Turkish Roasted Lamb (Kuzu Tandır)

Turkish roasted lamb (kuzu tandır) on plate, rice on a second plate

Elizabeth Taviloglu

Prep: 15 mins
Cook: 3 hrs
Total: 3 hrs 15 mins
Servings: 8 servings
Yield: 1 leg of lamb
Nutrition Facts (per serving)
208 Calories
17g Fat
0g Carbs
13g Protein
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Nutrition Facts
Servings: 8
Amount per serving
Calories 208
% Daily Value*
Total Fat 17g 21%
Saturated Fat 5g 24%
Cholesterol 52mg 17%
Sodium 312mg 14%
Total Carbohydrate 0g 0%
Dietary Fiber 0g 0%
Total Sugars 0g
Protein 13g
Vitamin C 1mg 4%
Calcium 12mg 1%
Iron 1mg 6%
Potassium 184mg 4%
*The % Daily Value (DV) tells you how much a nutrient in a food serving contributes to a daily diet. 2,000 calories a day is used for general nutrition advice.
(Nutrition information is calculated using an ingredient database and should be considered an estimate.)

Kuzu tandır (koo-ZOO' tahn-DUHR') is the most beloved lamb dish in Turkish cuisine. It's lamb so fragrant and tender that it falls away from the bone and melts in your mouth like cotton candy.

Its name, tandır, comes from the ancient technique of cooking meat in a special oven made from a pit in the soil. This technique was used for centuries by the Seljuk Turks and their ancestors from central Asia. It's still seen in Turkey, Greece, the Caucasus, India, Pakistan, and Afghanistan today.

These special pit "ovens" were lined with a mixture of mud and thatch or goat hair shaped into a vessel that was wide at the base and narrow at the neck. They were left to dry in the hot sun of the Asian steppes.

Once the hardened vessel was placed ​in the pit, wood and coal were burned inside and all but the narrow opening would be covered with soil. Tandır ovens were used not only for cooking but also for heating dwellings.​

The traditional way to cook meat in a tandır is to hang the lamb whole from a suspended hook over the coals, then cover the top and leave it to cook for hours on end.

Today, there are many places and many famous restaurants in Turkey that still roast lamb in this traditional way. Now the name tandır also refers to any meat roasted slowly in its own juices over coals, on the stove, or in the oven.

Kuzu tandır is easily made in the oven using a metal baking tray and takes only minutes to prepare. The most time is spent on cooking—1 lamb leg cooks for nearly three hours. Make sure you're around to turn the meat frequently as it cooks.


  • 1 leg of lamb (drumstick and thigh portions)

  • 1/4 cup olive oil

  • 1 1/2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice, from 1/2 lemon

  • 1 teaspoon salt

  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

  • 4 to 5 bay leaves

  • 2 to 3 sprigs fresh rosemary

  • 1/2 cup hot water

Steps to Make It

  1. When you buy your leg of lamb, ask your butcher to clean off as much excess fat as possible. Then, have the leg separated into 3 pieces at the joints.

  2. Preheat your oven to 285 F. Place the lamb in a shallow metal oven roasting tray. In a bowl, whisk together the olive oil, lemon juice, and spices. Pour the mixture over the lamb.

  3. Wearing rubber gloves, rub the mixture all over the lamb, massaging it into the meat for several minutes. Add the bay leaves and rosemary sprigs. Place the tray in the oven uncovered.

  4. Let the lamb cook slowly at this low temperature for about 1 1/2 hours. You'll see that the meat will release its fat and juices, then reabsorb them as it cooks. After the first 30 minutes, turn the pieces of lamb over. Repeat this two more times during the cooking process.

  5. When 1 1/2 hours have passed and you have turned the meat three times, pour the 1/2 cup of hot water over the meat, then close the roasting pan completely with aluminum foil. Turn up the oven temperature to 365 F and leave the meat to roast for at least 1 hour more.

  6. After about 1 hour, remove the pan from the oven and let it rest for 5 minutes. Remove the foil. The meat should be very tender and fall cleanly off the bones. Using two forks, remove all the meat from the bones and discard them. Also, remove the bay leaves and rosemary.

  7. Your kuzu tandır is ready to serve. Serve it with piping hot Turkish rice pilaf with orzo or with potato puree.