Lamb On Spit

Lamb on the spit (Arni Sti Souvla) is the traditional Greek way of serving lamb at Easter - Pascha. Usually this is the only time of year in Greece that families will prepare lamb this way, (you can find find it all year through at tavernas), however, this recipe is also ideal for preparing great tasting lamb for a large party at any time of year.
There is always much anticipation and planning of this Easter meal. After the 40 days of lent when meat is one of the main foods that people abstain from (and in Greece this is still followed by a large percentage of the population), the lamb will be the first meat they have and the thought of tucking in to such tasty meat after a long abstinance inspires an eagerness to participate and contribute in the preparation.

In Greece, Easter Sunday is a very social occasion and there will always be large gatherings for the lamb, people from the neighbourhood, friends, family and all will be invited, it is always a big affair, and people will be turning up slowly through the morning, bringing plates of food, boxes of sweets from the Zacharoplasteion or bottles of their favourite wine. Everyone will take turns at turning the spit, or helping out with other preparations, and long tables are prepared under the shady trees for the company and children to all sit down together to wine, dine and enjoy the company. So great is this day, most people will linger on till early evening, not wanting the wonderful day to end.

Whole lambs will have been ordered in plenty of time from their favourite butchers and on Easter saturday the lambs will be picked up from the butchers and taken home and prepared ready for an early start on the sunday.


The instructions given here are for a whole lamb. You use a rotiserie, either motorised or hand turned.

You will need 1 whole lamb, skinned and gutted. In Greece, the lamb will come with the head on, which many people consider a delicacy. Outside of Greece, I don't know how easy it is to get it that way. Ask your butcher to prepare the whole lamb for you as instructed. (As not a lot of butchers get orders for whole lamb, you will have to be specific, especially to leave it whole, not cut up into portions!)

Make sure the lamb is cleaned inside and out, if not, clean it.

To season the lamb, first in a bowl put a good quantity of cooking salt, ground black pepper and oregano (Greek rigani). Mix together.
In another bowl, pour a good amount of virgin olive oil.

Prepare a large work surface and place the lamb on it.
Put your hands in the olive oil and then rub the oil all over the meat, inside and out.
Next, using your hands, take a handful of seasoning and rub it all over and into the meat, on the skin on the outside, around the legs and all over the inside of the animal so it is coated with the salt, pepper, oregano mixture.
By wiping it with oil first, it helps the seasoning to stick to the animal.

Take the skewer/spear of the rotisserie and insert it into the animal, first through the backside of the lamb, through the body and out through the head, coming out through the mouth. If you do not have the head, you will need to secure the opening of the neck area to the skewer, by tying it on. One of the purposes of the head is to secure the upper body in place.
Take the back 2 legs and pull them back and tie them on to the skewer behind the tail. Take the front 2 legs, pull them forward and secure them onto the skewer in front of the head. This is so that as the meat cooks the legs will not fall off and it keeps the whole body tied together. Don't forget to use wire or something that wont burn.

Place a thin long piece of wood along the spine of the body. Take some wire and pierce it through the back of the carcass, next to the spine, around the skewer, and out the back in line with the other wire, on the other side of the spine. Tie the two ends together over the wood, which creates a loop, or circle. Do this a few times to support the spine and help hold it all together.Now wrap the entire animal in greaseproof paper, and secure well with either wire or string that won't burn.

Prepare the cooking area.
You will need to dig out of the ground a hole about 400 - 500 mm deep, almost 1 metre wide and a length of at least 2 animal heads longer than the animal. You can use some wood to start the fire and then have ready a good quantity of charcoal usually used for barbecues to add to the fire throughout the cooking stage.
It is best to prepare all this the day before as you will need to start early on Easter sunday to get the lamb cooked by lunchtime.

On the morning
Prepare and start the fire.At the start, when the fire is very hot, place the lamb on the stands and adjust to be quite high off the heat. At this stage you turn the meat slowly and let the heat work its way through.
As the fire goes down to its normal temperature, you adjust the rotisserie down as needed. As it cooks through with time, turn it quicker, when you hear it sizzling you need to turn it enough so it doesnt burn in one spot and the juices continuously stay within the wrapping and moisten the meat.
It is ideal for cooking lamb, if you can move the charcoal, in the hole, to either side of the animal, achieving more heat radiating from the sides instead of directly underneath the animal. This will help to distribute the heat to more parts of the animal at any one time.
You will need to keep the greaseproof paper on for about 3 1/2 hours. Then you can remove the paper, drop the skewer a little more and cook for about 1 more hour or until ready, turning quickly, almost doubling the speed of rotation.

When ready, some people will take a large platter, hold it under the roast lamb and cut parts of the lamb off whilst it is still on the spit, letting it drop onto the platter.Alternatively, remove from the heat, cut apart and serve immediately.

Serve the lamb with tzatziki, greek salad, fried zucchini, steamed greens and plenty of fresh crusty bread. Free flowing red wine, Greek style!

Along with the lamb on the spit, it is traditional in Greece to cook Kokoretsi in the same way, on a spit over the coals. This is served a little ahead of the lamb, as a starter, along with other appetizers.

Kali Orexi - Bon Appetit

Greek Waiter

Return from Lamb on the Spit to Easter in Greece

Return from Lamb on the Spit to Greek Meat Recipes

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