“Always wear something sensible when cooking at the barbecue” – Lady Godiva
It’s been years since we’ve had our own or been to a large gathering for Easter. Most of our family is spread out, living at a distance, and all the kids are grown. This Easter, our toddler son is now walking and we’ve made new friends in the farming community we live in. Around late February our friend Lisa, who we get our poultry and eggs from, invited us to a grass-fed lamb BBQ for Easter at her best friend, Traci’s ranch. As planning for the event progressed, my husband and I were assigned the role of “lamb chef’s”. We jumped at the opportunity; after all it’s not every day you get asked to cook a whole lamb over a fire in the wide open outdoors.
It was a cloudy Spring morning and the road to Bitterwater was windy and the scenery, green. We met our friend Lisa and family at her home; a tiny farm paradise tucked back in the country. We were greeted by her grazing goats and her adorable dogs. From there we followed them to a small town store where we met up with her friends, John & Janet, the other “chefs” of the day. They would be smoking Lisa’s chickens for the event. From there we caravaned on to Bitterwater. The drive in is a favorite for motorcycle riders; long stretches of road littered with wild flowers, rolling hills covered in tall green grass, and winding bends overseeing steep rocky hill sides. Each mile added distance in-between the houses we saw. I’d have to guess we passed two maybe three cars during the hour drive. We passed through a couple of rain showers that seemed to instantly clean the air. After over an hour trek, we arrived at the main road into the ranch. We stopped for a quick break and took in the view; tule elk climbing the mountain side behind us and the sound of a rushing creek in front of us.
After a brief break, we packed back into our vehicles for another 15 minute trek deep into the ranch. We traveled over a gravel road, a small one lane bridge, and crossed through the creek. I felt like we were in another world… no one around but rolling hills, cattle, birds, rushing water, and fresh air. It was beautiful. Living here definitely is not for the faint of heart. There was no one to be seen for miles and there is no such thing as a quick run to the store. Lisa tells me that during heavy rains, passing through the creek is not an option… unless you’ve got a snorkel for your vehicle.
Finally, we were here! What a sight. Traci is the awesome lady who runs this operation. When I say operation… it truly is. Lamb, cattle, chickens, turkeys, rabbits, dogs, cats, and five children. All I could say was WOW. Wonder woman! Her modest house and barn were nestled among the rolling hills and babbling creek. We were greeted by two of her beautiful daughters, Marley and Meryl. They welcomed us like family. We were the first to arrive and it was time to get down to business… it was time to BBQ!
When we were first approached to oversee the cooking of the lamb the original idea was to build a rotisserie. In an effort to save everyone time and money, we opted for a alternative cooking method. My husband did extensive research and the decision was made after viewing this video Primative and simple. The style of cooking is called asado. Asado is also the common word for barbecue in countries such as Argentina, Chile, and Uruguay. Typically a fire is built in a pit, coals created from wood native to the region, and a whole animal butterflied to fit onto a metal cross (stainless steel or cast iron) that leans over the fire at a 45 degree angle. You can cook anything, whole animals such as pig, goat, chicken… on this day, our gracious host, Traci, provided us with a 50-60 pound lamb.
A few days before I prepared a mop (basting liquid) for the lamb that consisted of olive oil, red wine, balsalmic vinegar, lemon juice, lemon rinds, sprigs of rosemary and thyme, and corse chopped garlic. The mop sat for 3 days before the event. The night before the big feast, I prepared a rub that would go on the lamb before it’s placed in the fire pit. The rub consisted of salt, pepper, finely chopped garlic, rosemary, & thyme.
When we arrived, Traci had the fire buring and ready to go – she used Oak. We setup on a table next to the fire and my husband began preparation. To get the lamb on the cross, first he had to split the chest cavity and then cut the hind quarters so the pelvis area could be flattened. Good sharp knives are a must for easy preparation. Once the lamb was butterflied, we placed it on the cross using S hooks and stainless steal. Lastly, before going into the fire, we covered the entire animal front to back with the garlic herb rub.
Our son looked on as we prepared everything. I wonder what he was thinking as he watched?
While my husband was attaching the cross I had to step back and take in the view. Beautiful.
Now it’s time for the lamb to go into the pit. I helped my husband carry the cross to the pit directly in front of the fire. He then hammered the cross into the dirt. The weight of the lamb allowed the cross to angle over the fire to roughly a 45 degree angle. Now it was time to baste and manage the fire. You’ll need hot coals to cook the bottom half of the lamb and high flame to cook the top half. We basted the lamb every 20 minutes. In the last hour of cooking he turned the cross around to allow the back fat of the lamb to get crispy and delicious.
While we managed the lamb, Lisa’s friend John prepared the chickens to be smoked.
The cooking took roughly 4 hours. While we waited, we drank, listened to Lisa’s husband play guitar, visited with friends, and the children hunted for Easter eggs. Lisa helped our son collect eggs for his first Easter Egg hunt!
After a well worth wait, 160 degrees, and the lamb was ready to eat! It was amusing to see the crowd gather after my husband took the lamb off the cross. Everyone dug in and helped pull the meat off the bones. It was juicy and tender. Cooked perfectly!
From my mop & rub for the lamb and my husband’s attentiveness and know-how for the meat and bbq – what an experience!! Everyone was so impressed and we were fielding questions all day. I am very proud of my husband who did a wonderful job preparing and cooking the lamb. It was a full event – we were gone from 7am till about 6pm… sun kissed and VERY tired, but it was well worth it! Our son got to run around with dogs, cats, chickens, turkeys, bunnies, cows and horses; and we made some new friends.
A big thank you to our gracious hosts (and wonder women) Traci and Lisa. You ladies ROCK! Also thank you to Lisa’s mom who provided a couple of the great shots you see below. One thing my husband took away from this experience… wear better BBQ attire when cooking that close to an open flame. Flip flops and Dickies shorts didn’t quite cut it, but he made due. We can’t wait to do it again…I say, let’s try a pig next time!