Once again I’m late posting Jim Shahin’s “Smoke Signals” article, but here it is.
As the article indicates, lamb belly is really hard to find, especially since it doesn’t really come from the belly of a lamb. The lamb belly industry, such as it is, apparently wants you to think, “bacon!” That’s understandable. I like to think, “bacon!” as much as the next guy, probably more than the next guy. But it makes it harder to find lamb belly if you keep asking for something that is not in fact lamb belly.
Jim’s article has a recipe link that assumes you’re using a gas grill — which is a kind of insulting assumption to make about people. And it involves primarily indirect heat, in contrast to the right way to cook pork barbecue, which is set forth in detail here. The recipe also contemplates using one of the lighter woods, although certainly lamb can easily stand up to hickory.
A lamb belly will be a narrow piece of meat, compared to a pork butt or shoulder, and will require (or stand) less cooking time. Therefore, if you’re cooking over charcoal, you probably want to give the lamb a few minutes on each side over a relatively high direct heat — say, 350-375ish — and establish a crust first thing, as you won’t be cooking long enough for the crust to self-establish. Then move it to the cooler side of the grill. Even on the cooler side, though I would make sure there are some coals underneath so that the fat drips down on coals and perfumes the meat with lamb fat smoke. Granted, lamb fat isn’t pork fat, but then lamb belly isn’t bacon, or even lamb belly. You can control the temperature through air flow.
That’s all basic barbecue theory, of course. I’ve never tried smoked lamb belly. Indeed, I’d never heard of lamb belly until Jim’s article. He’s certainly enthusiastic about it. I have enjoyed smoked lamb shoulder at the Roaming Buffalo in Denver, as detailed here. And, of course, barbecued mutton is a big deal in western Kentucky, notably at the Moonlight in Owensboro. I haven’t been there — I did enjoy some mutton in Lexington once — but I do plan to go on to Owensboro after we do our Volksmarch* in Frankfurt. (Nancy and I are doing all 50 state capitals.)
If anyone tries some smoked lamb belly, please post a comment.
* Volksmarches are guided 10k walks. They’re in all major and many minor cities, state and national parks, etc. http://www2.ava.org (clock “Events”) Some are group walks, but you need not wait for a group. We just pick up printed directions at a hotel, visitor center or such, and the walk takes you through scenic and historic areas. It’s great way to see a city.