Learn everything you need to know about how to smoke a leg of lamb the RIGHT way on a smoker or a grill!
Then check out one of our FAVORITE recipes for smoked leg of lamb using a well known beer!
While ribs, pork butt, and beef brisket usually take center stage on the backyard smoker, sometimes it’s fun to switch things up and go an unconventional route, especially for holidays and special occasions.
Now, if you’ve never bought or worked with a leg of lamb before, no worries.
We are going to cover everything you need to know including:
- What to look for when buying a leg of lamb.
- How to set up your smoker for success.
- Best wood choices for lamb.
- The best, rubs, marinades, and accompaniments with with which to serve your leg of lamb.
So let’s get going!
What to Look for When Buying a Leg of Lamb
When it comes to the cut of lamb to put in your smoker, you have a wealth of options.
If you want to do something quick and satisfying, you can never go wrong with smoking lamb loin chops.
These chops look like tiny t-bone steaks, and that’s basically the cut they are.
Best Cut of Leg of Lamb
But today, we are focusing on the big show-stopping roast, the leg of lamb.
If you have an option at your market, go for the Upper Sirloin End over the lower shank end.
The sirloin has plenty of fat that translates into a juicier cut. Plus, it’s even diameter means it cooks more evenly and is easier to carve.
Bone-in or Boneless?
You may also have the option of choosing a bone-in or boneless leg of lamb.
With a bone-in leg, plan on a little longer cook time, and that you may have to pulll the meat much like pulled pork rather than slicing it.
Pulled lamb makes for amazing sandwiches.
If, however, you are imagining picture perfect slices for a holiday meal or fancy occasion, then you may want to opt for a bonless leg of lamb instead.
The lamb will cook more evenly, be finished smoking quicker, and be MUCH easier to slice and serve.
Before we dive in, here’s a great overview from Four Vanks demonstrating how to start smoking a leg of lamb:
Best Times and Temperatures for Smoking Lamb
When you are cooking a lean meat like lamb, a gentle temperature is the way to go.I like to keep the smoker at about 225 deg F for chops and around 250 deg F for the beefier cut of a leg of lamb.
The smoking time will depend largely on the thickness of your cut.
With a leg of lamb, the time it spends in the smoker should be tacked to the weight.
A 5 pound leg can often be finished in about TWO HOURS.
A 7 pound roast might take closer to THREE.
As with all large cuts of bbq, always use a good wireless dual probe meat thermometer to keep on top of the temperature of both your meat and your cooking chamber.
Best Smoking Wood Choices for Lamb
Fruity and aromatic wood suits lamb wonderfully in my opinion.
I like a combination of pecan and apple with mine. But, you are by no means limited to those choices.
Hickory has a strong flavor that will stand up to lamb’s bold flavor.
Mesquite is actually another good choice in this situation but go easy if using mesquite for the first time as a little goes a long way.
It may be better to mix Mesquite in with some other woods.
Experiment with different woods alone or in various mixes to see which ones suit your tastes, and your seasonings, the best!
Top Seasonings and Marinades for Smoked Lamb
Garlic and Rosemary
Lamb has a strong flavor that demands equally strong marinades and spices to match.
Rosemary is a natural pairing as well as a heavy amount of fresh garlic. You can never go wrong with a simple rub of garlic, rosemary, slat and pepper. Mustard holds up well too.
Many people opt for just a very simple dry rub including kosher salt and fresh ground pepper. The heat of crushed red pepper flakes is a welcome addition, as well.
Alternately, you can go international with your seasoning choices. Lamb is a dish that is popular all over the world.
You can go for a Turkish flavor by rubbing your lamb with cumin, garlic, minced onion and parsley.
Or, lean toward a Greek treatment with a marinade that relies heavily on oregano, thyme, lemon and olive oil.
Cooking with Beer
Lamb is GREAT meat for using beer as a flavoring ingredient.
I think it is one of the few foods in the world that even cooks well with the hoppiness of a strong IPA if you want to go big and bold.
Lamb is strong enough to hold up to the flavors of a strong ale or stout, yet delicate enough that you will still actually TASTE whatever beer you choose to cook with.
Some people like to braise the lamb in beer, but as we’ve shown with beer braised brats, you can end up losing a lot of your meat’s natural flavor when you braise, because it…well…ends up in the braising liquid.
And since we want to fire up that smoker, we have a great recipe below that incorporates brushing the leg of lamb with a strong stout while it is smoking.
This gives you the best of ALL worlds: meat, smoke, beer…what’s not to like?
Setting up your Smoker for a Leg of Lamb
Charcoal Smokers – (Vertical or Offset Barrel Style)
Fill your firebox or lower charcoal basin with about 1/3 a bag of unlit charcoal and create a small hollowed out depression in the center where you can add your lit briquets.
If your smoker comes with a water pan, like the Weber Smokey Mountain, fill the water pan as well to help stabilize the temperature and add moisture to the cooking chamber.
Light a charcoal chimney about 1/3 way with charcoal and wait about 20 minutes for it to fully ignite. You don’t want TOO many lit briquests initially or the temperature will get too high too fast and be unmanageable.
Don’t own a charcoal chimney? Check out some of our fun DIY Charcoal Chimneys you can make with everyday items around the house!
Fill your water pan first, then add the lit briquets to the center depression you created.
Keep the dampers about 1/2 way to 3/4 open until the temperature is to about 200 deg F. Then slowly close them down until you are maintaining a temperature of 225-250 deg F.
This will obviously take longer on a cold winter day than a hot summer one.
Add 1-2 chunks of smoking wood once the smoker is up to temperature and put your leg of lamb on.
Electric or Propane Smokers
Plug your electric smoker in or open the propane valve and light the burner.
Adjust the temperature to anywhere between 225-250 deg F.
While it comes up to temperature, add smoking wood chips, not pellets, to the smoking wood tray.
Fill the water tray if there is one.
Place your leg of lamb on the uppermost rack on which it will fit and close the door.
Fill the pellet hopper with your choice of smoking wood pellets.
Plug in the pellet grill and turn the temperature to between 225-250 deg F.
When the pellet grill has come up to temperature, place your leg of lamb on the grill grates
Never used a pellet grill before? Read our ultimate guide to pellet grills to learn why they are so easy and how to set one up for success every time.
Gas or Charcoal Grills
On a gas or charcoal grill you will likely need to use a smoker box filled with wood chips, or a pellet tube smoker filled with wood pellets.
Think you need a fancy smoker to smoke food at home? Think again. Great smoked food can be made right on your current gas or charcoal grill.
If you are unfamiliar with these gas grill smoking devices mentioned above, no worries, we have you covered!
In the case of a leg of lamb, we would opt for the pellet tube smoker since it will provide you with a much longer smoking time without needing to refill over and over again like a smoker box.
Set up your gas or charcoal grill for indirect cooking with the burners or a small amount of lit briquets on one side and plan for your meat to be on the other side.
Once the temperature of your grill is between 225-250 deg F., place your smoker box or pellet tube smoker over the lit burners and omce smoke begins coming out, place your meat on the opposite side.
When is a Smoked Leg of Lamb Done?
Like a prime rib roast, the degree of doneness that suits you best is often a very personal thing, ad will also depend on the preference of the guests you are serving.
I like my lamb nicely pink and medium rare, so I aim for an internal temperature of 138 deg F.
However, if you like yours a little more toward medium, let the internal temperature reach 145 deg F.
If you purchased a large cut, you will notice the leg of lamb is tapered, like…well…a leg.
This is actually a nice thing because you can serve people who like their meat on the rarer side can from the thick end, and those who like it more well done from the smaller end.
Just make sure to test different points of the leg of lamb with a good instant read meat thermometer to get a true idea of the temperature throughout the entire roast.
The one thing you should never do is leave your lamb on TOO LONG.
Since lamb is a lean meat, it is very vulnerable to overcooking. A well-done leg of lamb risks being tough and dry to the point that no amount of sauce, marinade, or mint jelly is going to bring it back.
Using a wireless thermometer or an instant read that you deploy when you think things are close to done assures that you won’t overcook.
How to Carve a Smoked Leg of Lamb
After letting the lamb rest for 15-20 minutes, hold the lamb gently with one had while slicing in even, 1/4 to 1/2 inch thick, slices using a good serrated meat slicing knife.
Slice using full, long, even strokes all the way to the cutting board letting each piece fall on the previous one.
To maintain maximum juiciness in your lamb, only carve what you plan to serve immediately and leave the rest of the roast intact.
Best Things to Serve on the Side
Mint jelly is a standard accompaniment to lamb. However, don’t limit yourself to what’s traditional.
Since mint jelly is descended from Eastern chutneys, consider using one of those in its place.
If you are eating your lamb in the spring, some grilled or smoked asparagus is a natural side. Add some mashed potatoes for a perfect, satisfying meal.
When it comes to drinks to serve on the side, you have a wider array of choices than you might think.
Most people automatically reach for a hefty red like a Cabernet or a Chianti.
However, the richness of a sweet wine like a Gewürztraminer makes a great foil, as well. An acidic white like a Chardonnay can also be a great match.
If you are more of a beer drinker, we have you covered. Choose something with some body to it like a stout or a porter.
What Other Food Can I Smoke?
Looking for some more smokey inspiration?
Check out some of our other great recipes of smoked and grilled food to try out at your next outdoor BBQ!
- Smoked Fresh Ham with Dark Rum Citrus Glaze
- Smoked Bratwurst
- Grilled Bratwurst
- Smoked Gouda Cheese
- Smoked Oysters
- Pellet Grilled Steak
- Pellet Grill Turkey
Trash Can Turkey – OK, technically not made on a grill but one of the funnest ways there is to cook a Turkey…at over 700 degrees in only 2 hours! You’ve got to check it out!
Smoked Leg of Lamb with Guinness Marinade
- Smoker or Grill
- Wood Chips, Pellets, or Chunks, preferably hickory or fruitwood
- 1 5-7 lb Leg of Lamb preferably a boneless upper sirloin cut
- 2 Tbsp Olive oil
- ¼ cup Dijon Mustard
- 8 cloves Garlic, freshly minced
- 2 Tbsp Fresh Thyme, Chopped
- 2 Tbsp Fresh Rosemary, Chopped
- ¼ Cup Kosher Salt
- 2 Tbsp Black Pepper
- 1 Can Guinness Stout, room temperature or any beer of your choice, preferably a dark ale, porter, or other stout.
- 2 Tbsp Honey
Prepare the Lamb
- Place the lamb in a foil pan and trim Lamb of any excess fat.
- Mix the oil, mustard, garlic, thyme, rosemary, salt, and pepper in a bowl until thoroughly incorporated.
- Rub the entire outside of the lamb with the mustard and garlic mixture.
- Cover with plastic wrap and let marinate in the refrigerator at least 2 hours before preparing the smoker, preferably overnight.
Set up the Smoker
- Light the smoker or set up the grill for indirect cooking with a smoker box and preheat to between 225-250° F.
- Once the smoker/grill is up to temperature and smoke is being produced, place the lamb on the smoker.
- Insert an internal probe thermometer and close the lid, maintaining a cooking temperature of 225-250 deg F.
- A 5-7 lb boneless leg of lamb will take roughly 2-3 hours to cook at 250° F. Anticipate longer for a bone-in leg.
Brush with Guinness and Honey
- Pour the stout and honey into a large measuring cup and whisk until fully dissolved.
- Brush the lamb with it when you first place it on the smoker and then again every 20 minutes or so during the cook.
Smoking the Leg of Lamb
- When the thickest part of the lamb reads between 138-145° F internally, depending on your doneness preference, remove the lamb from the smoker.
- Place in an aluminum pan to catch any drippings and excess marinade, leave uncovered and let rest for 15 minutes.
Serving the Smoked Lamb
- Slice the lamb in ¼ inch thick slices and serve immediately. Spoon any drippings from the pan over the lamb as you serve.