A whole, roasted, bone-in leg of lamb is one of those dishes that never fails to impress. Follow my easy, reverse-sear method for roasting a leg of lamb, and I guarantee juicy, tender, rosy-pink slices of meat every time!
For some families, leg of lamb is the traditional roast for special occasions, be it Easter or just Sunday lunch. But for those who did not grow up with this tradition, a whole, bone-in leg of lamb can be intimidating both to cook and to serve. But not to worry, I will explain exactly how to shop for, cook and carve leg of lamb so you will feel confident making it for your next special occasion.
You might be wondering why you should even bother with a bone-in leg of lamb, which admittedly is a bit tricky to carve, when boneless legs of lamb are so readily available. Well, there are a few reasons why you might want to choose a bone-in roast.
Why Use Bone-In Leg Of Lamb?
First, bone-in leg of lamb is often less expensive per pound than boneless leg of lamb. Indeed, even accounting for the weight of the bone, you will be able to feed more people for less money with a bone-in leg of lamb.
Moreover, a bone-in leg of lamb is actually easier to cook to pink, juicy perfection without the danger of overcooking and ending up with dry, tough meat. This is because of the way the bone acts an an insulator and helps conduct the heat.
Lastly, a whole leg of lamb looks especially impressive when served, which is exactly what you want for those special occasion meals. Every cook dreams of that moment when you bring the gorgeously browned leg of lamb to the table, start to carve, and reveal the perfectly pink meat within. Everyone will ooh and aah!
Now that I have convinced you to make leg of lamb for your next special occasion, here is what to expect when you head to the butcher counter. A bone-in leg of lamb typically weighs anywhere from 5 to 7 pounds. In other words, it is perfect for feeding a crowd.
Which Part Of The Leg Should I Buy?
There are actually two parts to a leg of lamb: the shank end and the sirloin end. The shank end – which is what most of us think of as leg of lamb – is the lower half of the leg, from the ankle to halfway up the calf bone. You can follow my Instant Pot Lamb Shank recipe for another option for the shank. The sirloin end, naturally, is the upper half of the leg, from the hip to the knee. Either cut is good; the sirloin end is a bit easier to carve, but the shank end is more readily available and has better flavor.
You will notice that the shank end of a leg of lamb is tapered with a wide end and a narrow end. Moreover, the bone is not in the center of the roast but rather runs along one side. This shape can make carving a challenge, but I will explain exactly how to carve this roast below.
When shopping, ask the butcher to remove most of the exterior fat, which can make the lamb taste gamey. Sometimes a leg of lamb will come Frenched, meaning a bit of the meat has been trimmed off the bone at the narrow end, making for a more elegant presentation. You can always ask the butcher to do this for you, if the leg of lamb is not already Frenched.
How To Roast Lamb
When it is time to cook, you have to make a decision: do you want to cook your roast on high or low heat? You can cook leg of lamb in a very hot oven – say 425 to 450°F – and it will only take an hour or so to be done. The downside is that the meat will cook less evenly, resulting in well-done meat on the outside and medium-rare meat on the inside. If you are in a hurry, this is the way to go and the results will still be tasty.
But there is another approach. Bone-in leg of lamb takes especially well to slow roasting and what is known as the reverse sear. This method takes longer but the result is evenly cooked meat throughout.
What Does Reverse Sear Mean?
For the reverse-sear, roast the leg of lamb in a low oven until the center has reached around 130°F on a meat thermometer (like this one). Then remove the lamb from the oven and let it rest. At the same time, raise the oven temperature to 475 or 500°F – as hot as you can go! When the oven is nice and hot, put the lamb back in for a short time – just until the outside is beautifully burnished and the exterior fat nice and crispy.
How To Carve Leg Of Lamb
However you cook your leg of lamb, you will have to carve it, so make sure your carving knife is nice and sharp. Begin by holding the lamb steady with a fork or tongs. Then, carve thin slices perpendicular to the bone. The first few slices will likely fall off the bone, but the rest will likely stay attached. Not to worry! Keep slicing and then, when you have sliced all the way down to the narrow end of the roast, cut across the top of the bone and down the side, and the slices should fall right off.
(Later, you may want to go back and cut more of the meat off the bone, although it won’t come off in pretty slices. These bits and pieces of meat are delicious for snacking, or you can save them for a lamb hash later in the week.)
Sauces To Serve With Lamb
It is traditional to serve mint sauce with roast lamb and this combination is a classic for a reason. The sweet, fresh taste of mint is the perfect complement to rich, meaty roast lamb.
However, I like to add a global twist to the classic lamb-mint combination and serve my leg of lamb with a mint chimichurri.
Chimichurri is a loose, spoonable South American sauce that is often served with roasted and grilled meats. It typically contains parsley, garlic, chili peppers, vinegar for a bit of zing, and oil. My mint chimichurri has all the traditional ingredients plus a generous amount of mint. In my opinion, the brightness and acidity of the chimichurri really cuts through the richness of the lamb and adds a welcome bit of heat. But you can always stick with a classic mint sauce if that is more your thing.
There you have it! Everything you need to know to shop for, cook, carve, and serve a whole leg of lamb. Now, you just need an occasion to serve this perfect holiday centerpiece.
More Lamb Recipes
- 2 cups mint leaves, tightly packed
- 2 cups flat-leaf parsley leaves, tightly packed
- 4 cloves garlic
- 2 small jalapeño peppers, seeded and roughly chopped
- 1/4 cup red wine vinegar
- 1 tsp. salt
- 1 cup extra-virgin olive oil
Leg of Lamb:
- 5 cloves garlic
- 1/4 cup rosemary leaves
- Zest of one lemon
- 2 tsp. kosher salt
- 1 tsp black pepper
- 3 Tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
- Bone-in leg of lamb, between 5 and 7 pounds
Make the mint chimichurri:
- Place mint, parsley, garlic, jalapeños, vinegar, and salt in the bowl of a food processor and pulse a few times to combine, scraping down the sides as necessary.
- With the motor running, pour in the olive oil in a steady stream.
- Scrape down the sides and pulse a few more times until the mixture is smooth with a loose, spoonable consistency.
- Wipe out the bowl of the food processor, which you will need in the next step, and refrigerate the chimichurri until needed. (May be done up to one day in advance.)
Prepare the lamb:
- Place the garlic, rosemary, lemon zest, salt, and pepper in the bowl of the food processor and pulse to combine.
- With the motor running, pour in the olive oil in a steady stream.
- Scrape down the sides and pulse a few more times until the mixture is a smooth paste.
- Preheat the oven to 325°F.
- Place the lamb on a rack set inside a roasting pan. Rub the marinade all over the lamb and allow the lamb to come to room temperature. This will take 1-2 hours and is an important step for the lamb to cook evenly.
- Roast the lamb at 325°F until it reaches an internal temperature of 130°F, approximately 2 hours for a 5 pound roast. Remove the lamb and raise the oven temperature to 475°F or 500°F.
- When the oven is heated, return the lamb to the oven and sear it for 10 to 15 minutes, until the exterior is well-browned.
- Carve the lamb into thin slices, working across the grain and perpendicular to the bone starting at the wide end and moving toward the narrow end. Then, use your knife to cut across the top and alongside the bone to remove the slices from the bone.
- Transfer the slices of lamb to a platter and serve with the chimichurri on the side.
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This post originally appeared in June 2021 and was revised and republished in September 2023.