Lamb Guide and Recipes

Buying and preparing lamb

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Fresh lamb meat should be pink to pale red with firm, white fat. Select lamb that has marbling (veins or specks of fat that run through the meat); the fat will keep the meat moist during cooking and contribute to the flavor and tenderness.

Domestic, New Zealand Or Australian?

American consumers have the choice of buying lamb that has been raised domestically, as well as meat from both Australia and New Zealand. How do you choose? The major difference between domestic sheep, and those raised "Down Under," is that domestic sheep are larger, both by virtue of genetics and feed. While New Zealand and Australian sheep are raised almost exclusively on a diet of grasses, most domestic sheep are finished on a diet of grain that bulks them up. According to the American Lamb Board, the grain also changes the flavor of the meat slightly, making it a little milder.

Leg of Lamb

A leg of lamb is a substantial piece of meat. With the bone, a domestic leg of lamb weighs about seven to eight pounds; smaller New Zealand and Australian legs weigh somewhat less. Leg of lamb is sold both on the bone and boneless; the latter is more convenient because it makes for easier carving. If you buy a half-leg, you might get the choice of the sirloin or shank half. Keep in mind that the sirloin half is more tender, while the shank half, higher in connective tissue, is chewier. (The connective tissue is the filament that holds muscles in place and is high in collagen, which becomes tender and gelatinous with long cooking.) One is not better — both the sirloin and the shank half have their loyal adherents.

Leg of lamb is delicious roasted (on the bone or boneless) or grilled. One of the best ways to grill the leg is to bone and butterfly it so that it lays flat. It may then simply be seasoned, lightly oiled and grilled, or marinated for several hours before grilling.

Leg of lamb is a lean, tender cut, so it is best when cooked rare to medium-rare, although there are folks who appreciate it cooked a bit further, particularly the shank end. In any event, one of the great things about this cut is that, because of its irregular shape, different portions will cook to different levels of doneness, so in the end, there will be some part of it that will please everyone.

Cubed leg of lamb is a good choice for kebabs. If you ask your butcher for stew meat, you're very likely to get leg as well (although shoulder is preferable for braising, if you can find it). You may also find leg of lamb sold cut into thin steaks, which are excellent broiled, grilled or sautéed.


Lamb Shanks

Flavorful lamb shanks are the shin of the legs, either front or back, sold on the bone. One shank (3/4 to 1 pound) will feed one person very well. The shank is full of connective tissue, which means that it is best cooked long and slow, in a braise or stew.


Rack of Lamb and Rib Chops

Rack of lamb, sold whole (seven or eight ribs) or cut into rib chops, is undoubtedly the most prized — and most expensive — lamb cut. The meat on the rack is exceptionally tender and fine flavored.

Rack of lamb is often, but not always, Frenched meaning the ribs are cleaned of meat and connective tissue before cooking for an elegant presentation. Some people, however, prefer not to French the rack, as they enjoy nibbling the bones to savor the tasty meat and fat.

Two racks tied together in a circular shape, meat facing out, is called a "crown roast." Rib chops, either single (one bone) or double (two bones), are excellent grilled, broiled and sautéed.

Rack of lamb and rib chops are best cooked rare to medium-rare.


Loin and Loin Chops

The loin is also a very tender, prized section of the lamb, usually sold cut into chops (it is also possible to order a loin roast, either on the bone or boneless). Loin chops are slightly leaner than rib chops and lack the rib bone. The eye of a loin chop is a bit larger than a rib chop and usually includes a medallion of tenderloin (like a tiny T-bone steak).

Loin chops are excellent grilled, broiled and sautéed, and are also best enjoyed cooked rare to medium-rare.



Lamb shoulder, rich in connective tissue, is your best choice for stews and braises. Shoulder is also sometimes sold cut into steaks. However it is cut, shoulder will be tough unless it is cooked for a long time, at which point it becomes meltingly tender and luscious.

Lamb shoulder is best cooked by braising, stewing, roasting or grilling.


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