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There comes a time in every family when the next generation must shoulder more of the work if they want to keep family traditions alive. That turned out to be this year for my husband and I. When my in-laws expressed they’d rather go to a restaurant for Greek Easter this year instead of host we jumped at the chance to spit roast an entire lamb in our backyard.
I mean it sounds like fun, right?
We love lamb. We love hosting parties. We got this.
Naturally we invited a ridiculous amount of people because a whole lamb can feed an army and spit roasting an entire animal of any kind in the backyard is an event.
Five minutes into trying to actually find a whole lamb for sale in New England in April and “we got this” turned into “oh no, no we don’t got this” and “how many chickens would I need to roast to feed 40 people?”
I don’t know about where you live, but here in Connecticut you can’t just buy a whole lamb at your local supermarket. No surprise there, I was planning to call around to local farms anyway.
And therein started the problem.
I called at least 7 different farms in the New England area only to hear variations of the same “no we don’t have whole lamb for sale” and “don’t you know it’s the wrong time of year for whole lamb?”
Um, spring is the wrong time for whole lamb? I thought spring was THE time for fresh lamb?
Not in New England it isn’t. (This would be an appropriate time to add another point in the Florida column on our move/don’t move scoreboard.)
You see unlike their giant monoculture counterparts, many small local farms prioritize sustainability. When they raise sheep they pasture raise them as nature intended rather than feed them a diet of grains. The catch is that pastures are covered in snow 6 months out of the year in New England.
If farmers in the northeast want to pasture raise their flocks they must lamb in the spring, raise them over the summer, then butcher them in the fall when they’re ready at about 6 moths of age. Many farmers feed hay (instead of grain) to their stock over the winter but by raising new lambs in the spring and summer they save on feed costs.
While that’s wonderful news for the quality of life for the sheep, the quality of the meat, and the economics of the farmer, that’s terrible news for a person trying to spit roast a whole lamb for Greek Easter in New England.
Luckily with more research and phone calls I discovered that there ARE places where you can buy a whole lamb for sale. They’re a little off the beaten path but then again so is spit roasting an entire animal. Whether you’re hosting your own Greek Easter event or celebrating some other occasion, here are 4 places you can find a whole lamb for sale. Good luck with your party and remember, about 1 pound of charcoal per 1 pound of meat for roasting!
1. Local Farm
Wait, I thought the whole point of the beginning of this post was that New England farms don’t have lamb for sale in the spring because of the seasons?
Yes, that’s the case for farms focused on sustainability.
But it turns out there’s more than one northeast farm willing to lamb over winter and feed grain. (Probably because there’s such a high density of Greeks in New York City and Boston wanting to celebrate Easter.)
The challenge is finding these farms. With the ever expanding sustainability movement most places don’t advertise that they grain feed. Be prepared for a lot of snarky phone calls with farmers who look down on grain feeding and to shell out because these lambs don’t come cheap.
And of course there’s the question of ethics. Is a religious tradition worth potentially compromising the quality of life of an animal? Is it better to support local agriculture than imported products with a greater carbon footprint? Like with any decision, there are lots of trade-offs to consider and only you will know what’s best for you.
Or you may just be one of those lucky people who lives in a state with a climate conducive to year round pasture feeding and the ethics question is moot. (Looking at you Florida.)
2. Local Butcher
Have you visited your local butcher shop lately? Do you know where it is? It’s ok if the answer’s no – there’s no time like the present to go and introduce yourself to the local meat man (or woman).
For years I shopped for all my meat at the grocery store thinking that the butcher shop would be too expensive. While butchers certainly offer pricier cuts, they also have some great deals that easily compete with your local chain store. In fact I often find that a fresh, albeit inexpensive, cut from the butcher shop is better in flavor and texture than some of the prime meat products at the store.
And aside from great everyday meats, your local butcher is guaranteed to know what’s up when it comes to finding a whole lamb to barbecue.
Butchers work directly with farmers so they’re intimately aware of product availability, seasonality, and quality. They’ll be able to point you in the right direction with a quick phone call and if you’re really lucky, they may already have a whole lamb on hand or be able to get one for you.
Nobody knows meat like a butcher.
3. Costco Business Center
As if there weren’t enough reasons to love Costco – did you know that a regular Costco membership gives you full access to Costco Business Centers and that Costco Business Centers carry whole lamb for sale?
I hadn’t even heard of a Costco Business Center until we volunteered to host Easter this year and needed a whole lamb. They’re just like regular Costco warehouses but bigger and sell things in larger quantities to accommodate small businesses. Apparently small businesses are more likely to roast a whole lamb because you can buy one at a Costco Business Center.
The lamb is imported from New Zealand and comes frozen but hey, it’s likely pasture raised and I’m sure the price will be competitive. Depending on where you live you may even be able to have it delivered.
Keep in mind that there are only 17 Costco Business Centers in the entire U.S. For my fellow New Englanders, our nearest business center is in Hackensack, NJ.
Whole lamb aside, I’m very curious to check out the Costco Business Center experience. I’ll plan a visit and let you know how it goes.
4. Restaurant Depot
Similar to Costco Business Centers, Restaurant Depot is likely a store you haven’t heard of if you don’t run a food related business. They’re very similar to Costco Business Centers but specifically cater to food businesses, think restaurants and cooking schools, and sell products ranging from industrial kitchen appliances to restaurant portion size groceries.
Again, apparently businesses and restaurants are more likely to spit roast an entire lamb because Restaurant Depot has whole lamb for sale – you can even order it on Instacart and have it delivered! The prices aren’t half bad either.
The catch is that Restaurant Depot requires a membership and only people who manage food related businesses qualify for membership. At least that was the case until the marvelous Kansas City Barbecue Society decided to include a Restaurant Depot day pass as one of their member benefits.
For just $40 you can join the KCBS and get your ticket to ride at any Restaurant Depot near you. Restaurant Depot has far more locations than Costco Business Centers and there’s likely one near where you live.
If you’re worried that the KCBS membership isn’t worth it for just the Restaurant Depot day pass, don’t be. Contrary to what you may think based on their name, the Kansas City Barbecue Society actually offers barbecue events worldwide. In fact I just found one in New Hampshire I’m thinking about attending. Check out their event schedule and you might be happily surprised to find the membership comes with a lot of perks beyond just access to whole lamb for sale.
What to Do After You Buy a Whole Lamb
Now that you’ve ordered your whole lamb, it’s time to make a plan. Start thinking about how you’re going to transport it, where and how long you’ll need to store it, and how you’re going to cook it.
Farms and stores will provide the whole lamb to you wrapped and sealed but you may want to consider refrigerating it or packing it on ice if you have a long ride home. We removed the bottom tray of our charcoal griller (we bought this Titan Great Outdoors Rotisserie Grill which I HIGHLY recommend) and filled it with ice bags then laid the lamb on top for the car ride – worked out great.
Once you get the lamb home, if you’re cooking that day then storage isn’t an issue. If your event isn’t until the next day or later, you’ll need to figure out some longer term storage, especially if the lamb is frozen. Consider investing in a chest freezer if you don’t have one already or ask your friends to borrow space in theirs. If you know someone who owns a restaurant he or she may be able to help you out with cold storage too.
Finally when you’re ready to cook, make sure you know how to secure the lamb to the spit and how hot you want the grill. You’re going to need about 1 pound of charcoal per 1 pound of meat as well as a trussing needle and cooking twine to sew up the cavity. If this is your first time roasting a whole lamb I recommend watching this video to learn how to secure the meat to the spit and if you’re fortunate enough to have a seasoned pro in your midst, ask them to teach you the ropes!
Best of luck to you with your lamb roasting – I hope your event is as enjoyable as ours was. After successfully buying a whole lamb we managed to roast it on the spit without incident. We spent the entire day with the people we love eating great food and honoring beloved traditions. Does life get any better?
Things went so well our family has already asked us to host again next year.
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