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Grilling a whole lamb

Satilmis Yayla

© Satilmis Yayla 1996 Oslo, Norway



What do you need?
Getting ready
Taking down



Would you like to try once to grill a whole animal? It is a way of making a regular grill party highly memorable. Grilling a whole animal has an instinctively basic, primordial, dramatic, and at the same time highly social appeal. It is reminiscent of the days of our forefathers gathering around the campfire and dividing the days hunt.


The usual approach in movies (that is where we saw it, right?) is to put the carcass on a stick and rotate it over some heat. There is a little more to it than that. This will cause for example that the smoke from the fat that drips onto the heat source and burns, will soil the meat.


Another approach is to check with the grilling supplies and meat section of the local supermarket. That is also usually the wrong place to reach for help. For the typical supermarket this would be very unusual need to serve.


What do you need?

The following is the result of many centuries of practice among nomadic tribes of Anatolia and is best suited for preparing lamb.

A carcass

You need a proper carcass. It has to be butchered with minimal damage to the body enclosure. It should have a very small hole through the neck, may have a slightly bigger one on the back, and a split in the upper belly just large enough to remove the internal organs. It should be fresh, may have been refrigerated but should not have been frozen. I hear that one may be able to purchase it steam cooked and then refrigerated. I have never tried pre-cooked version.

A stick

You need a stick thick enough to plug the hole on the back and long enough (diameter 10 cm, length 2 or 3 m; the trunk of a good-sized Christmas tree?). The stick should be clean. It should have a nail or smaller stick through the thick end in order to turn it during the grilling.

A fireplace

You need a fireplace that is U shaped, wider than deep, and wider than the length of the carcass from neck to back-leg-elbows. The fireplace may be in the open air, it may be dug into an earth mound, or it may be a temporary construction consisting of stones or bricks on top of each other. In this case the height should be at least half a meter, and it should be set up in a wind-still place.

To the left you see an improvised fireplace built with a wall of aluminum paper fortified with a mesh of iron gridle on the fire side so logs thrown at the fires can not rip the aluminum, and with a loose wall of cement blocks on the other side for support and isolation.

Enough wood

You need a double fire, one on each corner of the U shaped fireplace. The fires are to be burning with high flames for 2 to 4 hours. 2-5 bags of wood will do the job. It is desirable that the logs are long (60 cm rather than 30 cm ) so it is relatively easier to place them on the fire vertically and will give tall flames. The wood should be thoroughly dry in order not to give extra smoke during burning.

A place to put the stick

You need two hooks, or crosses, or Y shaped studs placed as the two dots on the letter Ü to place the stick with the meat on, in front of (not on) the fire. They should keep the stick with the animal high enough not to touch the ground and low enough to be siding towards the heat source

Pans for dripping juice

You need a few wide flat pans to put under the meat in order to collect the juice that drips from the meat during the grilling/roasting. Alternatively you may use a large sheet of aluminum paper that you shape by hand.

Another pan

You need a long handled small deep pan to harvest the inner juice.

Something to sew with

You need cotton thread and a large needle to sew the slit in the belly. Alternatively one can use wooden saté sticks, wooden cocktail sticks, or large wooden tooth picks for the same purpose.


The basic recepy requires only salt. Optionally you can make your own spice mixture, push garlic cloves into the meat etc...


Getting ready


The first thing to do is to put the meat onto the stick. Put the thick end of the stick down against a solid corner, on or near the floor. At this point it is useful to have more than one pair of hands. Proceed to push the thin end into the back hole of the carcass. Make it go through the abdomen and come out through the neck hole. Both holes should have a tight fit around the stick. You may have to use some force pulling down holding from the hind legs or pound the bottom end of the stick to the ground to move the meat further down the stick.


Cut one front leg from the elbow so it barely sticks out from the body volume. Use the piece that is cut out to secure the two hind legs on the backside of the stick. This part requires bending both hind legs backwards until they touch each other behind the stick further down from the tail. Slit a hole, if there is not already one, into the thin soft tissue in the middle of the two tendons on both hind legs near the end. Make one leg go through the other one and secure it with the cut out piece from the front leg. Cut out the corresponding piece from the other front leg and put it inside the abdominal cage.


Now is your last opportunity to administer the spices on the inside of the animal. After that the slit in the belly has to be tightly sewn so none of the juices that are produced during cooking in the inside can escape.

Arrange the stitches to secure the two edges of the hole the way buttons secure a double breasted jackets flaps. Make each horizontal length of thread or each single pointed wooden stick go from the front of one side through to the back of the other side, piercing both layers, and then piercing both again backwards, to the front of the first side.

It is also necessary to fix the tip of the neck nearer to the stick with a metal wire.




Start by kindling the two fires that are needed. They should be up against the two corners of the U shaped fireplace, the distance between them being similar to the distance between the shoulders and the hips of the animal to be grilled i.e. the two thickest parts of the meat. The flames should be high. You can obtain this by using dry and resin-rich wood cut slightly longer than the usual ones for indoor use, and by placing them almost vertically, leaned up against the walls of the fireplace by the respective corners.

Place the stick with the meat onto the two hooks or Y shaped studs right in front of the two fires. The stick should be slightly tilted towards the side of the front legs so that the loose bit in the abdominal cage does not move towards the belly and damage it later during the grilling when the belly walls are tender.



Ready to grill

If you have prepared any spices to be brushed onto the meat then this is the time to administer them. Doing that later will cool the surface of the meat.

Sit comfortably behind something that will shadow from the blazes and turn the stick slowly making sure that every part of the meat gets a fair share of heat. Do this quick enough to avoid cooling of the parts that do not see the blazes, but slow enough not to cool it by the rotation. This might last many hours, may be as long as 5 hours depending on whether it is a rabbit or a moose, whether the fire is strong or weak, whether the air is cold or warm, windy or still, etc. etc.


Keep the fires burning with tall flames, as long as the grilling/roasting needs it, by placing every now and then, long logs vertically into each corner fire. Do not rely solely on the glowing red ashes at the bottom of the fire. Watch out for winds that cool the meat, build windshields if necessary. Watch out for and try to prevent winds that send smoke or ashes towards the meat.

What goes on?

The color of the surface of the meat will change as it gets done. The surface layer of the meat will shrink, get tighter especially around the seam on the belly. It will crack and flake around the legs. The tail might curl outwards and be finished earlier than the rest. It may be removed with a knife when done. The meat will sweat and drip. The flat wide pans that are placed under the meat between the two hooks holding the stick should catch this liquid. These pans save whatever is on the ground from being soiled by this fatty juice.

Is it done?

Use a thin and long knife such as a shish kebab skewer or one used to separate fish meat from bones, to check whether it is done. Push it to thickest part of the hip until the tip shows from below. Give it a slight turn and the juice will run from the tip. If the liquid is clear, then it is done. If it still is blood colored it is not done.


Taking down

It is wet inside!

By this time, there should be a fair amount of meat juice gathered in the inside of the animals body. It also should be thoroughly mixed with the salt or other spices put there earlier. Take the long handled saucepan into one hand , open a hole in the belly with a knife in the other hand and empty this liquid into the saucepan. Start rotating the meat vigorously and spread slowly this juice over the whole surface. This will give the meat the salt or spice that it lacked on the outside surface. Doing this earlier has less effect since much of it would have sweated and dripped away. If the body enclosure is not sewn airtight to start with you probably will not have any juice, but this will not destroy the result.

Off the fire

Soon after that, you may remove the stick with the roasted meat on, off from the hooks and lean it against a wall or a table's edge. Put the thick part of the stick (hind leg side) down. It is a good idea to have some cover on the floor under the animal because it may still drip a little, and soil (paper towels? pans? even old newspapers will do because the meat does not touch them).



Time to serve

The thin well-roasted parts around the sewn area of the belly are good for starters because they have the most spice per gram of meat. The more meaty parts taste less exotic and are good for consumption later.

At this point you will need a powerful knife to remove the meat in big chunks from the stick. You will also need a cutting board where you can divide the chunks into smaller servings.

Continue by chopping from the shoulders i.e. the top part. This way it is less likely to slide downwards on the stick.


This method of preparing the meat is used during Muslim sacrificial holidays. The tradition says that one saves one third of the meat for distribution among the poor who can not afford to sacrifice an animal. The second third is to be saved and sent to people dear to your heart but not there. The last third is to be served to those present.


Afiyet olsun!

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