SMOKED & BRAISED COLORADO LEG OF LAMB
Smoked & Braised Colorado Leg of Lamb
- Smoker that can reach at least 400 degrees
- 12-qt cast iron Dutch oven with lid
- Heavy duty extra-long tongs
- Metal slotted spoon
- Optional but recommended: Dutch oven lid lifter and stand
- Optional but highly recommended: Heavy duty leather welding gloves (protects your hands)
- Lump charcoal
- Oak wood chunks for the smoke (hickory is fine as well)
- Butcher’s twine (for re-tying the leg of lamb)
- 2 large bowls
- 5-7 lb fresh leg of lamb, deboned
For the rub:
- 2 cups flat leaf parsley, minced
- ⅓ cup fresh rosemary leaves, minced
- ¼ cup high quality extra virgin olive oil
- ¼ cup lemon confit, minced (can be substituted with 2 Tbsp of fresh grated lemon zest)
- 2 heads fresh garlic, minced (about 14 cloves)
For the pot and braise
- ¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
- 4 carrots, peeled and diced
- 2 large yellow onions, diced
- 2 large celery stalks, diced
- 2 bulbs fennel, trimmed and diced
- 1 bunch leeks, trimmed and diced (roughly same size as the celery)
- 1 tbsp kosher salt
- 1 tbsp fresh ground black pepper
- 2 bay leaves
- 2 bottles (750ml) Argentinian Malbec wine (can substitute in a good Pinot Noir or Merlot)
- Combine all of the rub ingredients in a food processor or blender to make a paste.2 cups flat leaf parsley, minced, ⅓ cup fresh rosemary leaves, minced, ¼ cup high quality extra virgin olive oil, ¼ cup lemon confit, minced, 2 heads fresh garlic, minced
- If already trussed and tied, untie the leg of lamb and open flat. Trim any excess fat or gristle from the lamb.5-7 lb fresh leg of lamb, deboned
- Place three-quarters of the rub paste generously inside the lamb and use butcher’s twine to re-tie the leg of lamb back into a roll.
- Rub exterior of the lamb with the remaining rub and place in a large bowl.
- Cover and refrigerate for at least one hour or up to overnight as well.
Prepare vegetable mix (mire poix + fennel & leeks)
- In a separate large bowl, combine the carrots, onion, celery, fennel, and leeks.4 carrots, peeled and diced, 2 large yellow onions, diced, 2 large celery stalks, diced, 2 bulbs fennel, trimmed and diced, 1 bunch leeks, trimmed and diced
- Cover and set aside while preparing your grill.
Prepare the grill
- Prepare your grill for high heat (400 degrees) over direct flame. While the grill is heating, gather together your ingredients (lamb, vegetable mix, wine, seasonings, etc.) next to the grill.
- Once your grill is up to temperature, add your oak wood chunks and place your Dutch oven on the grill. Let your Dutch oven come up to temperature (should be 400 degrees). A good way to test the Dutch oven heat is if a drop of water sizzles immediately on the bottom. Safety note: I use heavy duty welding gloves to help protect against the high heat involved in this style of cooking.
- Once the Dutch oven is up to temperature, add 2 Tbsp of extra virgin olive oil and let the oil get hot (10 seconds or so, but don’t let it start to smoke).
- Add the leg of lamb to the Dutch oven and let it sear, using heavy duty extra-long tongs to rotate the leg of lamb every 1-2 minutes until a golden brown crust forms (food safety note: wash the bowl out while searing the lamb, since you’re going to return the lamb to the bowl while cooking your vegetables).
- Once the lamb is seared on all sides, return the leg of lamb back to the bowl it was resting in.
- In the Dutch oven, add the remaining 1/4 cup of olive oil and let it heat to shimmering; it should only take 5-10 seconds due to the high heat.¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
- Add the vegetable mix and stir frequently to ensure even cooking.
- The goal is to cook down the vegetables until the onions are translucent (clear) and the vegetables begin to brown. With the high heat (notice the flames in Figure 4), you’ll see a crust (also called a fond) forming on the bottom of the Dutch oven. Perfectly fine and we’ll get that lifted off the bottom when we add the wine.
- This part requires some safety awareness as you’re adding moisture (steam) to an already hot cooking environment, so please watch your hands over the high heat and the steam plume that arises from adding the wine.
- Pour 1/2 of one bottle of wine into the Dutch oven and quickly stir your vegetables, paying particular attention to scrapping the bottom of the Dutch oven to release the crust (fond) that’s formed on the bottom of the pot.2 bottles (750ml) Argentinian Malbec wine
- Stir the vegetables thoroughly until the wine is evenly disbursed into the vegetables.
- Add the salt and pepper and stir to incorporate.
- Add the bay leaves, being careful to keep them whole.
- Add the lamb back into the Dutch oven and nestle it into the vegetables so that the lamb can absorb the wonderful combination of flavors in the pot as well as the smoke flavor from the wood coals.
- Once the lamb is in place, pour the remaining wine into the Dutch oven. It should come halfway up the side of the lamb. This allows the lower half of the lamb to braise in the wine and vegetable mix while the upper half of the lamb bathes in wood smoke. Our goal is to impart both the flavor of the wine and the wood smoke in the lamb, slowly cooking it until the lamb is moist and tender.
- Leaving the Dutch oven uncovered, close the smoker/grill lid and dampers to reduce the smoker temperature to 225 degrees so the liquid in the pot is simmering and the charcoal smoke increases. Smoke the lamb for 1 hours, turning the lamb in the pot at the 30-minute point so that the part that was braising can now smoke. You’ll see the braising part of the lamb has turned a beautiful burgundy color.
- Once the lamb has smoked uncovered in the Dutch oven for an hour, it’s time to put the lid on the Dutch oven to preserve the braising moisture. Cook the lamb for another 2-3 hours in the covered Dutch oven with the smoker at 225 degrees, turning the lamb every 30 minutes to ensure even braising.
- Once the lamb has braised for 2-3 hours, it should be falling apart tender. The liquid inside the Dutch oven will have reduced considerably as well, helping condense the flavors absorbed into the lamb.
- Once the lamb is ready, carefully remove it from the Dutch oven onto a carving board.
- Loosely cover the lamb with aluminum foil and let it rest for 10-15 minutes. The lamb should now be ready to carve. Given the fall apart tenderness of the lamb, it is best to leave the butcher’s twine in place until fully carved. I carve this lamb from the center outward to help keep it together during carving.
- Your lamb should have the best of BBQ and braising: a gorgeous (and delicious!) crust, pink smoke ring, and juicy evenly cooked interior. That’s the payoff of combining BBQ smoking with Dutch oven cooking.
- A note on sides to accompany this dish: the lamb is going to bring bold, deep, and rich flavors to the plate. I recommend balancing the richness of the lamb with a side of steamed red potatoes and a spring salad with raspberry vinaigrette dressing.Bon appetite, Grill Commandos!Commando Dave
Springtime in Colorado means fresh lamb! Our friends over at Halona Farms grow world-class lamb and were kind enough to share a leg of lamb for this recipe. If you’re looking for truly exceptional quality lamb, then please check out Halona Farms: https://halonafarms.com.
Okay, Grill Commandos, this recipe brings together several different flavors and styles of BBQ, Argentina-style cooking, and Old West cooking to deliver gourmet quality, white linen dinners for entertaining the most discerning of palates. In essence, we’re doing Argentina style Dutch oven cooking on a charcoal smoker. Yep, this one will have your guests talking for years.
Quick note on mise en place: Getting everything set up in advance is really critical for this recipe as you will have to move quickly during the initial browning of the lamb. You’ll see below how I set up my grill and ingredients so I can move fast and safe during the initial cooking phase.