Intimidated by how to roast a leg of lamb? Don’t be. It’s deceptively simple to do.
This post will teach you how to buy a leg of lamb, guide you through the whole roasting process with step-by-step photos, and then show you how to carve it.
You can do it. I’ll show you how.
This post is massive, so I’ve included a printable recipe card for you at the bottom.
Leg of lamb is an old holiday favorite at our house.
Holidays aside, it’s an impressive centerpiece for any festive or special gathering.
Lamb is also near the top of my list of favorite comfort foods.
I like to serve it with wild rice, roasted veggies, or buttery mashed potatoes.
What is a leg of lamb?
It’s just what it sounds like. It’s literally a piece of a lamb’s leg. (Obvious, I know, but someone always asks, so there you go.)
The top (closer to the hip) is the thicker, meatier part.
The shank (closer to the ankle) is the skinnier part at the end.
Most lamb sold in the US is farmed in the US, New Zealand, or Australia. American lamb tends to be milder in flavor.
Lamb is a good source of lean protein, certain minerals, and B vitamins.
How to buy leg of lamb
Bone-in leg of lamb is sold both with the shank attached and with it removed.
The shank can be a little chewier, texture wise, but is also slightly more flavorful.
I like to buy mine with the shank on because it makes for a more dramatic presentation at the table.
If you’re after a boneless leg of lamb, it will already be trimmed, rolled, and tied or netted.
The twine or netting helps it keep its shape during roasting, since it doesn’t have a bone.
Either way you go, look for pale, creamy fat and meat that’s on the lighter side.
Yellowish fat can indicate an older animal, which means it will have a gamier flavor.
The meat itself should be darker than a pork chop but no darker than a good sirloin steak. (I’d avoid meat that’s really really dark as liver, it will be very strongly flavored.)
Every monitor or phone will be different in terms of color, but here’s a good shot for color reference:
Plan on cooking it within 1-2 days of purchase.
Store it well wrapped in the bottom of the fridge, where it’s coldest.
When in doubt, go to a good butcher or a fancier grocery store like a Whole Foods.
If you have questions, just talk to the folks behind the meat counter.
(My favorite butcher at my Whole Foods is AWESOME and totally hooked me up with this gorgeous lamb. Thank you, you know who you are!)
Here’s the leg of lamb for this post
As you can see, it has a good layer of fat that’s not too thick.
This fat will keep it moist as it roasts.
You can see that I pretty much got the whole leg.
The round tip on the bone is the ball joint where it connects in to the hip.
How to Roast a Leg of Lamb: Grass-fed vs. grain-fed lamb
As a general rule, what an animal eats influences its flavor.
Grain-fed lamb tends to have a more subtle, almost sweeter, flavor. American lamb is grass-fed and grain-finished.
Australian and New Zealand lamb is exclusively grass-fed, and has a wilder, slightly stronger flavor.
I prefer grass-fed, but search out the kind that you like best.
When cost is a consideration, American lamb tends to be more expensive than Australian/New Zealand lamb, simply because it’s produced on a smaller scale by comparison.
Should I trim the fat off my leg of lamb?
If it’s ridiculously thick, you can take some of it off.
(OR, cut shallow cross hashes in the fat layer–NOT so deep that you go down into the meat–so that it renders faster.)
But I always leave a layer on and roast it fat side UP.
This helps keep the meat moist, and bastes it as it cooks.
How to roast a leg of lamb: Frenching the bone
I copped out because I was short on time this go round and asked my buddy the butcher to French the bone for me.
“Frenching” a bone just means removing all the fat and meat from the end of it, and scraping it clean.
To French your bone, just cut all the meat and fat off it, maybe 2 inches from the tip of the bone.
Then, scrape the bone with a sharp knife to get any residual stuff off. Get it as clean as you can, but don’t make yourself nuts.
A Frenched bone makes for a really nice presentation when you bring the finished roast to the table.
Any fat or meat you do leave on the bone will get nice and crispy and brown.
If you’re so inclined, this roasted bone will be a fabulous addition to soup stock.
How much lamb should I buy?
A whole, bone-in leg of lamb will run roughly 6-8 lbs., and should feed about 8 – 10 people.
Another good guideline is about 1/3 of a pound of boneless lamb per person, or 2/3rds of a pound of bone-in lamb.
Different ways to flavor leg of lamb
I kept it really simple this time.
I rubbed the meat all over with good olive oil, fresh garlic and sage, kosher salt, and black pepper.
Other flavors to try:
+Rosemary and Garlic
Make a paste in the food processor of fresh rosemary, garlic, white pepper, a little shallot, and olive oil.
+Chinese Five Spice
Rub with olive oil and massage with five spice powder, which is fragrant with cinnamon, clove, fennel, star anise, and Szechuan peppercorns.
+Garlic Bomb Lamb
Lightly score the fat pad and wedge small, peeled cloves of garlic in intermittently. Sprinkle with granulated onion, black pepper, and kosher salt. Drizzle with olive oil. (Not for vampires.)
Rub a thick layer of olive tapenade and minced parsley on your leg of lamb. Roast tapenade-side UP.
+Hot, Smoky + Spicy
Rub with cayenne pepper, garlic powder, onion powder, smoked paprika, parsley, dried mustard, and kosher salt. (Adjust the heat up or down by using different chili peppers.)
You get the idea! Do some more research, use your imagination.
If you have another great combo, please leave a comment below, let us know!
How do I know when my leg of lamb is cooked?
As a general rule, treat your leg of lamb just like beef.
Use an instant-read thermometer to take its temperature at the thickest part of the meat.
Be sure you’re not touching the bone, which can skew the temperature reading higher than it actually is.
Leg of lamb temperatures
- 120° F (rare): Bright red, interior fat that hasn’t broken down yet.
- 130° F (medium-rare): Bright pink, firmer interior fat, starting to soften.
- 140° F (medium): Rosy pink, soft interior fat.
- 150° F (medium-well): Light pink, almost gray. This is where your lamb will probably start to dry out.
- 160° F (well done): Fully grey interior. This will be pretty dry and tough.
What do I do with leftover lamb?
If you have room in your fridge, keep the uneaten portion of your leg of lamb in one hunk.
Don’t slice it, which will make it dry out faster.
Reheat it in a 250-degree F oven until it reaches the internal temp you like (again, check with a thermometer).
You can also slice it to order to make mouthwatering hot sandwiches with good, crusty bread and some cheese (I love Fontina or feta with lamb).
I had to cut ours up because our fridge is packed, but I’m not worried about it drying out. It won’t last long enough to.
We also cut a little bit up as a special holiday treat for the little werewolf. (He LOVED it.)
And don’t forget that bone!
Wrap it well and toss it in the freezer.
Use it to make a deeply flavorful bone broth with lots of earthy mushrooms, garlic, and root veggies.
Alright, enough yapping! To the ovens!
How to roast a leg of lamb
1 bone-in leg of lamb, 6-8 lbs.
1/2 cup good olive oil
3-5 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
Leaves from 1 small bunch fresh sage, coarsely chopped
kosher salt, to taste
ground black pepper, to taste
Do a little prep
Preheat your oven to 450-degrees F. Set a rack in a large roasting pan.
Season your leg of lamb
Grab your leg of lamb. Unwrap it and pat it dry with paper towels if it’s wet looking.
Drizzle it with olive oil.
Sprinkle with kosher salt and black pepper.
Rub the olive oil, salt, and pepper all over the lamb, until it’s evenly coated.
Get all sides, and run your hand down the bone to get some olive oil on it (this will help it brown).
Save the sage and garlic for now. We’re going to use it in a few minutes, after we brown the lamb.
Set your leg of lamb meat side up/fat side down on your prepared roasting pan.
I had to put mine at an angle like this to get it to fit. Totally fine.
Brown your leg of lamb on both sides
Slide it into your preheated, 450-degree F oven. Roast for 5-10 minutes, until nicely browned.
After 5-10 minutes, yank your leg of lamb out of the oven. Set the pan on a rack.
Carefully flip your leg of lamb over, so it’s meat side down/fat side UP.
(Watch it, this thing is heavy, unwieldy, and HOT. Use any combo of potholders, tongs, forks, etc. that you feel comfortable with.)
Slide your pan back into the oven for another 5-10 minutes at 450-degrees F to brown the top.
After 5-10 minutes, your leg of lamb should be brown on top. Pull it out of the oven and set the pan on a rack.
This initial step is just to give it a head start on developing rich flavor and color.
Top with garlic and sage
Grab your minced garlic and sage.
Sprinkle them over the top (this is the fatty side) of your lamb.
Try to distribute it evenly but don’t make yourself crazy.
Drizzle with a little more olive oil if you feel like it’s not all sticking well.
Roast your leg of lamb for about an hour
Slide your pan back into the oven.
Lower your heat to 325-degrees F and roast uncovered for roughly another 60 minutes, or until it reaches the temperature you like on an instant-read thermometer (see above for a temp chart for doneness).
Keep a good eye on your lamb as it roasts.
If it looks like it’s starting to get too dark or burn on top, tent a piece of foil over it loosely.
(Don’t cover it completely or tightly. That will hold heat and moisture in, so your lamb will steam, not brown nicely.)
Let your lamb rest before slicing
When your leg of lamb hits the temp you like, remove the pan from the oven.
Place it on a rack. Tent it LOOSELY with foil for 10 minutes.
This will let the juices settle back into the meat.
How to carve bone-in leg of lamb
Once your lamb has rested, it’s time to slice it up!
Transfer it to a serving platter that’s big enough to give you some room to maneuver.
Hold on to the bone with one hand (use a pot holder or a few paper towels if it’s still too hot for your paws).
Slice horizontal rows, cutting in circles around the bone. The meat is staying on the bone for now. Just cut the circles.
Once you’ve cut your rows, slide your knife down along the bone to remove the meat, like this:
Follow the contour of your bone and do the best you can. It will be delicious, any way you cut it.
Serve and enjoy!
Plate your lamb up, serve, and enjoy! We hope you have a wonderful dinner!