Whole roasted lamb on a board, garnished with thyme and sage
Image by Evan Anderson

“Growing up in Argentina, cooking the whole beast on the ‘cross’ was always a festive moment: The long wait, the endless stories told by my grandfather as the meat cooked—it was an unforgettable experience and not just because of the food. It was those traditions mixed with the emotion behind it that drove me to start cooking in my teens. This recipe is in memory of my grandfather ‘Pelusa,’ who showed me the art of building a fire and taught me to understand heat—how aggressive or gentle it should be depending on the purpose. And the most important part, which only comes with age: Have patience and respect for the product.

Try not to feel intimidated by the process of cooking with fire—with practice, it will naturally grow on you. Use your senses as guidance. I promise the final result will be spectacular and something that you always remember. (I’ve also included a quick recipe for kale pesto, which goes really well with the lamb.)”

Santiago Guzzetti of Ilda in Sylva, North Carolina.

From An Italian Appalachian Holiday

recipe heading-plus-icon


Serves 8 to 10

  • 1 (35-40 pound) whole lamb*
  • 1⅛ cups kosher salt
  • ¼ cup black peppercorns
  • 1 bottle dry white wine
  • 50-70 pounds hard wood, such as oak or birch
  • 10 sprigs fresh rosemary
  • Sea salt
  • 3-4 lemons, halved, for finishing
  • Special equipment:
  • Large cross-shaped spit, open fire pit or kettle grill, twine
  • Kale pesto
  • 2 cups kale chiffonade
  • 1 cup pecans, roughly chopped
  • 1 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 cup grated pecorino cheese
  • Zest of 3 lemons
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Make the lamb

  1. Thread whole lamb onto a cross-shaped spit. Each shoulder and leg should be opened and tightly attached to the bars so that as lamb softens, it does not fall into the fire. 
  2. In a large bowl, combine salt, peppercorns, and wine and stir until salt is dissolved. 
  3. Build a small fire in a fire pit and position lamb so it is arranged like a cross over the pit, keeping meat several inches to 1 foot from the flame. Once fire has died down, keep embers fueled with 1 to 2 pieces of wood every 30 minutes, shifting embers around to make sure lamb is getting consistent heat. Bank fire so that most of the heat is beneath the legs and shoulders, as the ribs will cook more quickly. (Alternatively, preheat an oven to 300 degrees, section lamb into pieces, place in a roasting pan, and roast for about 3½ hours or until tender.) 
  4. Tie rosemary sprigs together with twine and use them to brush brine on lamb meat, basting every 30 minutes. 
  5. Roast lamb for about 5 hours or until meat is tender and limbs start to loosen and break down. Add one more round of wood and stoke fire to give meat a little bit of char.
  6. Carefully remove lamb from spit and transfer to a large cutting board. Cut lamb into large pieces, separating legs and ribs; sprinkle with sea salt and several squeezes of lemon, and serve on the bone or sliced, with kale pesto on the side.

*Instead of using a whole lamb, you can also use this same recipe to oven roast individual parts, like the leg or shoulder. 

Make the kale pesto

  1. Place all ingredients in a medium bowl and toss to combine. Adjust seasoning to taste and refrigerate until ready to serve.
  • Recipe By
    Santiago Guzzetti of Ilda in Sylva, North Carolina

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