Kathy Maister's Start Cooking

How to Cook a Leg of Lamb

print recipe card posted in Main Dishes by Kathy Maister
Difficulty:

I was inspired to roast a leg of lamb after Ioannis Michanetzis (a fan of startcooking.com) sent me his recipe for a marinated, roasted leg of lamb.

Ioannis, an Officer in the Greek Navy, is currently a ship’s captain, with aspirations to have a cooking site specializing in healthy and unique Mediterranean Dishes.

Ioannis’s original recipe was a bit more involved than the recipe I’m doing here, but I would like to thank him for giving me the opportunity (and permission) to adapt one of his specialties for startcooking.com readers.

****

At my grocery store, there were two choices of leg of lamb being offered. Both were from Australia.

I am going to demonstrate how to cook the smaller 5-pound boneless roast shown on the top in the picture above. The larger 9-pound roast on the bottom is a “bone-in” cut. For beginner cooks, the smaller boneless roast is easier to carve. Besides, it just fit into my 15-inch long roasting pan, and my larger roasting pan is not as photogenic!

The steps involved in making this boneless leg of lamb are:

  1. Make a “spice-rub” with garlic, thyme, rosemary, oregano and black pepper.
  2. Rub it all over the roast.
  3. Put the roast in a plastic bag
  4. Pour fresh lemon juice, olive oil and wine over the roast in the bag
  5. Put the bag in the refrigerator to marinate for several hours or overnight.
  6. Remove the lamb from the bag and roast it in the oven.

The Marinade

(Marinate is the verb, and marinade is the noun. So, you marinate the lamb with a marinade. Got it? Who’s on first?)

Step 1. First make a spice-rub by measuring out:

  • 3 cloves of garlic, crushed
  • 2 teaspoons of dry oregano
  • 2 teaspoons of dry thyme
  • 2 teaspoons of dry rosemary
  • 1/4 teaspoon of fresh ground black pepper

Put these ingredients into a small bowl…

…and mix everything together

Now, for the liquid part of the marinade, measure out:

  • 1/2 cup (4 oz.) of olive oil
  • 1/2 cup (4 oz.) of lemon juice, fresh squeezed
  • 2 cups (16 oz.) of dry red wine

My wine merchant suggested a very reasonably priced Merlot ($8) for the dry red wine.

The Boneless Leg of Lamb

(FYI – It’s just the hind legs that are used for “leg of lamb”)

Rather than working directly on the counter top, I set the lamb down on some paper towels on a baking sheet. This is more sanitary.

Cut the plastic outer wrapping off the lamb, making sure not to cut through the netting as well. (If you bought your lamb at a butcher shop, it may well be hand-tied with string instead of netting.) The netting (or string) holds the lamb together in that nice shape. Do not remove it until after the lamb is roasted.

Step 2. Rub the garlic dry-rub spice mixture all over the lamb.

Step 3. Put the lamb in a large plastic bag and set it on a dish. I used a two gallon sized zip-lock bag. (You need the dish just in case the bag leaks when you put it in your refrigerator. You wouldn’t want the marinade to spill all over the inside of your refrigerator!)

Step 4. Pour the lemon juice, olive oil and red wine over the lamb (in the bag.)

Squeeze out as much of the air as possible from the bag, and seal it closed. As a precaution against the bag leaking, wrap a second bag around the marinating lamb.

Step 5. Set the bag in a dish and let the lamb marinate in the refrigerator for several hours or overnight -up to 24 hours.

Step 6. Roasting the Boneless Leg of Lamb

Remove the lamb from the refrigerator at least 1 hour before cooking it.

Preheat the oven to 450 F. degrees.

( 450º F = 230º C = gas mark 9)

Snip the corner of the bag and squeeze the marinade out into the sink. It will no longer be usable.

Pat the lamb dry with paper towels.

Put 2 teaspoons of salt and 3/4 teaspoons of freshly ground pepper into a dish. Season the entire lamb with the salt and pepper. (You put the salt and pepper into a separate dish first for sanitary reasons. You would not want to be going back and forth between touching the raw lamb and your main salt and pepper holders.)

Place the lamb on a roasting rack in a roasting pan.

Insert an oven-safe meat thermometer into the thickest part of the boneless leg of lamb.

(I strongly recommend using an oven-proof meat thermometer for roasting a leg of lamb. This should allow you to peek through the window of your oven door without opening the door and changing the internal temperature of the oven. Every time you open the oven door, it takes a good ten minutes for the temperature to get back to its original setting)

Set the lamb into the 450-degree oven and roast for 20 minutes.

( 450º F = 230º C = gas mark 9)

After the 20 minutes, lower the temperature to 325º Fdegrees ( 325º F = 165º C = gas mark 3-very moderate) and continue cooking the lamb until the internal temperature is to your liking.

Approximate Roasting Time for a 5-7 pound Boneless Leg of Lamb:

(Source: United State Department of Agriculture)

Lamb Leg, boneless, rolled:

Roast 325°

(165º C)APPROXIMATE

Roasting

Time

Internal

Temperature

Rare20 to 25 min./lb135 F.

(57.2 C)

Medium-rare25 to 30 min./lb145 F.

(62.8 C)

Medium

(to medium well)

30 to 35min./lb.160 F

(72.0 C)

Well done*35 to 40 min./lb170 F

(77.0 C.)

*Most people avoid cooking lamb to “well done”. It will be tough and dry.

There are several factors that will affect the cooking time:

  • The shape of the roast
  • The internal temperature when you first put it in the oven
  • Bone-in roast will require extra cooking time
  • Fluctuations in temperature of your own oven.

My 5 pound Leg of Lamb was removed from the oven when the internal temperature of the Lamb reached 140 F. degrees – medium rare.
It took a total of 1 and 1/2 hours to cook, which was considerably less time than what the USDA guidelines had recommended.

This is why a meat thermometer is absolutely essential when you are cooking a roast.

When the meat is cooked, remove it from the oven and let it rest for 10 minutes. The temperature will increase by about 5 degrees while the roast is resting out of the oven.

With a pair of kitchen scissors cut through the netting (or string)….

…..and remove it completely.

Slice the lamb into 1/2 inch thick slices across the grain. (Here and here are very some very good pictures that show how to carve a bone-in Leg of Lamb.)

I roasted some carrots and small red potatoes separately….

….and served them with this Boneless Leg of Lamb.

Enjoy!

Approximate Lamb Cooking Times:

Source: USDA Last modified – May 2007

Cut of Lamb Size Cooking Method Cooking Time Internal Temperature(Fahrenheit / Celsius-Centigrade))
Lamb Leg, bone in 5 to 7 lbs. Roast 325°(165º C) 20 to 25 min./lb. Medium rare 145°F / 43.5°C
25 to 30 min./lb. Medium160°F /56.9°C
30 to 35 min./lb. Well done170°F / 62.4°C
7 to 9 lbs. Roast 325° 15 to 20 min./lb. Medium rare 145°F / 43.5°C
20 to 25 min./lb Medium160°F / 56.9°C
25 to 30 min./lb. Well done170°F / 62.4°C
Lamb Leg, boneless, rolled 4 to 7 lbs. Roast 325° 25 to 30 min./lb. Medium rare 145°F / 43.5°C
30 to 35 min./lb. Medium160°F / 56.9°C
35 to 40 min./lb. Well done 170°F / 62.4°C
Shoulder Roast or Shank Leg Half 3 to 4 lbs. Roast 325° 30 to 35 min./lb. Medium rare 145°F / 43.5°C
40 to 45 min./lb. Medium160°F / 56.9°C
45 to 50 min./lb. Well done170°F / 62.4°C
Cubes, for Kabobs 1 to 1½” Broil/Grill 8 to 12 minutes Medium160°F / 56.9°C
Ground Lamb Patties 2″ thick Broil/Grill 5 to 8 minutes Medium °160°F / 56.9C
Chops, Rib, or Loin 1 to 1½” thick Broil/Grill 7 to 11 minutes Medium rare 145°F / 43.5°C
15 to 19 minutes Medium160°F / 56.9°C
Leg Steaks ¾” thick Broil/Grill 4″ from heat 14 to 18 minutes Medium rare 145°F / 43.5°C
Medium160°F / 56.9°C
Stew Meat, pieces 1 to 1½” Cover with liquid; simmer 1½ to 2 hours Medium160°F / 56.9°C
Shanks ¾ to 1 lb.
Breast, Rolled 1½ to 2 lb. *Braise 325° 1½ to 2 hours Medium160°F / 56.9°C

*Braising is roasting or simmering less-tender meats with a small amount of liquid in a tightly covered pan.

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58 Comments

N Lotlikar said:

Great stuff. Keep up the great work!

Ioannis Michanetzis said:

Greetings from Greece!
Thank you for presenting my recipe!
This is realy very close to the real thing, as we know it here in Greece!
Picture the roast being slowly roasted with potatoes in a traditionaly built outdoor oven using olive wood! This adds a discrete but unique smokey-oily smell and taste to the roast! This is something that is very common in the mainland villages of Greece.
More delicious Mediterranean recipes from Greece coming up!!!!

Kathy Maister said:

Ioannis I am so glad you suggested doing a Leg of Lamb! It was delicious! Cheers! Kathy

Andy said:

Excellent, thorough recipe. I just started eating lamb and I really enjoy it. I tried making grilled lamb kabobs with a juniper berry marinade. It was quite delicious. The juniper berries (which I had never had before) added a very subtle flavor to the lamb which was good.

引越し 準備 said:

I think that you are very good.

I praise it.

And I support you.

引越し 準備

Wannabe-pro said:

Thank you so much for the thorough instructions and tips. This was my first attempt at roasting a lamb and it was fantastic! Thanks to you, I am hooked ! ;-)

Mike Munday said:

Is this for a convection oven set at Convection Roast?

Kathy Maister said:

Hi Mike,
(I’m not sure I understand your question, but…)
All of my directions are based on “conventional” oven settings – with no fan.
You will have to check your oven manual to determine the correct “convection” oven setting.
Good Luck
Kathy

Ioannis Michanetzis said:

Hi.
Mike, I agree with Kathy that the oven should be set to “conventional” roasting.
Just a little historical background on this: This dish is a traditional Greek dish cooked in Greece for centuries (even before the potatoes came from the new world!). The cooking has not changed much since the ancient times. In many country homes (and city homes, because it is now trendy!) there are outdoor brick-and-mud closed ovens where wood (preferably dried olive tree branches) is burned and when the wood is charcoaled, the pan with the food is placed in to be cooked. This combination cooks the food slowly at the perfect temperature, and gives a unique “smokey” taste also. There is nothing like roast lamb cooked this way!!!!
Another trick (which you can try in any oven) is to place a layer of vine branches (thoroughly cleaned) in the pan, and place the meat on the branches. The vine branches let the meat cook all-around and give a natural delicate unique taste also! Try it !!!!
Best Regards to all!

Kathy Maister said:

Hi Ioannis,

Congratulations! You did it!!!

Your web site looks beautiful as does the Original Carbonara recipe! (I translated it in Google translate)

It is great to see that you are up and running. I do hope we are going to see YOUR roasted leg of lamb!!!

As the inspiration for this post, I am delighted your were able to jump in and help answer Mike’s question.

Best of Luck to you and your new career as a chef!

Cheers,
Kathy

bill toomey said:

Thanks for this great recipe!

As my family grows, so do the holiday dinners. Some of my kids go to other dinners before coming here. I’m assuming they will all have turkey or ham at those dinners, therefore the leg of lamb seems like a great choice for our meal here.

Thanks!

Bill

P.S. Are you supposed to have mint jelly or something with the lamb?

Ioannis Michanetzis said:

Hi Bill.
Thanks for the nice words!

Well, the Greek traditional way for this recipe, has it that the food is quite “dry”. That’s why we use just plain lemon juice, salt, pepper and some oregano over the meat. Combined with the potatoes that are cooked together and carry some of the oils(olive oil+fat from the meat), it will be just fine.

Nevertheless, a traditional add-on with this food is the “TZATZIKI” (pronounced: JA-JI-KI) salad which is very-very common and popular in Greece.

Tzatziki

Take 2 cups of Yogurt STRAINED. Some stores in the US have the Greek Strained Yogurt FAGE which is perfect because of the thick texture (Don’t use a “watery” creamy yogurt: the Tzatziki will fail!).

Add two garlic cloves pureed, half a large cucumber grated and without the liquid that comes out from the grating, some ground pepper, oregano and salt (not too much salt), half a tablespoon of extra virgin olive oil, and 5-6 drops of grape vinegar.

Thoughroughly mix with a fork and leave to stand in the fridge for an hour and you’re ready! Try the roast lamb just with Tzatziki, you will thank me (and all the Greeks for it!)

Best Regards,
Ioannis.

Kathy Maister said:

Thanks Ioannis for the great recipe on making tzatziki!

Bill I love mint jelly with lamb! There are all different types at the grocery store. Some are very sweet just like regular jelly and others have a vinegar base. Try both and see with one you like best! (I like the sweet one!)

Tom Baker said:

I’m cooking lamb today instead of turkey or ham and I needed some ideas. I am using a wet rub to crust the roast (mustard) and I wanted an idea of which spices to add to it; thanks for great information.

Nevis1 said:

You are SOOOO right about using a meat thermometer. The USDA cooking times are always on the high side of the spectrum. I guess to avoid a lawsuit.

I tried this recipe, but also added some grainy dijon mustard the mix. This helped to create a nice outer crust.

Thanks :)

vanessa said:

I have a quick question–if i’m cooking a bone-in leg of lamb do i start cooking at 450 for 20 minutes and then reduce heat to 325 for about 20 minutes (for medium)?

thanks much,

Vanessa

startcooking said:

Hi Vanessa,
Good question. I would say yes, but the USDA basically says that you can roast a bone in leg of lamb for 325 from the get go. (see chart above)

Starting with a really high temperature means the outside will develop an nice crusty brown on the outside.

As always, there are many different recipes for cooking a leg of lamb. Elise cooks her leg of lamb with the bone in by starting at 425 degrees for 20 minutes then turns the oven down to 300°F and continues to roast the meat for about 10-12 minutes per pound for medium rare lamb.

I hope this helps!

Cheers,
Kathy

melissahowell said:

Hello Kathy,

Thank you for your great pictures and directions on the leg of lamb. This is going to be my first time ever eating lamb as well as cooking it.

Thank you for sharing

Patrick said:

We enjoyed the simplicity of directions and feedback from other readers. After 4 days on the road our first home cooked meal will be equally adventurous and rewarding.

vanessa said:

Thank you Kathy!

The lamb turned out amazing! We had a wonderful dinner.

Vanessa

startcooking said:

Melissa, Patrick and Vanessa,
I am thrilled to hear that your respective lamb dinners turned out well! Happy Eating!
Cheers!
Kathy

Ken from Philly said:

OK follow the steps to the “T.” After I chop garlic, squeeze lemons, etc I rub meat with spice mixture first, as instructed. When I next pour the olive oil wine lemon juice over the lamb, all the spice rub runs off and has collected at the bottom of the bag with the marinade. Is this supposed to happen? Or should we pour the fluids in first and then put the spice rub on?

startcooking said:

Hi Ken,
I followed Ioannis’s recipe as show above. Once you squeeze all the air out of the bag, the spice rub and marinating liquid surround the meat and all the lovely flavors get absorbed into the meat after all those many hours of marinating. Just be sure to tightly squeeze all of the air out of the bag.
Good Luck!
Kathy

melissa D said:

Thank you very much for all of your hard work and time, all the information was very helpful I’m going to go put my lamb in the oven now…

Karla said:

Hi Kathy ,

I have only had lamb once or twice but a friend of mine butchered up a lamb and gave me a leg of lamb bone in. I will follow your recipe. I am making this for my parents what would u suggest I serve it with. I would like it to be a 3 course meal.

Thank you!

Karla

startcooking said:

Hi Karla,
This all sounds very adventurous!

My suggestion to you would be to check out my Recipe Index at the top of the page for some ideas on appetizers and desserts. I have many soup recipes which would be great as a starter course. For dessert there are lots of chocolate options as well as pies and no-bake desserts.

Three of my favorite soups are:
French Onion Soup (video)
Tuscan Bean Soup
Pumpkin Soup without the Fuss

Apple Crisp (video) is a great dessert that everyone loves! Or if you could try Strawberries Dipped in Chocolate.

Good Luck!
Kathy

Ken from Philly said:

The Tuscan Bean Soup recipe looks like a winner.

startcooking said:

It is! Just be sure to use FRESH herbs and do not over cook the spinach so that it stays nice and bright green.

Shirley said:

I had about a 3lb. boneless leg of lamb, This recipe is wonderful but what do you do when you don’t have everything required? Like what can I substitiue for the garlic(can I use dry garlic), for the olive oil can I use extra virgin, for the red wine can I use the red wine vinegar that is for cooking. These are the types of things I am speaking of. There are no alternatives listed and one last thing can I roast the lamb without doing the basting and keeping it in the refrigerator for 2 hours.

startcooking said:

Hi Shirley,

startcooking.com is all about learning the basics in cooking. Substitutions are really difficult for beginner cooks, consequently I do not offer “alternatives” to the recipe ingredient list.

Having said that…if you are using garlic powder instead of fresh garlic, proceed with caution! Garlic powder is about three times as strong as fresh garlic so you only need a small amount. And no, red wine vinegar can not be substituted for red wine.

This recipe requires one to marinate a leg of lamb for several hours. No basting is required!

Cheers,
Kathy

Kate said:

This looks delish! I’ll be trying it this weekend

Ryan Barbato said:

I am making your recipe for Easter dinner, I have never made it before but I am excited. Do I Put the potatoes on the bottom of the roasting pan or on the rack, also I am making bread in my bread maker, what kind of Bread would be suggested? Will my electric oven make any difference?

startcooking said:

Hi Ryan,

I do not recommend roasting potatoes in the bottom of the pan you are roasting the lamb in.

The oven temperature should be at least 400 degrees F. to properly roast potatoes, which is clearly too hot of an oven to roast a leg of lamb.
I am lucky enough to have two ovens so that I was able to cook them separately.

If you have just one oven, cook the roast and take it out of the oven and cover it with tinfoil and let it rest. Raise the temperature of the oven and then roast your potatoes.

A bread recipe made with fresh herbs would work well with lamb.

Cheers,
Kathy

Russell said:

we are going to roast a leg of lamb for Easter using your steps.

our butcher shop ordered a leg just for us. it weighed in at 12 pounds. cost for the whole leg was $61.

since we are only feeding 4 people for Easter, i had him cut it into two roasts about 4.5 pounds each. we will freeze the one we dont use.

he then boned the whole leg. we saved the leg bones for future use such as lamb stew. dont know yet.

i will let you know how the dinner went.

thanks for the information

Russ

cathy said:

I want to roast potatoes along with lamb, do I put potatoes around lamb or layer it bottom of pan and sit lamp on top?

startcooking said:

Good Luck Russ! I love all your advance planning. I am sure you will have a glorious feast!

Cathy,

Here is the way Equcurious does it.

I do not recommend roasting potatoes in the bottom of the pan you are roasting the lamb in.

The oven temperature should be at least 400 degrees F. to properly roast potatoes, which is clearly too hot of an oven to roast a leg of lamb.

I am lucky enough to have two ovens so that I was able to cook them separately.

If you have just one oven, cook the roast and take it out of the oven and cover it with tinfoil and let it rest. Raise the temperature of the oven and then roast your potatoes.

cathy said:

thank U….,Happy Easter to you and yours

christine said:

hi from glasgow in scotland uk

your oven tem is not right for uk temp could you try and get things right before you put it up my leg of lamb is still cooking

HAPPY EASTER TO ONE AND ALL

sue said:

I will be making this for Easter and wonder if you have any hints on how to make the gravey. I am making mashed potatoes with this and will need gravey for them. Please rush this advice to me as i am making it tomorrow.

startcooking said:

Christine, the metric conversions are correct. I am sorry your leg of lamb is not cooking as expected. There are many factors which can effect the cooking time including how many times you open the oven door to check on your leg of lamb, temperature of the meat when you put it in the oven, bone in vs. boneless, etc.

Sue, I have done a post on How to Make Gravy. Lamb is excellent served with mint jelly. Or you can Google making lamb gravy and find thousands of recipes!

Cheers,
Kathy

joan said:

Our leg just came out of the oven – thank you!~
Joan

Maryanne said:

Your recipe for roasting leg of lamb was so helpful. Understanding why the recipes indicate speciffic instructions is very helpful to me. The pictures help a lot too. Many thanks.

Charlene Hampton said:

I found this recipe a few days ago. I was planning on roasting a Leg of Lamb for Easter and wanted to try something new. Thanks to you, this recipe moves to the top of the list of lamb recipes. It turned out beautifully and yes…a thermometer works great. I never did open the oven door the whole time the roast was cooking but periodically checked the thermometer. When it hit the temperature I wanted I pulled it out to rest. The flavor is gorgeous! Thanks!

startcooking said:

Joan, Maryanne, and Charlene, I am delighted to hear that your lamb was a success!
Cheers,
Kathy

Russell Kiecker said:

just an update.

success all around.

thanks for the info

i think an Easter tradition has begun.

Russ

Russell Kiecker said:

Thanks for posting our Easter Lamb photo. Russ

Judy Morente said:

Hi Kathy,

I always end up cooking my bone in lamb leg as well done and its tough and dry. I covered it first for 40 minutes in tinfoil hoping to save the moisture. Then I opened it and cooked for another 40 minutes, that’s when it started to become tough.

Now I will try again using your recipe cooking time and the advice I read in the posts. I hope it will be a success this time.

startcooking said:

Hi Judy,
Well done lamb inevitably ends up dry and tough. Marinating the lamb certainly helps to keep it moist.
Good luck and I will keep my fingers crossed that it turns out moist and tender!
Cheers,
Kathy

Charmaine said:

Wow, I made this and my husband just loves it! It was my very first attempt at cooking lamb. Great recipe.

startcooking said:

Congratulations Charmaine!

aw said:

robert jenkins said:

By “FAR this is the only wy to cook a leg of lamb,[bone in or not] EXCELLENT!!!!! thanks so much

BOB

startcooking said:

Thanks Robert!
I am delighted to hear that you agree with this recipe!
Cheers,
Kathy

Harry said:

Hi, thanks for your recipe which I am anxious to try out. I come from the UK but live in Greece and have been trying out many traditional Greek dishes. The one problem I have with roasting lamb is that it is always too dry. Any idea wnat I am doing wrong?

startcooking said:

Hi Harry,
My guess is that you are over cooking your lamb. An instant read thermometer may well be the answer to dry lamb.
K.

Niko said:

Thank you for the recipe. I have to add that Colorado lamb is so much better than lamb from New Zealand. No offense to any New Zealanders out there, I just prefer the taste of Colorado.

Lamb Lamb Lamb said:

Kathy,
Your instructions are quite detailed. Have you considered making a series of youtube videos? I’m sure they would be well received. Just my 2 cents… :)

Cheers,
Lamb lover

startcooking said:

Hi Lamb,
If you scroll to the top of the page and click on Video you will find more than sixty of my videos.
Most are indeed already on You Tube!
K.