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How to BBQ a rack of lamb?

post #1 of 16
Thread Starter 
Hi everyone,

I just joined this site and so far I've found a lot of interesting topics. My question is how would i bbq a rack of lamb? I've heard different ways 1) cut them into double chops and bbq them or 2) place the whole rack on the grill. Which way would work best? How long would i need to bbq them for? Any help would be greatly appreciated. Thanks.
post #2 of 16
Some of the answer depends on the size of the chops. With Colorado lamb, whose eyes are as much as two inches thick, I'd divide the rack into pairs, first. With Australian I would leave the rack in one piece.

IMO, lamb is one of the few things that does not benefit, particularly, from being cooked on a grill. I prefer to sear it in a screaming hot pan, then cook until done.

In any case, I would not attempt to grill lamb without an instant-read thermometer. It's too easy to dry it out in that high-heat environment. And, because every grill is different, there is no other way to tell how fast the meat is cooking.
They have taken the oath of the brother in blood, in leavened bread and salt. Rudyard Kipling
They have taken the oath of the brother in blood, in leavened bread and salt. Rudyard Kipling
post #3 of 16
Thread Starter 
Thanks for the quick reply. They are Aussie lamb 8 chops in a rack. I like to cook it medium rare on the bbq grill. So you wouldn't advise cooking it on a bbq grill? I'll look into buying a meat thermometer.
post #4 of 16
Regardless of how you're doing them I like to wrap the bone in a layer of aluminum foil before cooking so that you don't char the bones, which makes them brittle and flake off unpleasantly.
"If it's chicken, chicken a la king. If it's fish, fish a la king. If it's turkey, fish a la king." -Bender
"If it's chicken, chicken a la king. If it's fish, fish a la king. If it's turkey, fish a la king." -Bender
post #5 of 16
They'll cook up great on the BBQ. Just not too high heat. If you have a BBQ with an upper shelf that would help. Char it on the fire then move it up top and close it till it's done. Love mine rare. I do the old school garlic, rosemary, olive oil, a little Dijon, and S&P. And yeah, wrap the bones.
post #6 of 16
Let's nail down some terminology before we get too deep into techniques, just to make sure we're talking about the same thing.

When I say, "barbecue," I usually mean using fairly low indirect heat, 300F and below, along with wood smoke from burning hardwood in a (mostly) closed pit. These pits are often called "smokers." But sometimes I mean, "open pit," which exposes the meat to an open fire, but at enough distance that most of the cooking is via convection rather than radiant heat. Temperature at grill height typically runs in the mid 300s. When versions of these are sold, sometimes they're called "Santa Maria style grills."

When I say, "high heat indirect," I mean using fairly high heat, 300F and below, using gas, hardwood or charcoal for fuel and possibly but not necessarily using hardwood for smoke. A Weber Kettle excels at this kind of cooking, so do many gas grills.

When I say, "grilling," I mean cooking the meat on a grate directly over a heat source mostly with radiant heat. You can use any normal backyard gas or charcoal grill for this.

Let's move on to the raw hunk of meat...

If you cut it into "chops," it's no longer a rack and the chops aren't "rack chops," they're "rib chops." They make excellent grilling. The best way to do them is over a very hot temperature for as short a time as possible to get them to rare, then let them rest a bit and coast into medium rare.

A whole rack is roughly triangular. The bottom is protected by "feather bones." The back is protected by rib bones. The front is covered by fat called "fell." Sometimes a narrow strip of meat runs through the fell. If the rack is untrimmed, the fell will extend all the way up the front of the rib bones. Sometimes the fell is trimmed so part of the bones are exposed.

If you trim the meat off the rib bones down to the "eye" or "mignon" and clean the areas between the bones the rack is said to be "Frenched." If you remove the fell so the face of the mignon is exposed, the rack is "cleaned," or "trimmed," or "cleaned and trimmed." Most lamb fat, including the fell is very heavy and unpalatable. It's considered good practice to trim lamb very closely. This usually means losing the the little strip of meat above the top of the front of the rib bones which is delicious. Traumatic, no?

If the cook decides to protect the meat, sometimes other fats like bacon are layered on the exposed face ("barding") or sometimes other coatings are used, bread crumbs for instance.

There are a number of good ways to cook a rack whether it is left untrimmed or cleaned and Frenched or somewhere in between. I favor the open pit method, or high heat indirect grilling -- with some wood smoke involved. Lamb responds especially well to oak, mesquite, grape cuttings and citrus. Hickory is just okay, and alder a little mild.

I usually clean the rack, but don't french the bones as the meat, fat and connective tissue between them is quite tasty. Since outdoor cooking usually precedes informal dining, the messiness of gnawing the great stuff off the bones is not a problem.

I slather the face of the trimmed rack with a mix of mayonnaise and dijon and season very heavily with a rub including plenty of fresh herbs. Then use either a Santa Maria style grill for open pit, or a gas fired offset for high-heat indirect -- probably neither is available to you.

If you do have a Weber Kettle type charcoal or a gas propane grill with a lid, I recommend cooking the rack over indirect heat at about 350F. That 350F is the actual temperature at grill height next to the meat -- not the reading of the hood thermometer which has nothing to do with anything.

If you want to get more specific, let me know a little more about your 'Q, and we can work something out for you. I've got a great recipe for a Provencal lamb with an olive cream sauce that I've adapted for outdoor cooking which may be more ambitious than you want to go. But you get the idea -- your options run from the simple to the haute.

Hope this gives you some ideas,
post #7 of 16
Thread Starter 
Wow....hmmm i was thinking of marinating it with olive oil s/p and rosemary for the day and throw the whole rack on the bbq grill on medium heat. Then cut them and serve. The only concern i have is over cooking the rack drying it out. Any ideas to prevent this?
post #8 of 16
I'd love to see the recipe. While I don't grill lamb often, and never barbeque it, whenever I cook it on the grill the marinades and techniques are one of three, and it's getting boring. Something new might make breaking in the new grill more interesting.

post #9 of 16
It's a triangular cut of meat. Two sides are protected by bone. The third is protected by fat. You've hit on the worst possible way to cook the meat -- but as long as you don't overcook it how bad can it be?

It doesn't marinate well without a lot of trimming, you won't get much penetration with straight oil anyway. You need acid. I have no idea what flavor benefit you think you're going to get out of olive oil, or why you think a long bath in S&P will do anything that S&P on the surface for a couple of minutes won't. The meat needs little or no marination. The olive oil will cause your grill to flare up. Rosemary's a good choice with lamb, though.

Again, because it's surrounded by bone, it won't cook right over direct heat. A whole rack is not a good candidate for grilling. Almost all the heat has got to get to the meat through the front face, since the bone won't conduct heat well. "Medium" is probably the worst of all possible heats for grilling this cut. When using direct heat, it's best cooked quickly to med-rare or cooked through slowly. To get the meat to cook anything like evenly you'll need to try and get as much heat as possible through the bones. This will char them and cause them to splinter later. What can I say? That's the nature of the beast. In any case, the rarest point will be very close to the back/bottom corner rather than the center of the rack. To avoid overcooking, use a meat thermometer, but don't let it contact the bone while you're reading it, and check frequently. Bottom line: Despite all my doom and gloom, it will be delicious as long as it's medium rare.

Still, if you just have to cook over direct heat with a long olive oil marinade, you were right about breaking the rack down to rib chops. Do that. It's kind of a waste of the rack, but better than your other plan.

If you want to put some taste into the rack by marinating, you'll have to start by trimming all visible fat from the face of the meat otherwise there's nowhere for the flavor to get in. I suggest a Mediterranean type marinade of olive oil, wine, onion, garlic, rosermary, and oregano. In other words, "spedies." The meat will have to marinate for at least 24 hours for the marinade to do anything significant. Wipe the lamb thoroughly before cooking, and season with a simple rub -- S&P is not ideal, but it's enough.

The best way to use a gas grill is to clean the meat face of fat entirely. Season the face well. Put the rack face down over a the hot side of a grill which has been preheated on one side, close the hood and sear marks into the lamb -- about two minutes. Rotate the lamb 90 degrees and sear cross-marks -- another two minutes. Move the meat off the direct heat to the other side of the grill, adjust the flame where the lamb was, but leave it off in the rest of the 'Q, close the hood, and let the meat roast with indirect heat. If you can get the heat around 350F where the lamb is, figure 16 min per pound. Because you haven't given any information about your grill I can't tell you how to set it up, how many burners to use, how to get an idea what the temperature is, how long it will take, or anything else.

post #10 of 16

I wrote the recipe for Mario when he was planning on cooking that big meal in Provence for his friends, there's a lot of extraneous timing information. Also there's some more or less French specific information, e.g., the recipe was written for mignon off the bone instead of a bone-on rack. I need to rewrite it a little, and since there's no time pressure anymore it should probably be tested in its new form before sending it on. I'll try and do that over the weekend and either post it as a separate thread or PM you with it. You always give great response.

post #11 of 16
Thread Starter 
Thanks again. I was thinking another way is to make a Brine (containing water salt, rosemary, mint and garlic) and place the racks in the brine. Put it in the fridge over night and then grill it. Adding pepper b4 grilling and salt after. What do you think? Sorry i just want to make the best out of my lamb. Cooking 8 racks for a bday party tomorrow night :(.
post #12 of 16
Never brine red meat unless you're planning on a very low, slow cook. Even then, you fundamentally alter the meat'. For instance, a beef brisket is one of the "beefiest" of all beef cuts, but a corned beef brisket is not. There are cuts of lamb suitable for this kind of treatment, but the rack isn't one of them any more than is a filet mignon. Not to put too fine a point on it, but brining is a horrible idea. Shame on you. Go to your corner. Parenthetically, it's unnecessary for normal people to add salt to a properly brined product.

When lamb is marinated, the right is to use a marinade mixture containing some acid, wine for instance. The more acidic the marinade the more it needs fat to balance and keep the meat from drying out, olive oil for instance. Before getting too far ahead of ourselves, let's go back to first principles: The purposes of acid are twofold: First to begin the tissue breakdown process which initializes tenderizing; second to help carry other flavors into the meat by "powering" diffusion. That said, the rack neither needs nor wants long marination of the kind you seem bent on doing. The texture and flavor are already nearly perfect and you don't need to alter them at all. The best you can do is enhance the flavor with your choice of seasonings and not mess with the meat's natural tenderness.

Since you were looking for a rosemary taste -- and properly so because rosemary is so complimentary to lamb -- your seasoning rub should be something like 3/4 cup kosher salt (or 1/2 cup table salt, but kosher is better for barbecue), 3 tbs coarsely fresh ground black pepper, 3 tbs smoked (if possible) paprika, 2 tbs granulated garlic (not garlic salt), 1 tbs finely chopped fresh rosemary (or 1 tsp dried), and 1 tsp thyme and/or oregano. You should create a surface for the seasoning to adhere to the lamb by putting a very thin layer of mustard or mayo and and mustard mixed half and half on the lamb. I know that mustard sounds strange, but you will not get much if any taste from regular yellow mustard when it cooks. Personally I prefer 50/50 dijon and mayonnaise which does lend a slight dijon taste.

For whatever reason, you're bound and determined to grill a rack of lamb as though it were a chicken breast. Why? While no one's going to stop you, no one who's cooked a lot of racks will ratify your proposed methods either. At the end of the day, the meat is good enough to survive your worst efforts if you don't overcook it.

With eight racks you're into this for what? $160 for meat alone? You should be concerned about the lamb coming out right, but you also seem very reluctant to cook it in the way best suited. I'd really like to help you, but it's going to require some willingness on your part.

Almost every professional cook would coat the face of the rack with seasoning using one of several techniques to make sure the seasoning adhered. If the seasoning did not include bread crumbs (inappropriate for the grill), the cook would grill off the face of the rack by searing in a pan or on the char-grill. S(he) would then put the rack in a pan in a very hot oven and roast it, uncovered, to medium rare as quickly as possible. You should do as close to the same thing in your grill as possible for you -- but make use of the outdoor environment by adding some oak or mesquite smoke. A little smoke is the best seasoning for lamb and will counteract the gaminess a bit. That's the best way, the right way, the restaurant way, and it should be YOUR WAY. Why are you fighting so hard?

If you don't have enough grill space to cook 8 racks with indirect heat; forget the smoke, sear the lamb racks off on your grill and finish them in the indoor oven at 425F. Let them rest no less than 7, and preferably no more than 12 minutes before carving.

post #13 of 16

I am home a cook with a Memphis Pellet Pro smoker/grill/oven who is looking to cook a Colorado Rack of Lamb roast with some smoke flavoring and a crisp finish.


Your technique is along my lines of thinking - mustard/mayonnaise coating with a spice herb dressing.


My question is, can I seer first and then smoke or should I smoke first and then seer? Or should I just forget the smoke part and just seer then roast?


Seer - 600 degrees


Roast - 350 degrees


Smoke - 250 degrees

post #14 of 16

Although I suppose anything that imparts some wood or charcoal flavor can be tagged with the term BBQ, It does sound a bit funny in front of "rack of lamb."  To me at least, BBQ denotes a low and slow cooking time over smoke but more importantly it hints that you're overcooking something on purpose.  BBQ rack of lamb sounds as silly to me as something like BBQ beef tenderloin.  The stuffs already tender that's why its lamb.

post #15 of 16

Sear over direct heat until you've got some marks and color; then hot smoke -- 275 would be good -- to 120 or 125; then rest.   You're probably looking at something around 25 minutes for the smoking period.  Alternatively, hot smoke at 275 til you've got an internal of around 115, and then sear over hot, direct heat for tattoo, crust and color.  This second method will give you more smoke flavor.


Whether I started grilling and switched to smoke, or vice versa, I'd do it by moving the meat relative to the fire.  But what works for a lot of pits might not work for yours, and I don't know how you'd go about it in your Memphis.


Either way you want a tight trim on the fat, but try not to take it all off unless you're "deviling" with a breadcrumb crust.  1/4" of fat is ideal, if you can manage it.  If not, just go ahead and clean it off.    If you're planning on carving at the table, remove every other rib bone so you get a double thick "pop" on every remaining bone.  Take the "feather bones" as part of prep, so you can carve straight down without fighting them.  You may even want to run a small knife through the bottom of the rack to make sure the chops will separate without a struggle.



Edited by boar_d_laze - 12/10/11 at 1:30pm
post #16 of 16

That was an excellent answer. Thank you.


As a point of reference, my Memphis pellet grill has a "heat deflector shield" over a wood pellet fire pit. The pellets are fed  electronically so the temperature can be controlled fairly accurately.


As for my Lamb, I will probably smoke it for a while, then seer it to an internal 115 degrees and then smoke it at 275 degrees again until done.

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