Episode 112 - Planet Barbecue

Borrego (Mexican Pit-Roasted Lamb)

Borrego (Mexican Pit-Roasted Lamb)

Other Recipes from Planet Barbecue Episode 112 – Planet Barbecue

Mexican cooking impresario Johnnie Hernandez has a sweet set-up for this iconic dish—a pit with worthy industrial-style cranes and pulleys for hoisted coals and whole animals. While you are unlikely to have anything approaching Johnnie’s set-up, barbacoa is intriguingly delicious and easy to adapt for the backyard barbecue grill. Below is my version.

Note: Johnnie uses agave cactus leaves. I call for banana leaves or avocado leaves, which are more readily available. But use agave if you can.


Borrego (Mexican Pit-Roasted Lamb)

Recipe Notes

  • Active Prep: 4 to 8 hours for marinating the lamb
  • Yield: Serves: 8
  • Method: Indirect grilling


For the chile paste and lamb:

  • 6 guajillo chiles
  • 5 cloves garlic, coarsely chopped
  • 1/4 medium onion, coarsely chopped
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried Mexican oregano
  • 2 whole cloves
  • 2 dried allspice berries
  • 1 small cinnamon stick, or 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 cup distilled white vinegar
  • 1/2 leg of lamb, bone-in (about 4 pounds), trimmed of any papery skin

For the consommé:

  • 1 medium onion, diced
  • 2 carrots, peeled and diced
  • 1 zucchini, scrubbed and diced
  • 1 12-ounce pumpkin or butternut squash
  • 1/2 small green cabbage, cored and diced
  • 1 large red ripe tomato, diced
  • 1 ear sweet corn (optional), shucked and cut into 1/2-inch rounds
  • 1 medium potato, peeled and diced
  • 2 bay leaves, 2 sprigs cilantro, and 2 sprigs epazote, tied in a piece of cheesecloth
  • 1/4 cup finely chopped fresh cilantro leaves
  • 1 chipotle pepper, minced
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper

For serving:

  • Warm tortillas
  • Your favorite salsa

You’ll also need:

  • 2 to 4 banana leaves or 8 to 10 fresh avocado leaves (if dried, presoak in cold water to cover for 30 minutes, then drain)

Recipe Steps

1: Prepare the chile paste and lamb: Stem the guajillo chiles, tear them open, and remove the veins and seeds. Soak the chiles in water to cover until they are soft and pliable, about 20 minutes. Drain the chiles and place them in a blender with the garlic, coarsely chopped onion, oregano, cloves, allspice, cinnamon, salt, vinegar, and 1/4 cup of water. Process to a smooth paste.

2: Using the tip of a paring knife, make a series of slits in the lamb, 1/4-inch deep and 1 inch apart. Smear the chile paste all over the lamb, working it into the slits. Cover the lamb loosely with plastic wrap and marinate, refrigerated, for 4 to 8 hours.

3: Prepare the consommé: Combine the diced onion, carrots, zucchini, squash, cabbage, tomato, corn, potato, herb bundle, and 10 to 12 cups of water in a large fire-proof pot.

4: Set up the grill for indirect grilling and heat to medium-low.

5: Assemble the barbacoa: Place the consommé pot in the center of the grate that holds the charcoal, or if using gas, in the center of the grill grate (away from the heat). Place a metal rack, like a sturdy cake rack, on top. Wrap the lamb in banana leaves or avocado leaves and place it, fat side up on the rack over the consommé. Cover the grill.

6: Cook the barbacoa until the lamb is fall-off-the-bone tender, 3 to 4 hours. (Use an instant-read meat thermometer to check the temperature. It should read between 180 and 190 degrees.) Refuel your charcoal grill as needed.

7: To serve, discard the banana or avocado leaves and transfer the lamb to a platter. Let rest for 5 minutes, then thinly slice the meat or cut it into chunks. Remove and discard the herb bundle from the consommé. Using a ladle, skim off any fat floating on the surface of the soup. Stir in the chopped cilantro and chipotle and season the consommé with salt and pepper to taste; the soup should be highly seasoned. Serve the consommé first, then the meat, accompanying both with tortillas and salsa.

Recipe Tips

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Steven Raichlen’s Planet Barbecue is a production of Barbacoa, Inc., and Resolution Pictures. © 2023 Barbacoa, Inc. Photos by Chris Bierlein