometer to verify temperatures.
(5 to 10 degrees before target temp)
|Target Finished Temp|
(after resting )
|Medium-Rare||125-130° F||130-140° F|
|Medium||130-135° F||135-145° F|
|Medium-Well||135-140° F||140-150° F|
8. Remove the leg from the grill to rest for 15 to 20 minutes.
9. Slice against the grain only as much as needed for serving to keep it juicy.
Benefits of Grilling a Butterflied Leg of Lamb
While it's totally possible to cook a bone-in leg of lamb on the grill, it can take a while, and there is less surface area for the marinade to come into contact with. I prefer to go boneless and butterflied because of how quickly it cooks and how much flavor you can get on the outside, with all that extra surface area.
Tips for Success
- Season early - The leg is a large piece of meat that takes time for the salt to penetrate all the way through; salt at least 12 hours in advance, and preferably 24 hours.
- More or less lamb flavor - Most of the lamb flavor actually comes from the fat. If you want more of that lamb flavor, leave on more fat. If you want less, remove more.
- Cook to temperature and not by time - Just like always, for a safe, perfect cook.
- The importance of a thermometer - It's impossible to know exactly when it's time to pull the meat off the grill unless you have a reliable thermometer.
- Two-zone grill setup - Allows for control that gets the whole roast cooked evenly, while still giving a great sear.
- Preventing flare-ups. Fat causes flare-ups as it melts and drips down to the fire. And there can be a lot of flare-ups with lamb. Trim as much excess fat as you can before grilling. If you do get flare-ups, move the lamb to the cooler side of the grill and close the lid until they die down.
- Be aware of carryover cooking - For perfect doneness, you have to pull the lamb off the grill before it reaches the "done" temperature to account for carryover cooking. Depending on the size of the cut and the temperature it is cooked at, the internal temperature can continue to rise 5 to 10 degrees after it is out of the heat source. If the roast isn't removed at the "pull temperature," it will overcook beyond what you were shooting for.
- Separate the leg for multiple recipes - If you aren't feeding a crowd, you can divide the lamb leg into two cooks. Make this recipe and also make some kabobs!
Leg of lamb is incredibly versatile. Serve it up with classic creamy polenta, add it to a salad or put it in pita with hummus, a spicy harissa aioli and heirloom tomatoes (my favorite). The ways to enjoy it are pretty much endless. One of my faves is to serve it with mint chimichurri or Italian salsa verde. Grill some onions alongside, or with quick pickled onions, put it in pita with a touch of yogurt sauce. Make tacos with a simple pico de gallo, or sandwiches on brioche buns with arugula and a BBQ vinaigrette or some ginger-lime aioli. Goes great with grilled broccolini or grilled potatoes or even creamy mashed potatoes. It's heaven with an heirloom tomato salad.
The versatility extends to the wine pairing. While a flavorful beverage is best to go with the rich flavors of the lamb, it depends some on how you're serving it. Straight up, I'd go with a hearty red, a Bourdeaux or even a malbec. With the mint chimichurri or salsa verde, a crisp white, such as a sauvignon blanc or pinot grigio. For beer, a nice malty beer, like Karl Strauss Red Trolley, goes great. A Belgian blonde (e.g., Societe's The Harlot) is perfect if you prefer a crisper option.
How to Store It
Store the cooked lamb sealed tightly in the refrigerator for up to 3 days. Vacuum seal and freeze for up to 6 months.
Grill the leg of lamb in a grill that is around 400° F. For medium-rare, it is finished between 130-135° F internal.
It's important to cook by temperature not time, but you can plan on a butterflied, boneless leg of lamb taking approximately 12 minutes per pound on the grill.
Carving a butterflied leg of lamb is quite simple. Always slice against the grain using a long, sharp knife. There are different parts of the leg that will have different grain directions, which are often easier to see before the lamb is grilled. And only carve what you need at the time to keep it juicy.
More Delicious Lamb Recipes
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Grilled Leg of Lamb Recipe
- 3 to 5 lb butterflied boneless leg of American lamb
- 1 teaspoon Diamond kosher salt (or ¾ teaspoon Morton kosher salt) per pound of lamb
- 2 shallots, chopped
- 6 garlic cloves, chopped
- 2 teaspoon lemon zest
- 2 teaspoon fresh thyme, chopped
- 1 teaspoon fresh rosemary, chopped
- 1 teaspoon dried oregano
- 1 tablespoon smoked paprika
- 2 teaspoon sugar
- 2 tablespoon red wine vinegar
- Ground pepper
- Red pepper flakes optional
- Olive oil
Prepare the lamb at least 12 hours ahead and up to 2 days in advance.
- Trim excess fat and remove silverskin using a sharp knife. Score the top layer of fat in a ½" crosshatch pattern, being careful not to slice into the flesh.
- Using a meat pounder, or the back of a heavy skillet, pound the butterflied lamb leg so it is relatively even.
- Season all sides very liberally with kosher salt.
- Make the marinade paste by blending all marinade ingredients together with an immersion blender or food processor or use a mortar and pestle.
- Spread the paste all over the lamb leg on a sheet pan. Cover tightly with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 12 hours or preferably 24 hours.
- Remove the lamb from the refrigerator to temper for about 30 minutes while you set up the grill. Insert a remote thermometer probe through the side of the thickest part of the meat.
- Prepare the grill with a two-zone setup and bring the temperature up to 400° F. Preheat and add wood chips for extra smoke if desired. Clean and oil the grill grates using a canola oil-soaked paper towel and tongs.
- Sear the leg (fat side down first) on the hot side of the grill for about 4 minutes per side to get a flavorful golden crust, then transfer to the cooler side of the grill and close the lid.
- Continue to cook to an internal pull temperature of 125 to 130°F for medium-rare** (will finish at 130-140° F) or 130 to 135° F for medium (will finish at 135-145° F). This will be approximately 12 minutes per pound. Use an instant-read thermometer to verify doneness. The temperature will continue to rise 5 to 10 degrees after it is off the grill, so pull from the grill before it reaches the desired finished temperature.
- Transfer to a cutting board and rest for 15 to 20 minutes.
- Carve the lamb leg by slicing against the grain. Enjoy!
- **The USDA recommends a minimum internal temperature of 145 °F (62.8 °C) with a 3 minute rest.
- Carryover cooking: The lamb leg will continue to rise in temperature 5 to 10 degrees after it is off the grill, so remove it from the heat prior to the desired finished temperature.
- If you are experiencing flare-ups while searing, move the lamb to the cooler side of the grill and close the lid.
- Want it extra smoky? Add some apple or cherry wood chips to the fire.
- Figure 6 to 8 ounces of cooked lamb per person.