You’ve probably heard of Whole Hog Barbecue, but what about whole lamb?
While not as popular, this is a fantastic way to feed a crowd for any big occasion given the epic presentation and the amount of meat it yields.
If you’ve always wanted to try smoking a whole lamb but found yourself feeling intimidated, I’m here to help. I’ll go through the process and break it down into simple steps for you to follow.
You’ll be mastering a smoked whole lamb in your very own backyard in no time.
Whole smoked lamb
This was my first time smoking a whole lamb. It was the main dish at our family’s Big Greek Easter celebration.
It was a showpiece and no one went hungry.
After posting photos in some Facebook groups I was bombarded with questions from people who wanted to give smoked whole lamb a try. I decided to write up all the steps involved.
While this recipe is a little more involved than your typical smoked lamb leg, so long as you have a large enough smoker and a bit of time on your hands I’m confident anyone can pull this off.
Tools required for smoking a whole lamb
- Smoker large enough to hold a 50lb whole lamb
- Plenty of briquettes
- Smoking wood
- Table big enough to lie the lamb flat on
- Pink Butchers paper
- Multi-Tool – I used my Makita or a meat cleaver if you don’t have a multi-tool
- Boning knife
- Butter knife or teaspoon
- Paper towels
- Heavy duty alluminum foil
- Insulated BBQ gloves
Prepping the whole lamb
I used a whole lamb around the 50lb mark. Obviously, you won’t be able to grab one of these from the supermarket, but your local butcher should be able to source one for you.
I recommend trimming the lamb the night before which will save you a bit of time and stress on the big day.
Steps for preparing your whole lamb
- Set up a large table to do the trimming on. I laid down some butchers paper, for easy cleanup. To stop it sliding around I used some table clips on the corners, bulldog clips might work as well.
- Lay the lamb on the table and carefully try to open the rib cage by hand at first, this will take a little force. Once opened you can get in there with the multi-tool in a much more comfortable position.
- With your multi-tool start at the first bone, just under the knuckle near the spine. Cut until you feel you’ve only ‘just’ gone through the bone, you don’t want to take the blade too far into the meat. Continue down the rib cage cutting each bone. Repeat the process on the other side.
- Using your boning knife, slide it along the cut you just made with the multi-tool, only slightly into the meat, just enough to help open the rib cage section right up ready for removing the membrane from the back of the ribs.
- With a teaspoon or butter knife, carefully slide it in-between the two bones under the membrane that runs across the ribs and gently lift that membrane. Be careful not to tear the membrane as you lift it, just enough to get your fingers underneath to remove it completely.
- If any of the membrane tears, be sure to remove those pieces that are still attached to the ribs.
- Using your boning knife carefully remove any excess hard fat, leaving just a little in those thicker areas, and remove as much of the silver skin as you can.
- Trim any excess belly flap that’s not going to cook to your liking.
If you don’t have a multi-tool, you can use a meat cleaver if you have one, or you could alter the cut by moving up to where the rib bones meet the spine and carefully use your knife to break through each one.
Tidy up when you’ve finished trimming and make sure you remove any bone shavings by wiping some wet paper towels across the areas that you have just cut through.
How to season your lamb
Apply an even coating of yellow mustard to the exposed muscles. If you don’t have yellow mustard you can lightly spray or rub the exposed meat with oil. This just helps the rub adhere to the meat.
Next, grab your lamb rub. I used a local rub for this recipe but you can use any commercial rub you like or try our lamb seasoning recipe.
Lamb can take on a lot of different flavors so feel free to experiment.
Make sure you generously coat all of the exposed meat.
Setting up your smoker
I used my custom homemade reverse flow 24” offset smoker with a door width of 47”.
I built it a few years back, her name is Christine and she’s a thing of beauty.
A large pellet or offset smoker should be able to easily handle a whole lamb.
I started with a bed of briquettes as a base layer topped with pieces of double split red gum (a popular Australian smoke wood) throughout the cook. You could use hickory or if you have a favorite smoke wood use that.
When the smoker is ready, it should be burning clean and running at 300°F on the dial. I had this temperature all the way through.
Carefully lay the lamb on the smoking rack, cut side up, close the lid.
Once the lamb is in the smoker, make a Greek lemon and herb baste to use throughout the cook. The flavors are next-level good and really compliment any cut of lamb.
Combine the lemon juice, lemon rind, olive oil, garlic, fresh oregano, fresh thyme, and freshly cracked pepper to taste into a mop bucket.
I grabbed a BBQ mop, removed the head, and used an elastic band to tie a fresh bunch of oregano and thyme to it. I strongly recommend the use of fresh herbs to baste it with.
Smoking the lamb
After 2.5 hours I opened up the pit for the first time and applied a generous coat of lemon and herb mop.
1.5 hours later I opened the pit for another coat of that delicious homemade mop
Another 1.5 hours later I wrapped the “hams” in aluminum foil (the hind legs) to speed them up as they cook a lot slower than the rest of the meat, I then added another coat of the mop.
Four hours after the last mop (9.5 hours in total) the lamb should be probing like a hot knife going through butter in all of the areas except the hams. This is what we want as they will be chopped and mixed through the pulled meat for a nice variation in texture.
Some heat-proof gloves might come in handy at this stage.
Take the lamb off the smoker (a two-person job!) and get ready to start disassembling.
Chopping and serving the lamb
Start by pulling the ribs out one by one, they will literally fall away from the meat.
Then remove the meat from the rest of the unwrapped area, making sure to remove any cartilage, sinew, or excess fat, before placing it into the final serving tray.
Shred all the meat on the tray.
Take the foil off and cut away the back legs and remove all of the meat from the bones.
Using two meat cleavers, chop the ham meat.
Once all chopped, add the ham meat to the pulled lamb along with all of the remaining juices including the lemon and herb mop used throughout the cook. Mix it all thoroughly to give that perfect balance of texture and flavors.
To finish off I added some of the rub that I used earlier and mixed a generous coat into the pulled meat at the end to add that little bit of extra flavor pop.
If you want to keep the meat warm, wrap the tray in thick aluminum foil and then in an old towel. Get a cooler large enough to hold the tray and put a towel in the bottom of it it.
Place the wrapped tray into the cooler and cover with another towel. You can hold meat at temp for up to four hours like this
What to do with leftovers?
I like to vacuum seal the meat into portions. That way you can heat them up at a later date and even better, on the nights you want bbq but there’s no time to cook you will have leftovers at the ready.
Or you could try our:
- Smoked lamb wraps with babaganoush and chimichurri recipe
- Replace the lamb patties in our Mediterranean Lamb Burgers with the pulled lamb
- Our Greek style Lamb Gyros are killer
If you’re interested in seeing a breakdown of how Christine was designed and built, you can check out the in-depth build here offset-build.
Smoked Whole Lamb
- 50 lb whole lamb
- 1 cup Yellow mustard or olive oil
- BBQ rub
- 4 tbsp lemon juice
- 1 tbsp lemon zest
- 1 tsp black pepper freshly ground
- 1 tsp onion powder
- 1 tsp fresh thyme chopped
- ¼ cup fresh oregano chopped
- 3 tsp garlic minced
- ¼ cup olive oil
- salt and pepper to taste
- Set up your smoker to be running at 300°F.
- Lay the lamb on a table and open the rib cage.
- Starting on the first bone, just under the knuckle near the spine, cut until you feel you’ve only ‘just’ gone through the bone, don’t want to take the blade too far into the meat. Continue down the rib cage cutting each bone.
- Repeat the process on the other side.
- Use a boning knife to remove the membrane from the back of the ribs.
- Remove any excess hard fat, leaving just a little in those thicker areas and remove as much of the silver skin as you can.
- Trim the belly flap.
- Apply an even coating of yellow mustard or oil all over the belly side of lamb.
- Apply BBQ rub generously all over the meat.
- Place the lamb in the smoker and close the lid.
- Make the mop by combining all the ingredients together in a bowl.
- After 2.5 hours open the smoker and apply a basting of the mop.
- After another 1.5 hours, apply another basting of the mop.
- After another 1.5 hours wrap the ‘hams’ in foil and give the lamb another basting with the mop.
- After a total of 9.5 hours in the smoker the lamb will be done. Remove from the smoker.
- Pull out the rib bones, remove the meat from the unwrapped area and shred.
- Remove the foil from the ‘hams’ and chop the meat with a cleaver.
- Mix the two meats together with all the juices and a sprinkling of bbq rub.