Last Sunday I was fortunate enough to drop by while Dan and Roger Ingram were grilling two whole baby lambs over an oak fire for a special event. I was only bringing cutting boards, but ended up staying long enough for a beer and a taste of lamb.
The lambs were splayed out, skin-side up to lay flat. They cooked this way for about two hours, and then were flipped over for another hour. Dan and Roger had rubbed the lambs all over with a mixture of kosher salt and fresh garlic, mixed to a dry paste, and were basting the lambs with lemon juice and water from a spray bottle. This “asada-style” method was inspired by Roger’s trip to Argentina.
The borrowed grill had been custom made - a standard tow trailer with a grill grate suspended over the bed. A hand-cranked cable allowed the grill to be adjusted up or down. It was the perfect size for two baby lambs, one on each side of the support pole in the center. A pretty cool contraption, topped off with flames painted on the sides.
I’ve never cooked a lamb whole, but as an observer last Sunday, I almost wouldn’t want to cook lamb any other way. Each cut of meat, left in place on the carcass to cook all together, was amazingly tender and juicy. The neck, shoulder and shank meats were falling off the bone, as was (of course) the loin, rib and tenderloin. And it had all cooked the same amount of time. It was as if Mother Nature planned for this lamb to be cooked whole, and arranged the parts to cook perfectly this way. At least that was what I what I was thinking when, after the lambs were turned skin-side down, pools of steaming juices were collecting in between the skin and the meat and slowly bubbling around the carcass joints, melting away any remaining connective tissue and adding extra flavor and moisture at the same time.
My favorite part of the whole lamb was the skin. Perfectly rendered of excess fat, beautifully flavored from the light smoke of the grill, well seasoned, golden brown and crispy - it was like the best part of Thanksgiving turkey!
For photos of the event, check out http://www.placercountysinseasoncookbook.com/gallery/Whats_for_DInner_june_21_09/index.html