A fifth-generation butcher offers step-by-step instructions on this essential technique.
butchered lamb on cutting board

Grilled, roasted, or braised...there are so many ways to prepare and enjoy lamb. This versatile meat can cook up quickly on the grill for a summer cookout, or roast slow and low in the oven for a spring or winter feast. And when a leg of lamb is de-boned and butterflied, it can be stuffed with aromatics and rolled into a roast, or marinated and quickly cooked on the grill or under the broiler.

You can buy boneless leg of lamb or you can ask the butcher to debone a leg of lamb for you but it's actually easier to butterfly a leg of lamb at home than you might think. Our guide is Evan Lobel, a fifth-generation butcher and co-owner of the NYC institution Lobel's of New York. He showed Martha his favorite way to de-bone and butterfly a leg of lamb and we're sharing the technique here.

Step 1: Get Ready

First things first, set up your station. Gather a large cutting board, a boning knife, a kitchen towel, and a small bowl.

Pro Tip: To prevent your board from sliding around, secure it to the counter by placing a damp kitchen towel underneath it (those grippy shelf-liners work great, too).

A boning knife, which has a long, sharp, semi-flexible blade, is ideal for this task. You'll mainly be using the tip of this knife while you work, which will give you more control when you are cutting. Lastly, place a small bowl near the cutting board and use it to discard scraps of connective tissue and fat as you work.

Step 2: Meat and Greet

Get to know the anatomy of the lamb leg before picking up your knife. Remove the leg from its packaging and pat it dry with paper towels. Place it fat-side-down on the cutting board, "because the bone is easier to get to on the underside", says Lobel.

Next, locate the long thigh bone that runs across the meat from end to end, and is about an inch underneath the surface.

On the wider side of the leg is a bulbous joint that is protruding a bit. At the other end is the knee joint, which you can identify by moving the tapered end of the leg (the shank) back and forth with your hand; the joint will be a couple of inches above where your hand is.

Step 3: First Cuts

Holding the tapered end of the leg with one hand, make a cut between the knee joint (but don't cut all the way through); since you'll be cutting between the joint, the knife may face some slight resistance from tendons but it should not feel like you are cutting through bone.

Then, starting at the bulbous joint, make a long shallow cut across the center of the thigh bone. Don't stop until you reach the knee joint.

With the long shallow cut you just made acting as a tracing line, go back with your knife and cut deeper into the meat, until you feel the tip of your knife touching the bone.

Step 4: Remove the Thigh Bone

Continue to cut, angling the tip of the knife to go around the sides of the bone, to slowly detach the meat.

Once the bone is a little more exposed so you can see better, carefully cut around the bulbous joint to release it. You should be able to lift it up with your hand, and as Lobel points out, "Once we expose that, we have something to hold on to, to get the rest of the bone out".

Holding up the end of the exposed bone with one hand, continue to cut the meat away from the rest of the bone until you reach the knee joint. Cut around the joint until the thigh bone releases completely from the meat.

Step 5: Remove the Shank Bone

Make a vertical cut starting from the knee joint to the end of the shank. Using the same technique as you did with the thigh bone, slowly and carefully release the meat from this smaller bone using the tip of the knife.

Step 6: Clean Up

There should be no more bones left, but there is a little trimming that needs to be done to remove tendons, sinew, silver skin...basically anything that won't taste great after it is cooked.

At each end where the joints were removed, there will be tough connective tissue still lingering. Use your knife to cut them away and discard them.

In addition to removing that stringy connective tissue, Lobel recommends removing a specific gland that releases a pungent smell when cooked. This gland is located on the larger, thicker section of the de-boned lamb (called the top round). Pull the top round to the side so the interior is exposed and look for a large chunk of hardened fat. Trim it away and discard it; the gland lives inside of that chunk of fat.

Step 7: Even it Out

The de-boned lamb will be much thicker in some places than others, so Lobel recommends the butterflying technique to ensure even cooking. Without cutting through the meat completely, slice into the thicker pieces of the meat to divide it into two pieces horizontally.

Once you've finished butterflying the meat to an even thickness, turn it over so the fat side is facing up. Lobel likes to score the fat cap on the meat for presentation purposes, which is done by making a shallow crisscross pattern with your knife.

Step 8: Get Cooking!

Lobel likes to use a classic marinade for his lamb, "Dijon, fresh rosemary, some red wine vinegar, some oil." For best results, marinate the lamb about a day before you intend to use it; this butterflied preparation is particularly well-suited for the grill or broiler as it's a quick and easy cooking method.

For roasting, both Lobel and Martha like to stuff the leg with aromatics and roll and tie it into a roast shape. Try Martha's springtime recipe for roast lamb that incorporates aromatics such as mint, rosemary, and preserved lemon. You can also make a quicker preparation in the oven by following this clever recipe that divides the meat into three different sections.


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