Yogurt-Marinated, Grilled Za'atar-Rubbed Lamb 8.000

Deb Lindsey for The Washington Post

Smoke Signals Jul 17, 2013

Here, the lamb is tenderized by yogurt, a classic Greek pairing that's given a little Middle Eastern zing with a spice rub that includes the dried thyme-and-sumac mixture called za'atar (available at Middle Eastern specialty markets such as Shemali's in the District, 202-686-7070, and Yekta in Rockville, 301-984-1190).

The result is an exotic flavor that pairs well with a side of cinnamon-enhanced rice or fried potatoes.

If the butterflied lamb is significantly uneven, you have options: Ask the butcher to cut the butterflied lamb in a way that yields uniform sections, then grill the thinner portions for slightly less time than the thicker portions; accept that the thinner parts will cook faster than the thicker parts (though not by much) and, in that case, serve a mix of medium-rare and medium meat.

Make Ahead: The lamb needs to marinate for at least 8 hours or up to overnight. The rubbed meat needs to rest at room temperature for 1 hour before grilling.

Servings: 8
  • 2 cups plain regular or low-fat yogurt
  • Grated zest and juice of 1 lemon, plus fresh juice of 2 lemons
  • 7- to 8-pound leg of lamb, trimmed of fat, boned and butterflied by butcher (about 5 pounds boneless)
  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 6 cloves garlic, minced
  • 3 tablespoons finely chopped fresh mint
  • 3 tablespoons za'atar (see headnote)
  • 1 tablespoon kosher salt
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes


Combine the yogurt, lemon zest and half of the lemon juice in a gallon-size zip-top bag. Add the lamb and seal, pressing out as much air as possible. Refrigerate for at least 8 hours or up to overnight.

Combine the oil, garlic, mint, za'atar, salt, black pepper and crushed red pepper flakes in a small bowl.

Remove the lamb from the marinade; discard the marinade. Use paper towels to wipe the meat dry. Smear the za'atar mixture all over the lamb. Bring the meat to room temperature, which will take about an hour.

Prepare the grill for direct heat. If using a gas grill, preheat to medium-high (450 degrees). If using a charcoal grill, light the charcoal or wood briquettes; when the briquettes are ready, distribute them under the cooking area for direct heat. You should be able to hold your hand about 6 inches above the coals for 3 or 4 seconds. Have ready a spray water bottle for taming any flames. Lightly coat the grill rack with oil and place it on the grill.

Grill the lamb (uncovered) for 10 to 12 minutes on each side or until an instant-read thermometer inserted horizontally into the thickest part of the meat registers 125 degrees (medium-rare; see headnote).

Transfer the lamb to a cutting board. Pour the remaining lemon juice evenly over the meat. Cover loosely with aluminum foil and rest the meat for 10 minutes before slicing and serving with any juices that have accumulated on the cutting board.

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Recipe Source

From Smoke Signals columnist Jim Shahin.

Tested by Jeff Donald.

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