A Guide to Buying and Identifying Lamb for Roasts and Chops

Americans really don’t consume much lamb meat; most is consumed around Easter; that’s the reason you don’t see much of a selection in your local supermarket. Most supermarkets have just a few of my favorite cuts of lamb, chops, and leg.

You may need to ask the meat manager at your local supermarket to special-order your favorite lamb cut if it isn’t available in the meat case. Even though nearly all of the beef and pork purchased in supermarkets across America are bred domestically, you can buy imported as well as domestic lamb.

Imported lamb comes from lambs that are fed a mixed variety of pasture grasses. On the other hand, in the United States, the lambs are initially consuming grass, and they later switch to corn/grain. Changing the diet of the lambs to grain directly affects the composition of the fat in the lamb.

This is because the concentration of the fatty acid chains, which are branched and medium length, will reduce in the grain-fed lambs. These fatty acid chains are responsible for the character “lamb” flavor, making the meat tasty.

Identify Lamb Cuts to Buy for Roasting and Chops

These six below are my favorite cuts I most often cook within my kitchen.

Lamb Chop Cuts

Usual lamb chops cuts derive from the rib, loin, sirloin, and animal primal shoulder. Lambchop cuts are tasty select for fast and simple recipes.

Lamb Shoulder Chop

Many people do not use lamb chops, thinking that they are expensive. While the loin and lamb rib chops are comparatively expensive, priced at approximately $11 and $14 per lb, they are also comparatively lean and should be cooked rare. On the other hand, the shoulder chops, which are costing about $6 per pound, are good for the money.

They should be simmered at low heat so that the connective tissue will break down. This makes the chops tender, moist, and full of flavor. The bones can be added to the stews to make them meatier and add body.

Some marketplaces are selling blade shoulder chops, which are rectangular-shaped and have more fat, while others are selling round bone chops, which end with a cross-section of the arm bone and are oval-shaped. My recipes use either of these shoulder chops.

Lamb Rib Chop

The rib chop is the rack of the lamb, divided into individual chops, and is the best lamb chop available; it is also the most expensive part. The meat is derived from a single muscle that has patches of fat. The exterior fat can be trimmed to cook the meat indoors. But I feel that rib chops taste best when grilled (see also ‘Grilled Double Bone-In Pork Chop‘). These chops should be served medium rare or rare; they should not be overcooked.

Lamb Loin Chop

This chop has the bone in the center and meat on each side, making it look similar to a small T-bone steak. Since the bone is protruding, it can be difficult to sear the chops in a pan; they should be ideally grilled. To avoid overcooking the small meat piece, the loin chops should not face the heat.

Lamb Primal Cuts for Roasting

The lamb is broken down into four primal: the shoulder, breast, neck, and foreshank. The leg will be left whole, or it can be split into lamb leg shanks.

Whole Leg of Lamb

Though smaller legs are available in the marketplace from younger lambs, imported lambs, a whole lamb leg will usually weigh between 6 to 10 pounds. To make carving the leg easier, it is advisable to request the butcher to remove the aitch bone and hip bone. I find it easier to cook a leg of lamb without any bones, and smaller cuts of boneless meat are available. These cuts are more suitable for serving at the holiday gathering, dinner parties which only a few people attend.

Boneless Leg of Lamb or B.R.T.

Since a lamb leg is big in size and difficult to cook, I usually prefer to purchase a boneless leg. The leg is a single piece whose thickness will vary along its length. The thicker part of the leg can be grilled to provide meat that is medium-rare or rare. The leg can also be tied, rolled, and stuffed.

The lamb leg can be classified into the ankle or shank at the bottom end, the loin half or the shank end, and the part near the hip, including the hip, sirloin meat, and butt end. I prefer to use the shank end for cooking since it has more meat and is easier to cook.

Rack Of Lamb

The lamb rack is comparable to prime rib on beef; this primal cut is delicious and tender. The primal roast typically comprises of either 8 or 9 ribs and will serve 2 to 4 people. Even though you can roast this primal cut in the oven, searing the outside in a skillet with a stovetop first, it’s much simpler to cook it on an outdoor grill. Don’t cook it for too long, so you don’t overcook, or it will turn out tough and dry; it is best eaten when prepared to medium-rare in the middle.

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John Siracusa

Cooking, for me, has always been an "art" infused with traditions. My career was inspired by Hell's Kitchen, the West Side of Manhattan, which boasts one of N.Y. City's best independent restaurant communities, along with Gordon Ramsay's no-nonsense approach towards always being your best.

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