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Introduction to Cooking with Lamb


There are two general methods used for cooking lamb: dry heat and moist heat. In dry heat cooking (grilling, rotisserie, broiling, roasting, sautéing, pan-frying), the meat is in direct contact with a hot surface or close to the heat source. High heat is used to quickly brown the surface and any additional cooking is at a somewhat lower temperature. This method works best for tender cuts, although tougher cuts, which have been tenderized (as with a marinade), can be cooked successfully with dry heat.

With moist heat methods (braising and stewing), the meat is cooked in contact with hot liquid, usually at a low temperature. The hot liquid tenderizes the meat and it also acts as a flavoring source. Moist heat methods are usually used on tougher cuts, such as shoulder or shank, but may also be used, with care, for tender cuts, such as cuts from the leg.





The grilling process cooks foods with a high heat source, either directly, indirectly, or with a combination of both. It is essentially the same technique as broiling except that when grilling, the food is cooked above the heat source and with broiling, the food is cooked below the heat source. Grilling temperatures typically reach as high as 650ºF, but any temperature above 300°F is suitable as a grilling temperature. The high heat of grilling sears the surface of lamb, creating tender meat with a flavorful crust. The required cooking temperature and the method of grilling (direct, indirect, or a combination) depends on the cut of lamb and the quality of the meat. As with any cooking method, lamb that is grilled should not be overcooked in order to produce the best results.




General Guidelines for Rotisserie Cooking of Lamb

Cuts of lamb that have a basic cylindrical shape and a fairly even distribution of weight are suitable for cooking on a rotisserie. Good choices include leg of lamb, rolled shoulder, and whole lamb.
Lamb cooked on a rotisserie can be positioned to allow for direct cooking or indirect cooking. Placing the meat directly over the heat source results in direct cooking and a grilled quality, although this usually works best for small cuts of lamb. Placing the meat in front of or next to the heat source allows the meat to roast and is best for larger cuts.
When cooking lamb rotisserie style, the indirect cooking method is most often used. Both charcoal and gas grills must be preheated before rotisserie cooking can begin. (Refer to the article, "Grilling Lamb" for details on preheating.) Rotisserie is a slow cooking process. The best results are achieved when lamb cuts are seared at a high temperature for the first few minutes, followed by low to medium/low heat for the remainder of the cooking time. A rotisserie ring is beneficial when using a charcoal grill because it allows the spit to be positioned at the perfect height in relation to the heat source.
Cooking with a rotisserie is a long, slow process, which allows the fat in the meat to melt slowly. As the meat rotates on the spit, it is continually basted with the melting fat, which prevents the meat from drying out. The meat is close enough to the heat source to allow a crispy crust to form on the surface.




Broiling and grilling are essentially the same technique: the application of intense, direct heat to the meat, one side at a time. In grilling, the heat is below the meat; in broiling the heat comes from above (usually in an oven). Meat for broiling should be tender, fairly lean, and not too thick, since it cooks quickly. Lamb cuts that are good choices for broiling include chops, tenderloin slices, kebabs, and patties of ground lamb.
In order to properly broil cuts of lamb, it is important to use the correct temperature. The distance the lamb is placed from the heat source is an important factor for determining this, just as it is when lamb is grilled. The temperature is adjusted by changing the distance between the meat and the heat source. Thinner cuts of lamb can be placed closer to the heat source than thicker cuts, since the thicker cut will require more time to cook. If the thicker cut is too close to the heat source, the surface will char before the interior is cooked to the proper degree of doneness. Placing thicker cuts farther from the heat source allows the meat to cook thoroughly without burning the surface. The goal is to produce lamb with a brown, crusty surface and an interior that is juicy and tender.


The following simple steps may be used to achieve good results when broiling various cuts of lamb:
1. Before broiling cuts of lamb, it is beneficial to remove the meat from refrigeration for a few minutes to warm it slightly, however the meat should not be allowed to remain at room temperature for an extended period. It may be difficult to broil well-chilled lamb cuts properly if the meat is placed immediately into the broiler from the refrigerator. It is possible that the outer portion of the meat may be fully cooked and begin to char before the interior portion reaches the proper doneness.
2. For thinner cuts, such as lamb chops, it is best to trim most of the border fat allowing ¼-inch of the fat to remain. This will help to prevent excess spattering and smoking during the broiling process.
3. When lamb is broiled, it is placed on a broiling pan. The broiling pan catches melting fat and juices that drip from the meat as it cooks so that the oven stays cleaner. It also prevents the fat from starting an oven fire.
4. Oven racks should be adjusted to allow for the height of the broiler pan and the thickness of the meat, which should be about 3 to 6 inches from the heat source. The broiler oven should be preheated at the highest temperature setting for 10 to 15 minutes. The broiler pan should be preheated under the broiler for several minutes before the meat is placed on it.
5. Lamb cuts should be brushed with oil before they are placed on the broiler pan to prevent sticking when they are cooked. Meat that has been marinated in any mixture containing oil can be placed on the pan without additional oiling.
6. It is often beneficial to coat lamb pieces with various ingredients (mustard, herb rubs, or pastes) to create a crispy crust when broiled, which also seals in juices and tenderness.
7. When broiling lamb, the meat is usually cooked on one side, turned once, and cooked on the other side. When turning the meat, a tongs should be used to avoid puncturing the meat and allowing juices to escape. The meat should be watched closely to ensure that it does not become charred and burned.
8. For pieces that are thicker than one inch, the meat can be seared on both sides under the broiler, but additional cooking at a lower temperature is necessary to ensure that the meat is cooked to the proper doneness.
Note: Most recipes for broiled lamb cuts also work well when grilling, but the cooking times may vary.




Pan-broiling is a useful variation of oven broiling in which the surface of the hot pan becomes the heat source. It doesn't require heating up the oven and allows for easier monitoring of the cooking process. Pan-broiling works especially well for chops and patties.


To pan-broil, use the following simple steps:
1. Heat a heavy bottomed pan (cast iron is ideal) until it's hot enough to evaporate a drop of water instantly.
2. Sprinkle a little salt over the surface of the pan. This helps make a tasty crust on the meat and doesn't add a significant amount of salt to the food. (You can omit this step and still get good results).
3. The lamb should sizzle as soon as it is placed into the pan. The meat should be browned well on one side and then turned to brown the other side.
4. When turning the meat, a tongs or spatula should be used to avoid puncturing the meat, allowing juices to escape.
5. If the meat requires longer cooking at this point, reduce the heat somewhat to prevent burning. If the meat will not be served immediately, cover the pan to hold in moisture.




Roasting Lamb


General Guidelines

Roasting is usually done in a shallow, uncovered pan, often with the meat raised slightly on a rack to allow heated air to circulate completely around it. Roasting is the cooking method of choice for large or irregularly shaped pieces of meat if they are tender (or have been tenderized). A smaller cut, such as a chop, would dry out if roasted.
Lamb meat is naturally tender so most of the market ready cuts can be roasted with success. Of course, some cuts are more tender than others, but the shanks and the neck are the only cuts that must be cooked with moist heat methods. The shoulder cuts are often best when braised, but are also excellent when carefully roasted and are not overcooked. Shoulder from a young lamb is more likely to be tender. Leg, rib roast, (also known as rack of lamb including crown roast and guard of honor), and loin (including saddle) are ideal cuts for roasting. Baby, or hothouse, lamb is also roasted, but because the meat is so tender and has so little fat, special procedures should be followed.
In general, a roast should have a crisp brown surface and a juicy pink interior. This can be accomplished by searing the meat at high heat (450ºF) in the oven for a short time (usually 10 minutes) and then reducing the heat to 350ºF for the remainder of the time. Typical cooking times (after the roast is seared) are 10 minutes per pound for rare meat, 12 minutes per pound for medium-rare, 15 minutes for medium, 20 minutes for well-done. These are approximate times, for average size, bone-in roasts at room temperature. Cold meat, directly from the refrigerator, or very large pieces, or boneless roasts will take somewhat longer. The only way to be sure that the meat has reached the desired doneness is to use a good quality rapid-response thermometer, inserted into the meatiest part, but not into fat or against a bone. It is a good idea to plan where you'll insert the thermometer as you prepare the roast.
Roast lamb should be allowed to rest, loosely covered with foil, for 10 to 30 minutes (depending on the cut) after removal from the oven. Cooking will continue during the resting period (the internal temperature will rise at least 5ºF and as much as 10ºF), reaching the desired level of doneness. The rest period minimizes the loss of juice and allows the meat to become firmer, making carving much easier.

Roasting Temperatures

Temperature for Roasting Lamb

Lamb may be roasted at different
temperatures, depending on the desired result:

High Heat: 400ºF - 425ºF
(for the entire cooking time) Roasting at high heat maximizes the brown crusty surface. This method should not be used on large pieces because the surface will dry out and may burn before the interior is cooked to the desired doneness.

Moderate Heat: 325ºF - 350ºF
(for the entire cooking time) Roasting at moderate heat maximizes juiciness and minimizes shrinkage. Leg roasts are often cooked this way.

Varied Heat: 425ºF - 450ºF, followed by 325ºF

Roast at 425ºF - 450ºF for an initial 10 - 15 minutes to brown the meat, then continue cooking at 325ºF to the desired doneness (some recipes use temperatures as low as 250ºF, but this is not recommended).


Note: To prevent lean cuts from drying out while cooking, the meat may be rubbed with oil prior to roasting and/or basted with pan juices during roasting.

Roasting a Rack of Lamb

A single rack of lamb (7 or 8 ribs) is such a small roast that it benefits from quick roasting at a higher temperature than what is generally used for larger cuts. It is easy to prepare and is one of the most tender and flavorful lamb roasts.

Easy Steps for Roasting a Rack of Lamb

1. The oven should be preheated to 425ºF.
2. While the oven is heating, remove the rack of lamb from the refrigerator and season it with salt and pepper.
3. Heat an ovenproof skillet on the stovetop and coat the pan with oil.
4. Place the rack of ribs in the pan, fat side down, to begin searing. Using a tongs, sear all surfaces of the rack for one to two minutes.
5. When the searing process is complete, remove the pan from the heat and remove the meat from the pan, allowing it to rest for a few minutes.
6. After cooling for one to two minutes, the meat can be rubbed with herbs and spices, if desired. If an herb rub is used, it should not be applied to the meat before searing because it may burn easily while the meat is seared. (It is usually not a good idea to marinate a rack of lamb because the meat is so naturally tender and flavorful that a marinade would do more harm than good.)
7. Cover the ends of the exposed bones with aluminum foil (or frills) to prevent the bones from charring during the roasting process.
8. The rack of lamb should be placed bone side down in the ovenproof skillet, which is then placed in the middle of the oven. If an ovenproof skillet is not available, the rack can be transferred to a small roasting pan.
9. Roast the meat until the internal temperature, as indicated by a meat thermometer, is 5º to 10ºF below the desired doneness.
10. Remove the rack of lamb from the oven and allow it to rest. Loosely covered with foil, for 5 to 10 minutes before carving. Remember, the internal temperature of the meat will rise an additional 5º to 10ºF during the resting period, reaching the degree of desired doneness.






Braising and stewing involve the slow cooking of meat in a liquid. This technique tenderizes and softens firm or tough cuts and allows for rich and subtle blending of the meat flavors with those of the liquid and seasonings.

The main differences between braising and stewing are:

• The size of the meat used: braising requires the use of whole, market ready cuts while the stewing process requires that small pieces of meat be used.
• The quantity of liquid: braising requires that the level of the liquid be halfway up the side of the meat while stewing requires the pieces of meat to be totally immersed in the liquid.

Braising Technique

The technique for braising market ready cuts of lamb is also known as pot roasting. It is the preferred method for cooking tougher cuts of lamb. Dry heat-cooking methods, such as oven roasting, do not allow the internal temperature of the tougher cuts to become high enough to break down the fat and connective tissues. If the meat remains in the oven long enough to break down the tough fibers, then the outer portions of the meat become overcooked, dry, and tough. Braising/pot-roasting is a much more effective means for breaking down the tough fibers than any dry heat cooking method. The internal temperature of the meat reaches a level that is sufficiently high to melt the connective tissues and fat. The moisture in the pan prevents the outer portions of the meat from drying out.

The lamb cuts that benefit the most from braising/pot-roasting are the lamb shanks and the tougher cuts from the shoulder and flank. The leg of lamb is occasionally braised, but it is more often oven roasted. Tender cuts from the loin and rib should always be reserved for dry heat cooking methods.

Braised Lamb

The following steps may be used for braising tougher cuts of lamb:
1. The pan used for braising should be only slightly larger than the cut of lamb so that only a small quantity of liquid will be required for braising.
2. Pour a small amount of oil into the heated pan or pot.
3. Sear the meat on all sides.
4. After the meat has browned, pour off most of the fat from the pan.
5. Add liquid to a level of about half way up the meat. Popular choices for braising liquids for lamb dishes include meat stock or broth, water, wine, and fruit juice.
6. Seasonings are added to the pan according to the recipe. Popular seasonings may include aromatic vegetables, such as onions, carrots, and garlic; fruits, such as dried apricots and prunes; and herbs and spices in seemingly limitless variety.
7. The lamb can be braised on the stovetop or in the oven. If it is cooked on the stove, the liquid should be brought to a boil and then the heat should be reduced to a simmer before the pan is covered. If the lamb is to be braised in the oven, it should be cooked in a covered ovenproof pan and the oven temperature should be set at 325°F to 350°F. In both cases, the meat is allowed to cook until it is fork tender.
8. When the lamb is fully cooked, remove it from the pan using a tongs.
9. The braising liquid and other ingredients can be discarded, served with the lamb as is, or can be strained and reduced into a thick sauce depending on the type of braised lamb recipe that is being prepared.
Lamb cuts that are braised are always cooked until well done because moist heat cooking methods permeate the meat with hot liquid and high temperatures, creating tender and flavorful meat. However, braised lamb dishes can be overcooked in spite of the moist heat cooking method. If the meat is cooked beyond the accepted limits, it will fall apart and begin to lose moisture and tenderness.




Lamb stew is a dish that is often prepared with tougher cuts of lamb that have been cut into small pieces. Many of the same cuts that are suitable for braising are ideal as stew meat. Lamb cuts from the shoulder and flank are often used as well as meat from the lamb shanks.

There are many variations of lamb stew including recipes that are basically the same as beef stew except that lamb is used instead of beef. Other types of lamb stew include a variety of dishes native to the Mediterranean, Middle East, and northern Africa that are cooked in a tagine, which is an earthenware pot with a conical lid. Tagine is also the Moroccan word for stew. Some of these recipes include ingredients such as dried prunes, onions, garlic, cloves, ginger, cinnamon, lemon, saffron, cumin, turmeric, and honey. They are often served with couscous or lentils.

Tagine of Lamb (Lamb Stew)

The following steps may be used to prepare lamb stew:
1. The lamb meat should trimmed of as much fat as possible and cut into one-inch cubes.
2. Heat a large pot and add small quantity of oil or a combination of oil and butter.
3. Add the cubed lamb meat and sear it quickly on high heat.
4. Add chopped onions, chopped red pepper, garlic, and ginger and continue cooking until barely softened.
5. Add water or stock to the pot and bring to a boil.
6. Add dried prunes and seasonings such as saffron, cinnamon, salt, pepper, lemon juice, and honey. Return to a boil.
7. Reduce the heat and cover the pot. As the ingredients slowly cook, the liquid will become thicker and very flavorful from the combination of the various ingredients. Simmer for two hours, stirring occasionally.
8. Fat and impurities may be skimmed from the surface periodically during the cooking process to reduce the fat content and to improve the flavor.




Lamb doneness


General Guidelines

Because of growing concern that harmful bacteria may be present in the internal portions of meat, it is now recommended that whole lamb cuts be cooked to an internal temperature (after the resting period, if applicable) of not less than 145°F. Many people prefer lamb cooked rare (a final internal temperature of 140°F or less), but this decision is up to the consumer and is certainly not recommended by the USDA.
Although various tables showing recommended cooking times are useful as a general guide, there are many variables that affect the actual amount of time for a cut of lamb to reach a particular stage of doneness. Therefore, the only reliable guide for determining doneness is with the use of an accurate meat thermometer.
It is important to remember that after a cut of lamb is removed from the heat source, the internal temperature will continue to rise if the meat is allowed to rest for a few minutes. Although thin lamb cuts are usually served within a short time after removal from a grill or broiler oven, thicker cuts, such as roasts, benefit from a resting period before slicing and serving. The resting period, which may range between 10 to 30 minutes, depending on the lamb cut, allows the juices to be distributed evenly throughout the meat and allows the internal temperature to rise because of the residual heat. The internal temperature will increase 5º to 10ºF during the resting period, which allows the lamb cut to be removed from the heat source when the internal temperature is lower than the desired doneness.

Degree of Doneness

The temperatures listed below refer to the internal temperature of the lamb as it is removed from the heat source and the internal temperature after the recommended resting period.

Degree of Doneness --Traditional Guidelines-- Updated Guidelines

(red inside) Cook to 130ºF
10 - 12 minutes/pound Not Recommended

(pink inside) Cook to 135ºF
12 - 15 minutes/pound Cook to 140ºF
15 - 18 minutes/pound
The temperature after the resting period should reach 145ºF.

(barely pink inside) Cook to 140ºF
15 - 18 minutes/pound Cook to 155ºF
20 - 25 minutes/pound
The temperature after the resting period should reach 160ºF.

(gray-brown throughout) Cook to 165ºF
25 - 30 minutes/pound Cook to 165ºF
25 - 30 minutes/pound
The temperature after the resting period should reach 170ºF.



Meat Thermometers

A meat thermometer should be used to verify that a cut of lamb has reached the appropriate temperature according to the desired doneness. It should be inserted into the thickest portion of the meat. The thermometer should not be placed near a bone or in a fatty area, which will result in a temperature reading that is inaccurate in terms of proper doneness. An ovenproof thermometer can be placed into a lamb roast and remain there throughout the roasting process. Most instant read thermometers are not ovenproof, so they cannot remain in the roast during cooking.

Types of Meat Thermometers

There are several varieties of
ovenproof and instant read thermometers available:

1. Dial Face Ovenproof
Meat Thermometer
2. Digital Instant Read Thermometer
with Heatproof Sensor and Wire
3. Dial Face Instant Read Meat Thermometer
(Not Ovenproof)
4. Digital Instant Read Thermometer
(Not Ovenproof)
5. Digital Instant Read Grill Fork Thermometer






Carving a Leg of Lamb

A leg of lamb is one of simplest roasts to carve. There are no complicated techniques involved and all that is required is a sharp knife and a means to steady the roast as it is being carved. It is best to carve the leg of lamb on a cutting board although if it is possible to carve it on a large platter if it is necessary to carve it at the table.

Carving a Leg of Lamb

1. Place the roast on the cutting board or platter with the fat side up.
2. While carving, hold the roast in place with a meat fork or better still, attach to the leg bone a manche à gigot, which is a special tool used specifically for the purpose of gripping the leg bone without having to directly handle it.
3. Begin slicing the rounded portion of the leg, cutting parallel with the bone.
4. Continue cutting at half-inch intervals until reaching the rump bone (the large end of the leg).
5. Turn the leg to the other side (the inner side of the leg) and carve in the same manner. The meat from this side of the leg has more fat and so the slices are a bit more tender.
6. Cut slices from the shank end of the leg by running the knife in a parallel direction to the leg bone. The shank end is smaller than the main part of the leg, so the meat is of a greater degree of doneness.
7. Place the slices on a platter or onto individual dinner plates.

Carving a Saddle of Lamb

The saddle of lamb, which is a double loin roast, contains a high proportion of bone to meat, but the quality and tenderness of the meat is unsurpassed. Both the eye muscle and the tenderloin (on both sides of the backbone) are included in this roast. A few simple steps are required for carving.
Carving a Saddle of Lamb
1. Place the roast on a cutting board and while carving, hold the roast with a meat fork.
2. Directly over the backbone, make a cut straight down to the bone.
3. Make a diagonal cut toward the backbone to remove a wedge.
4. Beginning at the missing wedge of meat, cut toward the backbone to remove slices of the eye meat. Run the knife in an increasingly horizontal fashion to carve the slices.
5. Repeat these steps for the eye meat on the other side of the backbone.
6. Turn the roast over. Following the contours of the bone, remove each tenderloin (from both sides of the saddle).
7. Carve the tenderloin across the grain into small slices known as medallions.

Carving a Rack of Lamb

A roasted rack of lamb, also known as a rib roast, usually consists of 7 or 8 ribs and is usually enough to serve 3 or 4 people. Besides the single rack, it may be prepared as a double rack with the ribs interlaced and tied (guard of honor) or 2 or 3 racks positioned and tied to form a crown. All 3 versions are among the easiest lamb roasts to carve.

Carving a Rack of Lamb

1. After the required resting period, the roast should be placed on a cutting board for carving.
2. If the rib roast is in the form of a guard of honor or crown roast, remove any string used for tying the roast.
3. With a sharp knife, simply cut downward between each rib. When cutting between the crossed ribs of a guard of honor, 2 single rib portions are carved at one time.
4. For presentation purposes, all three versions of the rib roast are often brought to the table first and are then carved on a warmed serving platter.

Carving a Rolled Lamb Shoulder Roast

A rolled shoulder roast that has been boned is an ideal cut for stuffing and rolling. It is also one of the easiest roasts to carve.
Carving a Rolled Lamb Shoulder Roast
1. The roast should be placed on a cutting board for carving or for presentation purposes, it can be placed on a warmed meat platter for carving at the table.
2. Remove the strings that were used to maintain the shape of the roast while it was cooking.
3. While securing the roast with a meat fork, simply cut downward through the meat to carve ½ to ¾ inch slices.



Lamb Cooking Times


Lamb cooking temperatures are important to monitor in order to insure meat is safely cooked to the proper temperature. When preparing lamb, use the chart below as a guide to check doneness when the meat is oven baked, grilled, and cooked in a bag.

LAMB Cooking Temperatures and Times

Oven cooked at 325F


Approximate Cooking Time (Minutes per pound)





Well Done

Whole leg

5-7 lbs
7-9 lbs

15-20 min
20-25 min

20-25 min
25-30 min

25-30 min
30-35 min

Leg shank half

3-4 lbs

25-30 min

30-40 min

35-45 min

Leg sirloin half

3-4 lbs

25 min

35 min

45 min

Leg roast (boneless)

4-7 lbs

20 min

25 min

30 min

Rib roast or rack
(cook at 375F)

1 1/2-2 1/2 lbs

30 min

35 min

40 min

Crown roast, unstuffed
(cook at 375F)

2-3 lbs

25 min

30 min

35 min

Shoulder roast

4-6 lbs

20 min

25 min

30 min

Shoulder roast (boneless)

3 1/2-6 lbs

35 min

40 min

45 min

Grilled with high heat


Approximate Cooking Time (Minutes per side)




Well Done

Chops - shoulder, loin or rib

1 inch

5 min

8 min

10 min

Steaks - sirloin, or leg

1 inch

5 min



1 inch cubes

4 min



1/2 inch


3 min


Leg, butterflied (indirect heat)

4-7 pounds

40-50 min total


Start with meat at refrigerated temperature. Remove lamb from oven when it reaches 5 to 10F below desired doneness; temperature will continue to rise as it stands.

Cooked at 325 in Oven Bag


Approximate Cooking Time


Regular Size

Large Size

Turkey Size
19"x23 1/2"

Leg of lamb, bone-in

8-10 lbs


2-2 1/2 hrs

Leg of lamb, boneless

7-8 lbs


1 3/4-2 1/4 hrs

Leg roast, rolled, boneless

2-4 lbs
4-5 lbs

1-1 1/2 hrs

1 1/2-2 hrs


Leg roast, half, bone-in

3-5 lbs


1-1 1/2 hrs


Preheat oven to 325F. Add 1 Tbsp. flour to oven bag. Remove lamb from oven when meat thermometer reaches 150F or when meat is fork tender. If using a Turkey Size oven bag for foods smaller than 12 lbs., gather oven bag loosely around food, allowing room for heat circulation, close with nylon tie and cut away excess oven bag.



Let's get cookin'!

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Purchasing lamb

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