This post contains affiliate links. Please see our disclaimer for more information.
Here’s a terrific recipe for your next Christmas dinner, or any other function you’re hosting and you have to feed a whole herd of people.
You take 200 lbs of finely split assorted pieces of hardwood, 5 or 6 homemade fire starters, and one long match…light the fire starters and wait about 30 to 45 minutes until the wood has turned to a beautiful bright red pile of burning embers.
Add one 35 lb lamb on a spit and cook for about 4 hours, basting every 15 to 30 minutes. You’ll want the thickest part of the little cooked beast to be about 170 degrees Fahrenheit when done.
…So I may have left out a few minor details, or maybe a lot of minor details…
First of all, you need a spit or Campfire Rotisserie System <—CLICK HERE—THIS IS AN AFFILIATE LINK —HELP SUPPORT OUR BEER FUND, you can beg, borrow or rent one (we rented one), if you’re talented enough you can even build one of your own. (This may be a project for us here in the future.) Then you need a fresh butchered lamb which is the right size for the number of people you’re trying to feed. (Ask your butcher, they’ll help you figure out the best size.) You’ll also need a nice supply of seasoned, finely split hardwood. I used hickory, cherry, apple, plum and oak.
If you don’t have access to the hardwood, you can purchase hardwood charcoal <—CLICK HERE—THIS IS AN AFFILIATE LINK —HELP SUPPORT OUR BEER FUND from your local hardware store or online, but then of course it wouldn’t be much of a Wood Whore story.
I have a nice spot in my workshop, that I season my special hardwood just for such occasions. I split it extra thin to use it with the spit that I rent from Pike’s Rentals <—NOT AN AFFILIATE LINK—. It doesn’t take up much space and it dries out much faster indoors than if I leave it outside.
Back to the lamb… I’m not going to tell you this is the best way to cook the lamb or that my recipe is better than any other, but I will tell you that I’ve done this more than once and it’s wonderful.
My “sauce” or baste consists of dijon mustard, <—CLICK HERE—THIS IS AN AFFILIATE LINK —HELP SUPPORT OUR BEER FUND olive oil, honey, fresh and dry rosemary, oregano, garlic, salt, pepper and lemon juice. The basting brush itself is a young rosemary bush cut from the ground the morning of the event (See Note below). If you have access to a large rosemary bush you can just cut off a nice bushy branch. It works great as a basting brush and of course adds the smell and taste of rosemary every time you use it.
Note: I make my own basting brush by securing a bunch of rosemary branches to a dowel, the handle of a wooden spoon, or a long-handled carving fork. The rosemary brush flavors the baste, releases oils into the crust as it builds, and eventually becomes a garnish. Plus, it looks really cool! You can use this technique for other herbs as well depending on your recipe.
Once you have secured your lamb to the rotisserie part of your spit, you can start to get it ready for cooking. There are a lot of youtube videos that show you exactly how to secure your “dinner to be” securely to the spit. There are also a lot of different types of spits out there. It’s my opinion, that if you take the time to really secure the legs and spine, then you should be fine.
Find out what style of spit you’ll be using and then find a video or two that use the same type or something very similar. If your spit has no “U” bolt or anything else to hold the spine to the rod, then I would suggest a stainless steel hose clamp or even better, a stainless steel zap strap.
Cut two small slits on either side of the spine, dead center of its back and just push the pointy end of the zap strap through the ribs and around the pole and the spine, then back through the second slit. Cinch it nice and tight and your beast won’t loosen off the rod at all.
While you’re waiting for your wood to burn down and only after you’ve secured dinner to the pole, it’s time to prep.
In a large mixing bowl, add 10 cups of good dijon mustard, 1 cup of lemon juice, 1 cup of crushed garlic, 1 cup of dried rosemary, 1 cup of honey, 4 tbsp. of oregano, 1 cup of olive oil, salt and pepper to taste and a few sprigs of fresh rosemary. Mix it all in the bowl together to make a nice thick paste.
Cut six large lemons in half and rub the entire lamb down with the lemons. Make sure you cover the whole thing in zesty fresh lemon juice. Don’t forget the inside of the chest cavity, rub it down as well. Place all your spent lemons in the chest cavity, as well as any lemon halves you didn’t use.
Now take about a quart of your sauce and an extra 6-10 garlic cloves and a handful of fresh rosemary sprigs. Pour it into the chest cavity and rub it in as best you can. I like to wear disposable rubber gloves for this part. I like to push and squeeze the mix into every nook and crack. Now it’s time to sew up the opening.
This is not really that hard at all, again you can watch a video and learn or you can just take your time and make sure your twine is snug from one end to the other. A couple of tugs here and there and a couple of knots at the end and you’re done.
Pretend you’re doing up your shoe but with a large needle and some twine. Once you’re satisfied that your sewing job is going to hold up, it’s time to garlic the beast. Using a sharp knife to make small slits into the legs, haunches, back and any other thick parts of meat you see, put either whole or crushed garlic into the meat. You really can’t add too much garlic. 10 or 20 cloves over the entire animal will be great. Feel free to push more than one clove into each slit.
Once it’s secured to the spit, rubbed down with lemon, stuffed with sauce, sewn up tight and fully loaded with garlic…it’s ready to be put over the heat.
I cook it at the highest setting my spit has for the entire cooking process, some people like to drop it down a bit lower after the first hour or so, once it’s browned up a bit. Again I’m not saying which way is better, but this works for me.
Now take your fresh rosemary “brush” and baste the whole thing with the mustard sauce as soon as you place it over the heat. Be generous with the first coat, it will become a nice thick layer between the meat and the coals.
Now it’s time to watch it spin, grab a drink, hit the washroom or even clean up the mess you already made. I find that the initial basting is good for at least the first 30 minutes or so, while you’re watching for anything to loosen off or anything else to go wrong, you also want to be watching the firepit. You will be pretty much constantly adding wood to the outer edges of the pit, then pushing it into the middle area once it’s burned down a bit.
Some flames are great, but you don’t want the whole pit to be a blazing flame filled cooker. You want lots of heat, but not lots of flames.
Just take your time with the wood, never letting it flare up too much or letting it cool down too much. Every 15 to 30 minutes, you’ll want to baste it for sure. Even more often if you notice spots where the initial layer has fallen off.
This wood watching and basting process will go on until it is finished. It’s never taken more than 4 hours to cook for me. A reliable meat thermometer into the thickest parts of the rear end and shoulders, anytime after 3 1/2 hours and you’ll watch it climb to the perfect 170 degrees.
You don’t have to leave the thermometer in the lamb, just give it a stab every 5 to 10 minutes until it’s done.
As you’re watching your beast spin, and you’re checking your fire, and you’re basting as needed, you’ll also want to keep an eye on your fastening job. As your dinner cooks, it may start to loosen up a bit or want to “flop” around. Feel free to add more string or wire to anything that starts to loosen up.
Once you get it to 170 degrees, it’s time to remove it from the heat. With a helper, maybe the same one that helped you put it on the spit, lift it off and onto a table for carving. Just a note, I don’t need anyone to help me put it on the spit because it’s not crazy hot and juicy, but I absolutely get help removing it.
It’s recommended that you keep it warm but off the heat for at least 15 minutes or so before you start to carve it up. I cover the entire lamb with tinfoil and place a large towel over it until I’m ready for the carving.
Of course while you’ve been slaving over a very hot stove all day, someone else has hopefully been prepping everything else on the menu. You’ve done your part….. now it’s time to enjoy.
*Just a Tip: You may not notice, but everyone else will….you now smell like a cooked lamb. You may want to wash up and change your clothes before sitting down to dinner, then…. enjoy.