Beginner cooks tend to shy away from lamb, but buying, preparing and cooking lamb is actually quite easy — and it’s more versatile than you may think. Over the past decade, breeding and feeding methods have improved the quality of different cuts of lamb available in the U.S.. According to Adam Matthews, the store manager of Fleisher’s in Brooklyn, that means less of that gamey aroma and flavor. Fleisher’s sells pasture-raised, grain-finished lamb that is super tender and mild — definitely not your grandmother’s mutton.
If cooking lamb is new territory for you, here are five cuts that are best to start out with: rib chop, loin chop, sirloin steak, stew meat and ground meat.
Cuts of Lamb to Try
1. Ground Lamb
As with all ground meats, lamb shouldn’t be over-handled; “It’ll get tough,” says Evan Lobel, co-owner of Lobel’s of New York. He recommends “using a gentle touch and only seasoning the outside.” Loebel also suggests cooking a lamb patty a little more than you would a beef patty. Aim for medium instead of medium-rare, for about 7 to 11 minutes. Lamb is also a great candidate for kebabs and bolognese.
2. Rib Chops
Rib chops are cut from the center rib section of the lamb and usually come with a long rib bone attached to the end. While not the meatiest of the chops, tenderness and a smooth flavor make them a prized cut. Lobel says they’re easy to cook because all you need is a hot skillet. He prefers a cast iron pan: “Just a few minutes on each side, and they’re good to go,” he says. For best results, “opt for a one-inch-thick cut; thicker than that and you increase the risk of over-cooking or under-cooking.”
3. Loin Chops
This cut comes from between the ribs and the leg. Loin chops look like mini T-bone steaks, and tend to be meatier than rib chops. While not as tender as rib chops, loin chops also have a wonderful smooth flavor. This is a good choice when you’re looking for a hearty dinner. Try searing them in a hot skillet (a couple minutes each side) and finishing in an oven set at 325°F for about 15 minutes.
4. Sirloin Steak
This larger, meatier, leaner cut is best marinated in advance. “Novices tend to like throwing stuff on the grill, and this is perfect for just that,” says Lobel. “Cook it for five minutes and call it a day.” Other options are to slice it into slivers and stir-fry it Asian-style or cut it into cubes for kebabs.
5. Stew Meat
This boneless shoulder cut tends to be tougher than chops, which requires a longer cooking time. Matthews likes simmering this cut low and slow (like one-to-two-hours slow) with Middle Eastern or Indian seasonings.
Whichever cut of lamb you choose, select the best quality you can find by heeding Lobel’s shopping tips:
- Look for meat that has a soft pink color with white marbling — the fat that gives lamb its incredible flavor. Once lamb turns deep red, it means it’s old.
- The flesh should be fine textured and firm, like the pad of your palm.
- Any fat surrounding the lamb should be a milky white not yellow.
- If it’s wrapped in packaging, make sure there’s no moisture trapped in there. It could mean it was frozen and thawed out, not freshly butchered.
- Store raw lamb in the refrigerator immediately after purchasing. Use ground lamb or stew meat within two days. Lamb chops should be used within seven days.