Mexican-Style Smoked Leg of Lamb

This year Cinco de Mayo coincided with Orthodox Easter so it seemed apt to prepare an iconic Greek holiday food in a style reminiscent of Mexico, noting that I make no claims of authenticity on either count. One traditional Mexican preparation of a leg of lamb, or goat, is barbacoa en adobo, literally barbeque in sauce, in which the meat is marinated in a spicy chili paste, placed on a bed of vegetables, wrapped in banana leaves, and slowly roasted for hours. In Greek cuisine a leg of lamb is also marinated but usually in yogurt and lemon but it is grilled or roasted directly over hot coals, often with an aromatic wood added to provide a smoky flavor. In my version, which I admit leans more heavily in the Mexican direction, I use a marinade similar to that used in barbacoa and cook the meat over indirect heat in a charcoal smoker grill with mesquite chips. If you would like to try real barbacoa en adobo I recommend the recipe by Pati Jinich at Pati’s Mexican Table which was also featured in The Washington Post. For guidance on smoking a leg of lamb on a backyard grill I turned to a recipe by the late Papa D. posted at


  • 3 dried guajillo chilies
  • 2 dried ancho chilies
  • Boiling water, about 3 cups (750 ml)
  • 2 Tablespoons (30 ml) apple cider vinegar
  • 1 Tablespoon (15 ml) lime juice, optional
  • 4 or 5 cloves garlic
  • 1 small white or yellow onion, coarsely chopped
  • 2 Tablespoons (30 ml) dried oregano, preferably Mexican
  • ¼ teaspoon (1 ml) ground cinnamon
  • ¼ teaspoon (1 ml) ground allspice
  • ¼ teaspoon (1 ml) ground cloves
  • ½ teaspoon (2 ml) freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 teaspoon (5 ml) salt, or to taste
  • 1 Tablespoon (15 ml) sugar
  • 1 leg of lamb, preferably bone-inesquite chips for smoking


In a large, dry, preferably cast iron, skillet over medium heat toast the chilies, being careful not to burn—especially the guajillos which burn easily. Place the chiles into a medium saucepan along with boiling water to just cover them. Simmer for 10 minutes then set aside to cool somewhat. With a pair of tongs, lift each chile from the water, stem end down, remove the stem and seeds, and transfer to a blender. (Note: do not make the mistake I made of thinking that a food processor will work for this otherwise you will have as big a mess as I did.) Strain the cooking liquid into the blender and add rest of the ingredients. Puree until smooth. Wipe out medium saucepan and empty the puree into it. Simmer, uncovered, until it thickens, about 20 to 30 minutes. (Note: traditionally the sauce would be seared in lard or oil before simmering.) Set aside to cool. Trim the leg of lamb of excess fat and, with a sharp knife, remove the membrane (silver skin) being careful not to let the muscles of the leg separate. Place the meat on a large piece of plastic wrap and season the top side with salt and pepper then rub on a generous amount of the marinade. Turn it over and repeat on the other side. Wrap the leg with the plastic using additional large pieces as needed. Put into a suitable pan and refrigerate overnight. Take the lamb out of the refrigerator four or five hours before you plan to serve it. Let it warm up at room temperature for about an hour. Put a quantity of mesquite chips in a bowl of water to soak while you prepare the grill for indirect heat. I put burning charcoal with a few pieces of mesquite on either side of an aluminum drip pan on the fire grate. Place the lamb on the grill and smoke it until it reaches about 150°F (65°C)—from two to four hours depending on how hot your fire is. Ideally you should keep the temperature around 200°F (95°C) but I found that impossible to do on my Weber grill so my lamb was done in about two hours. Let the lamb rest, tented loosely with foil, for a half hour before serving. I served the lamb thinly sliced with warmed tortillas, Mexican rice, beans, and the usual taco accompaniments.


One response to “Mexican-Style Smoked Leg of Lamb

  1. Paul Vogel May 8, 2013 at 17:51

    Paul Vogel looks very yummy!

    Date: Wed, 8 May 2013 20:25:52 +0000 To:

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