Tips for Your First Lamb Roast

Roasting a whole lamb doesn’t need to be intimidating — just make it a community event.

| June/July 2018

Few things look as festive or bring a community together more spectacularly than roasting a whole animal. The smell of wood smoke and roasting meat and the sounds of laughter and fire could waft from the coast of Italy, an island in Greece, the playa of Argentina — or a vacant lot in Detroit.

Detroit is made up of small neighborhoods, each with its own character and community. In recent years, a surge of interest in urban agriculture has brought natural treasures to unexpected places: a flower farm in an industrial area, a new grove of fruit trees, and a large-scale urban farm in a public park.

Last year, in a little neighborhood in Detroit, my friend Sam and I held a spring lamb roast for his birthday. Our friends and neighbors celebrated on a small farm created from formerly vacant lots, gathering around a fire until dark.

More than any real technical problem, the main barrier to your first lamb roast will be how intimidating roasting a whole animal can seem. Take these tips to heart and allow yourself time to loosen up, enjoy your guests, and savor the smoke.

Preparing to Roast the Lamb

First things first, let’s acknowledge the elephant in the room: There are easier ways to cook a lovely dinner. Roasting a whole animal is really for the spectacle, not the ease of cooking! With that in mind, consider the roast a performance. You can roast a whole animal on a spit, toss it on a grate over the coals, or even bury it luau-style — no matter what, it’ll be delicious.

For our lamb roast, I favored a complicated plan involving a spit powered by a stationary bicycle, so our guests would have to pedal for their supper. However, it was Sam’s birthday (and he would be constructing the thing), and he was more intrigued by an Argentinian-style asado. We used a 3-foot-tall metal scaffold to hold the lamb at a 45-degree angle above the embers. We threaded metal wire between bones and ligaments to attach the lamb to the structure.

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