This Roast Takes the Crown
…for best lamb dish I have ever made or eaten. I made this dish for the first time this year for Easter. I made it a total of 3 times this year and it has been consistently excellent. I made this on my Big Green Egg, but it can be made on most any grill as long as it is big enough to fit the roast. In the past 6 months I have received questions about it via the Contact Form on this site. So I figured a blog entry about the cook might be in order. Most of the people that wrote to me were concerned with the degree of difficulty of this roast. Before I made a CROWN ROAST OF PORK for Christmas dinner 2013, I always figured these roasts were hard. As you will see the reality is just the opposite, this roast is VERY easy to prepare and cook and, as I mentioned, this is the best lamb dish I have ever made.
WHAT IS A LAMB CROWN ROAST?: A crown roast is made from several racks of beef, lamb or pork. The lamb crown roast is made from 2 or 3 racks of lamb that are French cut to remove the meat around the bones. The racks are bent into a semi-circular arc and tied together to form a circular shape. When placed on a platter with the bones up, the roast resembles a crown. The open center of the roast is filled with some sort of stuffing, rice, potatoes or vegetable filling. Traditionally the filling was cooked together with the roast, but the theory these days is that the roast cooks faster, more evenly and better without the stuffing. The roast rests when it is done cooking and the filling can be made during this time or prepared while the lamb is cooking, For absorbent fillings like rice, having the rice ready when the roast is done allows you to stuff the roast while it is resting. The filling will pick up some of the flavors from the lamb juices given off during the rest period.
HOW BIG A ROAST DO I NEED - Appearance?: A lamb crown roast is smaller and less meaty than the larger pork crown roast. Two racks actually can be bent into the required circular shape without slitting the meat between the bones. So adding a third rack to be able to bend the roast into a circular shape without slitting it is not a consideration. Another reason for slitting the meat is to give you more exterior surface to apply the spice rub. The only other consideration in terms of the number of racks to buy, is the size opening you want in the middle to hold your filling. Three racks give you a larger opening to hold your filling. But remember you can fill the middle of the crown roast and serve the remainder of your filling on the platter surrounding the roast. The 3-rack crown roasts I bought had the meat slit between the bones. Instead of increasing the spice paste amount by 50 percent to make up for the third rack, I made twice as much to also have some extra spice paste to spread into the slits in the meat.
HOW BIG A ROAST DO I NEED - Servings?: A rack of lamb has 8 bones. The rule of thumb when serving rack of lamb is 2 to 3 bones per person as long as you have sides to accompany the lamb. For me I don’t buy the two bones being enough for all but the very lightest of eaters. I also don’t like the feeling when you aren’t able to serve your guests the amount of food they want to eat. For my Easter meal I was expecting 5 people and I used 3 bones per person meaning I needed two racks. This put me at 15 out of the 16 bones. I decided I would buy a third rack so if anyone wanted more they could have more. This was a good decision because the lamb proved to be so good that 2 out of the 5 people ended up having 5 bones, two had 4 and one had 3. There was no problem moving the leftovers and I should add that the leftovers were excellent.
COST: I have now made this roast three times this year and have bought the lamb from 3 different sources. The three racks have weighed between 3.75 to 4 pounds (1.7 - 1.8 kg) with a cost between $75 to $82 total. This worked out to $18.99 to $21.99 per pound. Certainly not cheap and this is not an every week roast, but you can’t do better for a special event or holiday.
BUTCHERING THE ROAST:Many folks I talk to are concerned that they don’t have the necessary skills to prepare this roast. The simple answer is you don’t have to. The butcher will do this for you and all you will need to do is rub the roast and put it in your pan and cook it. Most of the video recipes online also show you how to French cut the racks of lamb and tie them together. Then you can decide wether to also slit the meat. The racks are much simpler to tie together than a crown roast of pork. Typically you tie the base of the French cut bones together and then wrap the middle of the meaty area of the rack with butchers twine. An alternate method omits wrapping the butchers string around the middle of the rack. Instead the middle of the end pieces are sewed together with a needle and short loop of butcher’s twine. This is actually how 2 out of the 3 lamb crown roasts I purchased were tied. This makes it a bit easier to cut apart than a roast where the twine encircles the entire roast. As I mentioned earlier, these racks are easier to shape than the larger bulkier rack of pork, so you may watch the videos and decide you can do this. For the more adventurous of you who wish to do your own butchering I will post a link to a video where Aalton Brown shows you how to prep and French cut the rack of lamb yourself if you wish to. It is an interesting technique using both a knife and butcher’s twine. But remember you don’t need to prep the crown roast unless you want to. Your butcher will do it for you.
CHOOSING THE RECIPE - Big Picture:The recipes for rack of lamb seemed to be pretty constant in their cooking method, compared to the crown roast of pork which has many different cooking methods and temperatures. The pork crown roast is bigger and presents more challenges to get it to cook evenly. The much smaller lamb crown roast doesn’t present as many challenges in cooking it evenly. You are mostly deciding between the spices used for the spice paste. I chose a recipe from Aalton Brown which seemed very simple and straightforward. I liked the sound of the spice rub he used - simple but tasty. I will mention there is both a written and video version of the recipe on the Food Network’s website. I have posted the link below at the end of this article.
CHOOSING THE RECIPE - Adapting to the Big Green Egg: I really didn’t have to do anything to adapt this to the Egg, or any other grill for that matter. The changes I needed to make were due to using a third rack of lamb. The Aalton Brown recipe I chose was intended for two racks of lamb. Aalton cleverly used a bundt cake pan for cooking this roast in. But my using a third rack prevented me from even thinking about using the bundt cake pan. It simply would’t fit. To be honest, it never was a consideration because one of the reasons I wanted to do this roast on the Egg was so I could add some wood smoke. Putting the roast meat side down in a bundt cake pan would prevent it from getting as much smoke exposure. I decided to use the same cooking method used in the crown roast of pork recipe from America’s Test Kitchens. I would cook the roast bones down/meat up in my roast pan with a v-rack inside. The v-rack helps hold the roast in place and helps to hold it’s shape. The only other adaptation I made was to bump up the quantities for the spice rub by 50 percent to account for the third rack I was using and actually doubling it to have extra to apply to slits in the roast..
This was a relatively easy cook and the first time the big question was how long it would take. My roast was 50 percent larger (3 racks vs. 2 racks) than what the recipe called for, but I didn’t think the time would be 50 percent more. This was not a case of a single centralized mass growing 50 percent bigger. The roast’s volume had increased but where it was in the circular donut shape the increase was spread over a larger area. The recipe said the roast would take around 30 to 35 minutes at the 375 degree (190 C) cooking temperature and I figured it might take longer, but certainly not 50 percent longer. I had indirect grilled some slightly meatier racks of lamb several times in the past and they had taken about 50-55 minutes. So I figured I was looking at 40-45 minutes here. This is one of the reasons I tell folks to take some pictures of their cooks. The information stored with the picture can come in handy in the future.
I took the lamb out of the fridge about 5 hours before I was going to cook it. I rubbed it inside and out with the simple spice paste called for by the recipe. I put it on a s/s 1/4 sheet pan that was fitted with a cooling rack and then I covered it loosely with plastic wrap. Then it was back to the fridge until it I began to preheat the grill. When it came time to preheat the Egg, I took the lamb out of the fridge. I set the Egg up for indirect grilling using the platesetter legs up covered by the s/s grill grid. I was going to be using my cast iron roast pan and s/s v-rack to cook the roast in. With the roast pan running from side to side it leaves just enough space for the grate probe for my Maverick ET-733 remote read thermometer. I double checked this setup before lighting the grill and the probe did indeed fit. I lit the Egg and monitored the temps on the ET-733 from the Kitchen while getting the roast ready for the grill.
I sprayed the cast iron roast pan with PAM for Grilling to help keep the drippings from sticking. The recipe called for a gravy to be made from the drippings, but three things prevented me from considering doing the gravy. The first and primary reason was I was planning to use oak chips for smoke. Wood smoke would also flavor the gravy drippings too. Second, in my experience, when cooking roasts on a grill you don’t seem to get many drippings. This is why I used the PAM in the roast pan for easy clean up, since I wouldn’t be making gravy. The third consideration is the roasts I make on the Egg retain so much of their internal moistness, that people rarely use gravy even if I do make some. Like the crown roast of pork I made for Christmas, I planned to cook this roast bones down, meat up. This allows some of the heat to circulate from up and under the roast, where the bones hold the meat up high. The meat portion of the roast is raised high enough so it is out of the cast iron roast pan entirely. This helps speed up and even out the cooking. The v-rack was not actually supporting the roast, the bones were holding it up. Instead the ribs of the v-rack were acting as a series of side supports for the bones to keep them from spreading. This helps the bottom part of the roast retain the circular shape during cooking. I also installed two bamboo skewers in an X-pattern across the top of the center cavity to act as spreaders. They help keep the top part of the roast in the circular shape and not flatten out into an oval.
The last step was to place a temperature probe from the Maverick ET-733 into the roast. This is where the roast having the meat slit between the bones had an impact I never anticipated. That would be thermometer placement. I found with the slits, I was not able to insert the probe in from the side. The tip would end up being too close to the surface of the meat due to all of the slits. This meant coming down from the top was the only viable option. This proved to be a rather fussy procedure and I really wasn’t sure I had gotten the right placement. I knew this was something I would need to watch carefully. If your grill isn’t very tall, you may want to check this before the grill is lit to make sure the lid will close.
Just before putting the roast on the Egg, I added a handful of Jack Daniels oak chips. I got the roast on the Egg and retired to the Kitchen to continue some final prep. Right away I sensed the thermometer placement was indeed a problem. The temperature started rising immediately and at a rate that pointed to a 20 minute cook. I was getting a reading of 122 degrees (50 C) after only 15 minutes. I pulled the roast off the Egg onto a piece of Corian serving to protect the granite top on my grill gazebo cabinets. I quickly temped it in 10 different places with my Thermapen. This was a case where the Thermapen was invaluable. In less than a minute I knew what to do. I kept track of where the lowest temperature reading of 94 F (34 C) occurred. I moved and inserted the probe into this piece of meat and checked to make sure I was getting a similar reading on the Maverick probe. IT matched the 94 degree reading exactly so I put the roast back on the Egg. This time around the temperatures were rising in a more normal fashion and pointed to a 45 minute total cook time. This proved to be the case and once again I used the Thermapen to make sure the all parts of the roast were at 130 (50 C).
The roast was taken into the Kitchen and tented loosely in foil for a twenty minute rest. Once again there were not enough drippings to make gravy, even if I had wanted to. This was not a surprise because any roasts I have made on the grill do not seem to produce enough pan drippings to use for gravy. Plus, I’m pretty sure using wood chips for wood smoke would produce an overly smoky flavored gravy. I’ve seen this before for other types of meat and I would expect the same here. I did have some gravy mix packages around and the question was whether to make it. My guests actually made the decision for me. They told me that the roasts I have been making on my Egg these last few years are so moist that gravy is not necessary. This left me to heat the filling. I had bought two bags of frozen spring vegetables called a “Spring Vegetable Medley”. I heated the two bags in the microwave, timing it so they would be ready when the meat was done resting. This first time out, I made the one mistake of this day. I didn’t drain the veggies first before using them. I placed the crown roast in the serving platter meat down/legs up and simply poured the contents of the two bags of veggies into the center of the meat. The two bags were the perfect amount to fill the roast cavity. My mistake became readily apparent. Liquid began quickly seeping out from the bottom of the roast onto the platter, I used several wads of paper towels to slow the seepage down so I could present and serve the crown roast. The other two times I have made this roast since then, I have drained the veggies in a colander and this took care of the excess liquid.
END RESULTS: I brought the plater to the table with the roast intact, bones up, with the cavity filled to the brim with the colorful spring vegetable medley. It made a wonderful presentation and the taste was even better. I cut the strings where needed and carved the roast at the table. I will cut to the chase and state that this was the best lamb roastI have ever had. My guests all agreed, although at first they weren’t saying it with words. They were making all sorts of “yummy noises”. I can tell when my dad likes something, because he doesn’t say anything at all. He is too busy eating. When he went to take his second chop, he took a second and a third. That was all he needed to “say”. I should note he is NOT a lamb eater, but is coming around. The lamb was incredibly moist and was cooked perfectly. I am very fussy when it comes to my own cooks and in terms of the lamb, I couldn't find anything I felt I needed to do better. Overall the only problem was with the veggies. I would need drain the veggies next time before adding them into the cavity. Everyone ate more lamb than they planned to and they kept going back for more, even after they said they were full. I was very glad I bought the third rack, because people ate as much as they wanted instead of stopping short to be polite and leave the last pieces for others. The first time I made this, it was Easter. In particular for a holiday meal I want people to feel they can eat as much s they want. Let me add that moving the few leftovers were not a problem. I have made this dish twice more and both times the lamb turned out equally delicious. This is a simple, easy dish to prepare if you buy the finished crown roast from your butcher. Cooking it couldn’t be easier too. You will just need to deal with it being a little more difficult to track the temperatures on. I now have a new “Go To” lamb dish if I want to make the best lamb dish I have ever eaten for a special occasion.
LAMB CROWN ROAST TIPS:Here is what I learned making my first Crown Roast of Lamb:
- Buy more meat than you think you will need. This roast is so good people eat far more than they expect. People are full and go back for more.
- You might want to ask your butcher if they will be slitting the meat to help curve the roast. If the roast will be slit, make more spice paste so you can apply the spice place to the meat exposed by their partially slitting it into chops.
- Also If the roast will be slit, you may have issues because you need to insert temperature probes from the top. This can be fussy and may cause issues with the lid of your grill closing. Check this out ahead of time.
- Do NOT cook the filling in the roast.
- If you are planning to add smoke, don’t plan on using the drippings to make gravy.
- If you don’t use wood smoke, my experience is you don’t get enough drippings at the end to even use to make gravy.
- The fastest most even cooking will be obtained by cooking the roast bones down, meat up.
- Use a v-rack as a stabilizer/brace to keep the bones from spreading and distorting the shape of the roast during cooking.
- Keep an eye on the temps and if they are rising too fast, use the trick I tried where you take sample readings with an instant read thermometer. Transfer the probe to the location giving you the lowest reading.
- For a normal sized rack of lamb use 10-11 minutes per pound (0.45 kg) for a ballpark cooking time.
- Plan on a 20 minute rest tented loosely with foil.
- You may want to drain your filling of excess liquids in a colander prior to adding the filling inside the cavity of the crown roast.
- If your filling is rice or potato or some other absorbent type of food, have it ready for when the roast is done. You can put it in the cavity while the roast is resting and it will absorb some of the juices from the lamb.
- Remember to remove all of the twine when serving. You don’t need this kind of fiber in your diet.
SOME RELATED LINKS Here are some links to the Picture entries for the Lamb & Pork Crown Roasts I have made, plus links to the Aalton Brown recipe I used and a video he made on how to French cut a rack of lamb yourself.
CROWN ROAST OF LAMB
CROWN ROAST OF PORK
COMPANY CROWN ROAST OF LAMB Video and recipe I based this cook on.
LAMB CHOP FRENCHING PROCEDURE Video about how to French cut a rack of lamb yourself.
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