Although lamb is generally a very tender meat, there are still
signs you can look for to better ensure high quality. Purchase lamb whose
flesh is firm and fine textured and pink in color. Any fat surrounding or
marbled throughout the lamb should be white not yellow.
Since lamb is highly perishable, it should always be kept at
cold temperatures either refrigerated or frozen. Refrigerate the lamb in
the original store packaging, if it is still intact and secure, as this
the amount of handling involved. In terms of storing, follow these simple
guidelines: lamb roasts and chops can stay fresh in the refrigerator three
to five days while ground lamb will only stay fresh for up to two days.
If you have more lamb than you can use within this period of time, it freezes
well. Using either aluminum foil or freezer paper, wrap the lamb carefully
so that it is as tightly packaged as possible. Ground lamb should be able
to keep for three to four months, while roasts and chops will keep for
about six to nine months.
A successful outcome in cooking lamb depends on matching the recipe or
cooking method with an appropriate cut of lamb. For example, if you plan
to grill chops, you will get the best results using rib, loin or sirloin
chops. If your recipe calls for chops to be marinated and then baked,
shoulder chops are a much better choice. The following shopping guide
will give you helpful suggestions in making your choices from the many
lamb cuts that are available.
Lamb chops vary a lot in tenderness and flavor, depending on the section
of the lamb from which they are cut. Chops can come from the shoulder,
rib, loin or leg. Chops are usually sold bone-in and should have
a clear pink-to-red
color. Dark purplish red indicates mutton which is less tender and
has a stronger flavor, but could be a good choice for a highly seasoned,
recipe that might overwhelm the milder taste of young lamb. The most
and expensive chops come from the rib and loin. The slightly fatter
rib chops have a bit more flavor, but many people prefer the leanness
the loin chops. Rib and loin chops should be cooked quickly, using
dry heat cooking methods such as grilling, broiling, or pan-broiling.
not be overcooked - there should be some pink visible in the cooked
meat. Rib and loin chops will be dry and tasteless if they are cooked
center is gray. Rib and loin chops may be marinated for a very short
time to add flavor, but long exposure to the acids in a marinade
will cause the
tender meat to become mushy. Rib and loin chops should be at least
but 1" or more is ideal.
Shoulder chops are less tender and less expensive than rib or loin
chops. They are also from a more complicated muscle, so there are
several "sections" in
a shoulder chop, with more fat and connective tissue, making it less elegant
and "chop-like" in appearance. Shoulder chops can be tenderized
by marinating or moist heat cooking and are the best choice for recipes
calling for the meat to be baked, braised, or simmered with other ingredients,
as in a curry.
Leg, or sirloin chops are larger, meatier and may be less tender
than rib or loin chops, but are still a good choice for grilling or
Leg steaks, cut from the center of the leg, can be used like leg
chops. Both leg steaks and leg chops make good shish kebab cubes.
Lamb for Roasting
There are several lamb cuts that make good roasts. The leg and the
shoulder are typically the larger roasts. The leg, boned or bone-in,
whole or half,
is the cut most commonly roasted. Leg roasts can be successfully
cooked at low, medium or high temperatures. The whole shoulder
can also be
roasted, boned or bone-in. Boneless shoulder roasts are often
stuffed with a zesty
filling, then rolled and tied. Because shoulder cuts are not
as reliably tender as the leg, they are usually slow cooked at low
an initial few minutes at high heat to brown the surface and
The rib and loin areas provide small, tender, expensive roasts.
rack, or rib roast, is an elegant small roast, usually only large
enough for two
or three. It is usually roasted quickly, at high heat. Two racks
may be joined end-to-end then curved into a circle and tied,
to make a Crown
Two racks can be joined side-by-side with the protruding rib-ends
interlocked, to make a Guard of Honor.
A whole loin roast is somewhat larger and will usually serve
four or five. A double-loin roast, or Saddle of Lamb, consists of
loin roast from both sides of the backbone, left in one piece.
which would have to be special ordered, are the rear half of
known as the "Baron of Lamb", and the front half of the lamb, known
as the "Foresaddle". These would usually be obtained from a small
lamb weighing 20 pounds or so.
Lamb for Shish Kebab
Chunks of meat threaded on skewers, with or without other ingredients,
and grilled over hot coals, has long been a favorite way
to cook lamb. Kebab chunks are usually regular cubes, about 1 inch on
a side, trimmed
and connective tissue. Irregular shaped pieces can be cooked
this way as well, but they won't cook as evenly. Some cooks
Whether you purchase meat precut or cut your own from larger
pieces, the best cuts to use are shoulder and leg. Since
kebabs are typically
marinated prior to grilling, the somewhat tougher shoulder
meat, tenderized by the
marinade, is a good choice because it is economical and flavorful.
Rib and loin cuts can be used, but they are very expensive.
They may be marinated
for a very short time to add flavor, but long exposure to
the acids in a marinade will cause the tender meat to become
from the breast
is too fat; neck or shank meat is too tough.
Lamb for Stewing or Braising
Stew meat" can vary from tidy 1 1/2 inch cubes to small irregular bits
left from trimming various cuts. To be sure of what you're getting, buy
a suitable cut, such as shoulder, neck or shank, and cut it into the
size pieces you need. A pound of bone-in shoulder will be enough for three
with the bony (but economical) neck or shank you'll need about one pound
per person. Leg meat is easy to cut into uniform shapes, but will not
be as moist or flavorful as shoulder, neck or shank meat.
Shoulder, neck and shanks are also ideal for braising, as
the long slow cooking dissolves the collagen (connective tissue)
a rich smooth
sauce. Leg roasts are sometimes braised, although the result
will be less flavorful than if using a shoulder roast. Loin
cuts are better
with a quick dry-heat method such as grilling or pan-broiling.
Inspection and Grading
The federal government inspects all American lamb that is
sold commercially. Government inspection of lamb is
concentrates on the
safety and wholesomeness of the meat and not necessarily
the quality. Visual inspection
for animal diseases is performed as well a number of
scientific tests on a statistical sampling of the meat. The tests
are used to determine
biological or chemical contamination is present. The
primary concern is for the safety of the consumer.
The USDA grades lamb on the proportion of fat to lean
and also on the texture, firmness, and color of
the meat. The
lamb are: Prime, Choice, Good, Utility, and Cull.
Most of the lamb available
to the consumer is graded Choice or Prime. In fact,
about 90% of American lamb is graded Choice or better.
Lamb carcasses are also graded according to the ratio
of lean to fat. A grade of 1 to 5 is given
to a carcass based
ratio. A yield grade of 1 is given to carcasses
that yield the most
fat and a yield grade of 5 is given to carcasses
with the lowest amount of usable meat.
Look and Feel
Cuts of lamb may vary in color from pink to light
red but should always look fresh, not dull
or slimy. The
and waxy looking.
The bones should be reddish in color and
moist looking, rather than dry. Some cuts may be all or partially
a silvery membrane,
which may be removed or left on depending on the recipe being used.
When purchasing packaged fresh lamb in
a food store, the packages should be cold
be firm. The
be in good
condition with no tears or holes in the
Lamb that has dried out edges and does
not smell fresh, should not be purchased.
a slimy feel
should be avoided.
Excess liquid may
indicate that the lamb is old or has been
stored at the incorrect temperature. It
may also indicate
meat has been
previously frozen. Lamb
that has little excess liquid in the package
is the best
Quantity to Buy
It is sometimes difficult to know just
how much lamb to buy to have the proper
amount for a particular
recipe or to
a specific number of people. Some of
the information that will determine the
may be the type of cut you are selecting,
whether the meat is bone-in or
boneless, the number of people being
served, whether or not it will be served in controlled
portions, or if the meat
a "help yourself" basis.
The following information may be helpful in determining your needs.
Approximate Pounds per Serving:
Type of Lamb Cuts /Serving Size
Lamb Rib Crown Roast / 3 to 4 ribs per
Rack of Lamb/ 3 to 4 ribs per
Double Ribbed Lamb Chops/ 1
chop per person
Center-Cut Loin Roast/ 1/2 lb.
Shoulder Roast / 1/2 lb. per serving
Leg of Lamb/ 3/4 lb. to 1 lb.
Boneless Leg of Lamb / 1/2 lb.
Shank, Spare Ribs, Brisket/ 1
lb. per serving
Ground Lamb, Stew Meat/ 1/4 lb.
For a larger, printable version of the above chart, click HERE