Spring has arrived, and our second Easter during the coronavirus pandemic soon will be here.
But this spring, Mother Nature’s rebirth and renewal brings with it the hope of a better Easter as COVID-19 vaccinations increase and government restrictions decrease.
That’s not to say that this Easter will be normal. The CDC recommends limiting home meals to only household members or those fully vaccinated.
Also, the pandemic has changed some of our eating habits. One of the biggest changes is our increasing love of eating outdoors, encouraged early on by the CDC as safer than eating indoors.
A recent survey of 2,000 Americans by OnePoll for the American Lamb Board found that eating outside was the second-most popular new adventurous activity — behind cooking a new dish.
The same survey found that of new cooking adventures during the pandemic, grilling was No. 1, favored by 44%.
In other words, a lot of us are cooking at home, grilling and eating outdoors. This Easter, you can do all three.
Both traditional Easter meats, ham and lamb, are easily prepared on the grill.
With grilled ham, you have several options. If you are able to safely entertain a crowd and want a big ham, you can do that. If you can find a fresh (raw) ham and smoke it, that’s a great way to go.
You may be more likely to be buying a cured (cooked) ham in the store. A spiral-sliced cooked ham is a good choice. A bone-in spiral-sliced ham may weigh 8 to 10 pounds and generously serve as many people.
Because such a ham is already cooked, any grilling is done to heat it and add more smoke flavor.
For a large spiral-sliced ham, I cook the whole thing covered with indirect cooking on the grill at a low temperature, accompanied by a pan of water or beer to provide a little steam to help keep the meat moist. Alternatively, wrap the ham in foil. The outer slice or two may end up a bit drier when the ham is unwrapped, but the inside slices stay moist. If you can keep your grill or smoker down at 250 degrees, figure 20 to 30 minutes to get the ham fully heated through the center. At 325 degrees (the highest temperature I would recommend), figure on 15 minutes a pound.
The nice part about grilling a cooked ham is you kind of can quit whenever you’re ready to eat — the meat was fully cooked before you started, and for most people room temperature or lukewarm ham is just as enjoyable as hot ham.
However long you grill the ham, though, consider adding a glaze in the last 30 minutes. This is a great way to customize your ham with added flavor, and it gives the exterior an attractive sheen, too.
If tending the grill for two or three hours doesn’t sound appealing, you can break that ham into one or more smaller portions of maybe 8 to 10 slices each. Wrap the portions in foil and heat the foil packets on the grill. Depending on the exact size and weight, you may need only 30 minutes to get the ham hot. During the last 5 or 10 minutes, you can open the foil packet and brush on any glaze.
Yet another option is to just buy ham steaks. This is a good choice for smaller meals or when you don’t want to have leftovers. Look for ham steaks at least ½-inch thick. These are best cooked quickly over medium to medium-high heat for 2 to 3 minutes on each side — just long enough to get some grill marks. Again, a glaze can go on the meat at the tail end of cooking.
For lamb at Easter, I like to cook a leg. You can do a full bone-in leg (7 to 9 pounds), low and slow, on the grill. I prefer a boneless leg somewhere in the neighborhood of 4 to 5 pounds, to serve 8 to 10 people. Even for a larger crowd, I might just get two of these, because I think they give you more control of the level of doneness — and, well, one thing I don’t like is overcooked lamb. I like leg of lamb medium, or medium-rare. I don’t recommend well-done.
I like a partial boneless leg because it can be butterflied or separated into smaller muscles — all of which cooks more quickly on the grill, but also gives you greater control and more consistency in the level of doneness.
I used to favor butterflied legs — if you buy a boneless leg held together with string, that means it’s probably already butterflied. Lately, though, I’ve come to prefer taking the leg apart into about a half-dozen pieces of varying size but with the larger ones usually in the 1- to 1½ pound range. This is not hard to do because the veins of fat and silverskin give even a beginner clear visual cues about how to separate the pieces.
Though these pieces of lamb cook at different times, they do so quickly, and you can simply stand over the grill and pull them off one at a time as they become cooked. Separating the leg into several pieces also provides an easy way to cook parts to different degrees of doneness. (For instance, this helps if you have a relative who insists they like their lamb medium-well when the rest of the family likes it medium-rare.)
The lamb will benefit from a marinade, paste or dry rub in advance. I like a mixture of mustard, rosemary and garlic. Even if you want nothing more than salt and pepper on the lamb, plan on seasoning it at least a day in advance for best results. Two or three days is even better — especially for the bigger pieces.
If you want to grill side dishes while you’re at it, asparagus and potatoes are my top two choices. Both can be done after the ham or lamb is finished.
For the potatoes, I parcook small or baby ones — often steaming them in the microwave. Then I cut them in half and toss them with oil, salt and pepper before I finish them on the grill.
Asparagus spears are arguably at their best grilled. I start the asparagus from raw and grill them only a few minutes because I like them crisp-tender. In addition to oil, salt and pepper, I sometimes add garlic and lemon zest. A spritz of lemon juice before serving is a nice touch, too.
Easter dessert can be done on the grill, too. I like to take some glazed doughnuts or slices of pound cake and give them a quick turn on the grill to brown slightly. Both are good with some grilled pineapple and vanilla ice cream — with a cherry on top for the kid in all of us.
There’s a lot more you can grill for Easter, too. But you might also consider some non-grilled dishes such as potato salad or slaw, especially if you’re serving ham.
I’ve even seen a few recipes for grilled or smoked deviled eggs, and I’m dying to try that. Maybe next year.