Roast Leg of Lamb

The most important thing to remember about cooking a lamb roast is to not over-cook it. Lamb has such wonderful flavor on its own, and is so naturally tender, that it is bound to turn out well, as long as it is still a little pink inside.

There is some debate over which method yields the best results—slow cooking at low heat the entire time, or searing first on high heat and then slow cooking. James Beard in his American Cookery prefers the slow-cook-low-heat method (he rubs the roast with salt and pepper and cooks it at 325°F the whole time.)

We generally get great results with the searing method, starting at high heat and then dropping the temp which is the method described in the following recipe. If you use searing method, you will have ends that are more well done, and as you get closer to the interior, more rare. This way you have a variety to serve to guests.

Another point where there are wildly varying opinions is the internal temperature that constitutes “medium rare”. I’ve seen references that range from 120° to 145°F. For this roast, I pulled it out at 125°F. As it rested the internal temperature continued to rise a few points as the meat continued to cook.

We like lamb on the rare side of medium rare, and this roast was perfectly done to our taste. Clearly an accurate meat thermometer is essential, and it helps to insert the meat thermometer at different places into the deep interior of the roast to get a good read.

A great way to keep tabs on how well the roast is cooking is to use a remote thermometer. This way you can tell when the roast is done without having to open the oven door, avoiding the loss of heat that comes from doing that.

These directions assume that you have let the roast sit at room temperature for an hour or two before roasting. If you are taking a roast and cooking it directly from the fridge, it will take longer to cook.

Roast Leg of Lamb Recipe

  • Prep time:
  • Cook time: 1 hour, 20 minutes
  • Yield: Serves 8 to 10.

The marinade we used on this roast comes from my friend Suzanne and it works quite well. A simpler marinade of rosemary, olive oil, garlic, pepper, and lemon juice would do the trick quite nicely too. One can also make tiny slices into the surface of the roast and insert slivers of garlic and herbs.

Ingredients

Marinade

  • 1/2 cup orange juice
  • 1 cup white wine
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 teaspoons of fresh thyme or 1 teaspoon of dried thyme
  • 2 Tbsp of fresh chopped rosemary or 1 Tbsp of dried rosemary
  • 1/4 teaspoon of fresh ground pepper

Blend marinade ingredients in a blender, just a few pulses until well mixed.

Lamb Roast

  • 1 (6-pound) leg of lamb, bone-in or boneless. If boneless, the leg should be tied up with kitchen string by butcher.
  • Marinade
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Method

marinating-lamb-roast.jpg
1 Place lamb and marinade into a plastic bag. Squeeze out as much of the air as possible from the bag and seal. Wrap again with another plastic bag to ensure that the marinating lamb doesn't leak. Marinate for several hours, or overnight, in the refrigerator. Remove the lamb, still in its marinade bag, from the refrigerator at least an hour (preferably two hours) before putting in the oven to help bring the lamb closer to room temperature before roasting.

2 Preheat oven to 425°F. Arrange two racks in the oven - a middle rack to hold the lamb, and a lower rack to hold a roasting pan with which to catch the drippings.  Note that this arrangement of racks and pans, with the roast sitting directly on the oven rack, will create a natural convection of heat in the oven, causing the roast to cook more quickly than if cooked the traditional method in a rack in a roasting pan.

lamb-roast-1.jpg lamb-roast-2.jpg

3 Remove the lamb roast from its marinade bag (you may want to temporarily place lamb in another roasting pan, just to make it less messy to work with.) Pat dry the marinade off the lamb with paper towels. Generously salt and pepper all sides of the roast. Arrange the roast fattiest side up, so while the lamb is cooking the fat will melt into the meat. Insert an oven-proof meat thermometer into the thickest part of the roast, not touching the bone if your roast is bone-in. Place the roast directly on middle rack of the oven, with a roasting pan on a separate rack a rung lower, to catch the drippings. You may also want to put some water in the bottom roasting pan, so that the drippings fall into the water instead of burning in the hot pan and smoking up your kitchen.

4 Roast at 425°F for 20 minutes. Then reduce the heat to 300°F and roast an additional 40 minutes (for a 6 pound boneless roast) to an hour (for a 6 pound bone-in roast).  If you are cooking a roast bone-in, the bone will act as an insulator and will require a longer cooking time than a boneless roast. In general estimate 10-13 minutes per pound for total cooking time (for rare), including that first 20 minutes at high heat. (Assuming you let the roast sit out for an hour or two before putting it in the oven. If it's right out of the fridge, it will take longer to cook.)

Note that the method of cooking directly on the oven rack will mimic a convection oven and the cooking time/oven temp needed will be less than you would need if you cooked the roast on a rack in a roasting pan. If you are cooking the roast in a roasting pan, rack or not, start the roast at 450°F and then reduce the heat to 325°F. Also, the shape of the roast will have an impact on the cooking time. Our roast was rather long and thin, so it cooked up fairly quickly. A thicker roast may take longer than expected.

So, use a meat thermometer!

About 20 minutes before you expect the roast to be done, start checking the meat thermometer. Note that every time you open the oven door, you'll need 10 minutes or so to bring the oven back up to temperature, thus slowing down the cooking process. So, don't check too often. Remove from the oven anywhere from 125°F to 135°F for medium rare. Lamb should never be cooked until well done or it will be too dry. Let stand for 25-30 minutes before carving. Cut away the kitchen string and slice with a sharp carving knife, 1/2 inch thick slices, against the grain of the meat.

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5 While the roast is resting, use a metal spatula to scrape up the drippings in the roasting pan. Use the drippings to make a gravy, or use just the drippings themselves to serve with the lamb.

Serve with some homemade mint jelly for an added treat.

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James Beard's Roast Leg of Lamb Recipe from Epicurious

Roast Leg of Lamb on Simply Recipes

46 Comments

  1. F.S.Cohen

    I am sure this group of lamb lovers can help me with my wonderful problem!

    I have a 4lb boneless organic leg of lamb in the freezer. There is no occasion in the forseeable future when I would have the need for the whole roast.

    What I need is to eat that great piece of meat!

    As I see it, my choices are 1)to roast the entire piece and hope for suggestions from you as to re-cycling the leftovers.

    The 2) choice is to divide it and roast one half.

    Then the other half could be stew. Or again, suggestions from you.

    Many thanks!

  2. Elise

    Hi F.S.,
    What I did with the above roast is I cooked it, and then cut of 2/3 of it and brought it to a dear friend of mine who is a teacher with 3 kids and who is in the middle of moving. One third of it stayed with my folks who had plenty and enough for leftovers, and the rest was enjoyed by a somewhat overwhelmed-at-the-moment family.
    In your case, given that the roast is already frozen, it would be very hard to divide it in half without defrosting it. You could defrost it, divide in in half and use one half for stew meat, and then just cook a 2 lb roast. I would probably just roast the whole thing and eat roast-lamb sandwiches for lunch for a few days.
    Good luck!

  3. Jeff

    What did you end up having for side dishes beyond the mint jelly? We are going down to the NYC for the weekend, however, my wife just invited her cousin over for Easter dinner on Sunday and I’m now scrambling for ideas as to what to cook in a shorter amount of time as I won’t have all day to cook and this super yummers.

  4. farmgirl

    It looks perfect! And the instructions are so nice and clear. Thanks for promoting naturally raised lamb. I can’t but help but add my two cents here (after just having had six lambs born in the past five days, LOL)–pasture/grass fed lamb has a wonderful flavor, is very lean, and is more nutritious than grain-fed (among other things, it is high in CLA–conjugated linoleic acid–which is very good for you). Okay, off my lamb soapbox! : )

  5. Ole Aioli

    Throughout North Africa and the Middle-East pink lamb is thought of as being raw. I’ve had many delicious lamb dishes from Morocco to Lebanon without any pink. Try it. You might like it.

  6. Sharon

    Used above marinade & instructions for yesterday’s Easter dinner — spectacular meal! Oven thermometer and meat thermometer are essential tools. Served lamb with roasted new potatoes, stirfried asparagus (olive oil & Kosher salt), lamb gravy, red wine & rolls preceeded with fresh spinach salad (spinach, purple onion, sliced strawberries, sliced almonds & poppyseed dressing)and finished with strawberry shortcake (brush angel food slices with butter & brown in the oven, top with vanilla icecream while cake is hot, then add berries & fresh whipped cream). Easy dinner with rave reviews!

  7. Jenn Lewis

    This looks wonderful! Lamb dishes always make me think of spring.
    One suggestion: Instead of 1/2 cup of orange juice, try substituting 1/4 cup of Blood Orange Vinegar. I know it’s an obscure ingredient, but you won’t believe the rich, complex orange flavors it brings to a dish. You’ll have no trouble using the rest of the bottle other marinades, salad dressings and sauces.
    Also, great tip on not including salt in the marinade.

  8. Radha

    I like to make a lamb curry with the leftovers. I simply make an Indian-style tomato base sauce and add the lamb, raisens, cashews and a touch of cream at the end to make a delicious curry. Serve over rice and watch it disappear before your eyes!!

  9. Melinda

    I recently had dinner at a friends’ house. She rubbed a boneless skinless leg of lamb (about 2lbs) with a mixture of crushed rosemary & kosher salt, and roasted in the oven on an olive oil slathered baking sheet – she served cubed caramelized butternut squash, and flash sauteed brussels sprouts with pecans & brown butter. I am unsure if it was the marvelous champagne before dinner, the exquisite cabernet with dinner, or she is simply a magician, but I’ve never tasted such a delectable meal that was sooo simple! I’m going to try it tomorrow night with 2 2lb lamb roasts, but I’ll be serving roasted red potatoes, a salad with cranberries & walnuts with a cherry poppyseed dressing, and baklava for dessert. I was thinking about serving a Rioja instead of a traditional cab – any comments about this? Thanks!

  10. Finn

    Delightful recipe…I was looking for an Easter recipe, one that I thought I could use and then keep warm for 2-3 hours in a crock pot. I’m salivating at the prospect (my kids don’t like lamb and I don’t get many opportunities to enjoy it!) Many thanks.

  11. Debbie A.

    I am going to make the leg of lamb recipe for my husband and mother in law for easter dinner- I am starting with a blue cheese and pear salad( romaine lettuce, red onion,sliced pears, blue cheese, candied pecans in a light dressing) I am having baked potatoes and steamed broccoli and carrots. I am finishing the meal with an orange trifle. I cant wait for everyone to try the lamb. Thanks for the recipe

  12. Kari

    Hi Elise. Love your site! I’m thinking about making this for my family on mother’s day. Would medium (instead of medium rare) be too much for the lamb? What should the temp read for medium? Many thanks!

  13. Helen

    This recipe was great!! I used the leftover lamb for sandwiches, and instead of mayo, etc., I made a cucumber/yogurt sauce with fresh mint, garlic and lemon juice. This sauce with thinly sliced leftover lamb and fresh tomatoes on a crusty roll made it a great winter treat!! Thanks for the marinades and recipe.

  14. richard

    What does one do with the leftover marinade? (for the person who dose not like to waste).toast some italian bread and pour lightly over toast and serve with your next meal.Your in for a lovly surprise. Best wine for this lamb recipe is a chianti,or any wine similar to the chianti. Maybe a 1-or-2.Never a full bodied or robust wine,no white wine eithier,it would destroy the dish.

    Whatever you do with the marinade, make sure you boil it for 10 minutes first. It’s been in contact with raw meat, you want to make sure all the microbes are destroyed before eating. ~Elise

  15. Leio

    Did you trim the roast of excess fat? Or did you just roast it as is?

    As is. As with prime rib, you want that fat or the roast will get dried out. You can trim it off from individual servings after it is served. ~Elise

  16. teezlady

    If you have a whole leg of lamb frozen and cannot use it all, thaw the lamb, cut off that which you will not use immediately. I always cut some into stew size pieces. While the lamb is roasting I make the stew and sometimes also make true shepherd’s pie which is made with lamb, not beef. (hence the name shepherd’s pie). Once these are made you can put them into dinner size containers and have easy comfort meals on cold winter nights. You don’t have to make these things the same day. Just refrigerate and make them within two days of thawing. Goood luck.

  17. Holly H.

    This was the first recipe I tried from your site but it will not be the last. Excellent! My friends and family were still talking about the entire dinner the next day. (Roasted potatoes, roasted carrots, and steamed garden-fresh green beans. Using two ovens, of course.) For dessert I made the snickerdoodle cookies. these were also a big hit.
    P.S. I thought the cleanup was actually easier than when you roast the lamb in the pan.

  18. Laura

    Wow. This was my first roast of any kind and since ours was smaller we cooked it for less time, and we skipped the plastic bag, just using the ceramic baking dish for the marinade over night and the cooking. Wow. It was so good! My toddler even wolfed it down. That’s a serious endorsement. Thanks for the advice. I came out looking like a pro. We served it over a big green salad dressed with olive oil, balsamic, garlic minced and salt since it was a pretty heavy dish for us. And finished it off with anis tea for dessert.

  19. Steve Russell

    Hey ~e:

    I checked out this recipe, cuz I couldn’t remember cooking times.

    Here’s an experiment I tried out of the blue, as my cooking is very much on-the-fly, gonzo-style like my mamma taught me:

    I boned the lamb. Then I made a schmear in my mortar & pestle of:

    • Fresh, wild, rosemary that grows on the slopes behind my house in Spain, that I got tonight on my dog walkies.
    • Lots of garlic
    • A big glug of extra virgin olive oil. Hey, I live where they grow it, so I use E.V. for normal cooking.

    Then I rubbed in 1/2 of the schmear, inside and out, and let it sit for a while.

    But for inside, left behind by the boning, I chopped up a whole bunch of fresh mint and mixed this in with the remainder of the schmear. This, I stuffed into the inside, and bound the openings closed with some kabob sticks.

    Rather than use a rack, I placed the bones on the bottom of a roasting dish and set the stuffed leg on top… cooked bones make exceptional stock!

    Then I bunged in some onions, potatoes and carrots and then went by your cooking times.

    The whole house is filled with lamby-minty cooking smells. Yum.

  20. Nancy PAPPAS-RUOCCO

    I have made leg of lamb many times, I use my father’s recipe. What I do is this:

    When I get my lamb I get it deboned. I then take garlic, rosemary, and thyme I then chop up the garlic(very) fine and mix all together. I then cut holes into the lamb,
    Then I poor it all over the lamb and rub it in with extra virgin olive oil. I put a medium sized potato in the corner of the baking dish, with water about half way up the lamb. At the same time the lamb is cooking the potatoes are roasting. I cover it with tin foil and cook it at 350 f for 30 to 40 minutes depending on how I want it, medium to rare. It’s a old family recipe passed down from daughter to daughter.

  21. Chuck George

    Thank you for the great recipe! My lamb-abilities stink! I am practicing for a Christmas party. It’s cooking, after marinating for 24 hours in your scrumptious marinade. I ALWAYS overcook lamb, so that’s my challenge here.

    One question: Is there a version of your recipe for convection ovens? I am cooking it with the methods you suggest, mimicking convection styles.

    Typically when you are cooking using the “convection” setting of your oven, you need to lower the temperature by 25°F and expect that whatever it is you are cooking will be done in a shorter time period. For this recipe I do not have a time guideline for convection. I would just use a very good meat thermometer and keep my eye on it. ~Elise

  22. Ylara

    Out of curiosity why the chianti as a wine? would a merlot be too much, what happens to the flavor of the dish with a full bodied red?

  23. Phil Roos

    Thanks a lot. Just used this recipe for my first Christmas dinner as a divorced bachelor with my kids. Ground up some clementines as I didn’t have oranges or orange juice. It was great! The 10-12 mins per pound didn’t work for me but it could certainly have been the oven. Thanks again!

  24. mary

    Tried this method but got overwhelmed by the smoke created by the dripping fat. I had to switch the roast into the pan and take the battery out of the smoke alarm in order to finish. I like this method for roast beef, but the lamb had too much dripping fat.

  25. Kanchan

    I just made this earlier today and it was awesome! Thanks for the recipe – everyone in my family loved it!

  26. Chester

    Can I get a boneless lamb shoulder instead of leg? Can I just get any white wine for the marinade part? as I saw some comment here mention not to use white wine as it will spoiled the dish.

    I suggest that you check out the recipes for lamb shoulder roast in Food Blog Search for some ideas on how to roast lamb shoulder. As for cooking with wine, you should always use a wine that you like to drink. If you don’t usually drink wine, you can’t go wrong with a New Zealand sauvignon blanc. ~Elise

  27. Andi

    I’m not trying to shill or anything, but I came across this recipe when looking up lamb recipes because Costco is offering a Niman Ranch leg o’lamb for $70 (shipping and handling included) – just in time for Easter. I think this marinade looks just about perfect for it.

  28. fauntleroy

    First time trying to roast a leg of lamb. Same comment as Mary above–kitchen filled with smoke from the dripping fat! Yikes seemed like a big disaster. Now have a fan going and the back door open to clear the smoke. Just turned the temp down to 300, will check in a minute, if still smoking will put it into a pan. Not sure how this would not smoke up any kitchen.

  29. Candi

    I grew up with a 100% Irish mom who roasted lamb at every special opportunity she had. Her method was to slice lots of garlic and take a paring knife, poke holes everywhere and stuff garlic slices in the holes. Then she would rub the outside with Olive oil, and very lightly salt. She always baked it in a roasting pan, starting with an inch of water. In the roasting pan she placed well washed potatoes in their skin and then very slowly baked it for a few hours. There was never pink Lamb meat at our house. The potatoes were always delightful with the lamb fat crisping the skins and the faint hint of garlic. Thanks for your ideas and recipe – I was wondering how the “rest of the world” cooked their Easter lamb!

  30. Margie

    I see how everyone would miss this small but important part but about the smoke filled kitchens…it says to put a cup or so of water in the pan so it doesn’t smoke up the kitchen. I’m trying it now and so far no smoke.

    Hi Margie – I only recently added that note, to add some water to the pan. Glad to know that it’s working for you! ~Elise

  31. Llano Texas

    I cooked a boneless leg of lamb this past weekend and first marinated it in hard apple cider, balsamic vinegar, and lemon juice with freshly chopped rosemary, italian herbs, and garlic. The roast came out medium to medium-well at a set temp of 145 so I would reduce that by 5 next time to have it a bit more rare.

    I made a red wine gravy with the reduced marinade and beer which was perfect as a gravy on the side, but which was a bit too intense for the kids. Served it with roasted new potatoes and green salad.

    Excellent!

  32. Gregory

    Thank you so much for your effort.
    My stove has only 2 options: bake and broil (hi/low) and don’t have a roast option. How would you suggest me to cook.

    Use the “bake” setting. ~Elise

  33. Michael Percy

    As a young man I spent 4 years as a jackaroo on a large sheep station (850,000 acres) in Western Australia.
    We ate mutton about 360 days a year and we knew how to cook it.
    It was never pink, but never dry or tough.
    We carved it across the grain (shorter fibres, more tender).

  34. Farmer Marc

    Someone above asked about what to do with leftovers… well I’ll share my use for your consideration.

    I love leftovers and with my lamb I boil up some extra wide egg noodles and add frozen petite peas with pearl onions at the end so as not to overcook the veggies. I cube the leftover lamb and add it on top of the bed of fresh noodles and drizzle a small amount of leftover gravy. I use Kitchen Bouquet to spice up my gravy and glaze.

    This is also a perfect way to prepare a couple of lunch meals to warm up in the Microwave.

  35. Gail Warnaar

    I plan to serve leg o’ lamb for Christmas dinner with friends and family. Question: How do I assess how many pounds to plan to prepare for 14 people? I will have a bone in leg — or two legs?

    You might want to plan for two legs and have leftovers. Unless some of your 14 are small children or people who you wouldn’t expect to eat much lamb. ~Elise

  36. Peggy Conroy

    I did the leg of lamb as described as it sounded great but soon after being placed in the oven as directed, the entire oven began to smoke. We are in full winter in upstate NY so leaving the doors and windows open was not so great.

    How do you keep the oven from smoking? From the drip pan?

    Try adding a cup of water to the roasting pan (under the rack) so that the dripping fat hits the water. ~Elise

  37. Tricia Caron

    As we live in Alaska, usually, the only meat we eat is moose, deer and reindeer, all wild organic, and being fishermen, of course we eat wild salmon and halibut. But I recently purchase an organic boneless leg of lamb for a Greek dinner I’m hosting, and am eager to try your marinade and cooking instructions and will serve tzatziki and rosemary roasted small Alaskan red potatoes, along with a Greek Salad. For appetizers, spanikopita. I will let you know how it all turns out. I sure like the convection-type roasting, sounds interesting. Thanks

  38. Brett Schlottmann

    Fourty-four years old and I’d never before eaten lamb. My roommate enjoys lamb chops, so when I came across this recipe I asked her if we (the Royal We, as I’m the cook around here) should try it.
    Wow! What a fabulous roast! Perfectly cooked, tender, juicy…
    I have to give credit where it’s due: I’m really good at following directions. haha
    This recipe is very thorough. It addresses everything. If you follow the recipe, you can not go wrong – and it produces an amazing dish.
    My thanks to Elise and Simply Recipes .com.

  39. Brenna

    Elise,
    I never buy wine and though I’m not opposed to using it for cooking I have a hard time bringing myself to buy a whole bottle when I’ll only be using a cup. In order to make this recipe do I need to use wine or is there something else I could use instead?

    I would just skip the wine and orange juice and use 2 tablespoons of lemon juice and 1/4 cup of olive oil instead. ~Elise

  40. Christina

    Because of the number of people I’m serving and the cuts available, I am roasting 3 boneless legs that are about 3.25 lb each. Can you tell me what adjustments I should make to the cooking time? Thank you

    Hi Christina, your guess is as good as mine. ~Elise

  41. Kellie

    This marinade is phenomenal! I used the recipe exactly as called for, for, except I added 1 extra tablespoon of fresh Rosemary and Thyme. I cooked an 8 lb bone-in leg of lamb JUST as directed. It was my first time to cook lamb, and it was a crowd pleaser served medium rare. Absolutely wonderful and so easy. I marinated the meat overnight to provide the best flavor!

  42. Bill B.

    Don’t have too much cooking experience as the “man of the house” but willing to try something new. Picked up the leg of lamb at the store, follwed the directions (about 95%) – it came out perfect and we had a great dinner! THANKS!

  43. Devlin

    You need to double that cooking time even for medium-rare.. Roast for 20 min at 450 and then lower to 325 for an additional 20-25 minutes per pound on a boneless.. and 30-35 minutes for bone in..

  44. jim

    Cooking time given in recipe is far off! Needs at least another 20-30 min. cook time.
    I made curry with leftovers.
    chicken broth, greek yogurt, raisins, coconut milk, onions, peppers, curry powder etc.
    Delicious!

  45. Dankster

    To Brenna, regarding buying wine:

    A few of the cheaper wines sell “individual” bottles, usually can find them at the supermarket, for a buck or two. Really a great way to buy wine for cooking.

    Also, there’s alway TwoBuckChuck from TJ’s, which is my go-to for cooking wines, plus the missus keeps it on hand.

    To Elise: why not just use a remote probe thermometer, instead of opening the door to check temps? I’m a big smoker (BBQ, that is), and opening the door/cover is a big no-no. Besides the time it takes for temps to recover, it also throws any humidity/moisture right out of the pit/oven.

    And I totally agree with pulling lamb at 130°, resting it to 135. But on a big hunk of meat, one needs to pull it out of the fridge at least an hour before cooking.

    Hi Dankser, couldn’t agree more regarding the remote probe thermometer. An excellent way to test for temperature without messing up the cooking time because of opening and closing the oven. Also agree on the coming to room temperature point. I’ve adjusted the recipe. Thank you. ~Elise

  46. Aaron

    Hello fellow friends of Lamb,
    I read a post here from someone who was concerned about the use of wine in the marinade. While Chianti is a great choice for such a dish, I found there were concerns of many who also can no longer drink wine due to personal choice. I found a 12 oz. bottle of white balsamic vinegar works quite well for this marinade as a rich non alcoholic alternative to wine. Again, I plugged the fat cap side with whole garlic cloves (about 40) and seared it on a flat iron cast iron pan and then finished it at 325 in the oven. Instead of a steel rack, I cut large potatoes in half lengthwise and added a traditional large cubed mire-poix to the bottom of a large/deep roasting pan. After cooking, the 1/2 vegetables can be pureed, and then added to the drippings as enrichment your pan style gravy The lamb cooked to 130-140 internal and had a consistent done-ness from med rare to med well across the whole leg. (also mint jelly is a must for this dish)

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