Whole Story

The Official Whole Foods Market® Blog

Absolutely Everything You Need To Know about Lamb

Updated April 5, 2017

Roasted Leg of Lamb with Pomegranate-Wine Sauce

Roasted Leg of Lamb with Pomegranate-Wine Sauce Recipe

Lamb is a delicious sign of spring. From roasts and chops to stews and comforting braises, lamb has something to offer everyone at the table. Though we love a foolproof classic combination, let’s move beyond thinly sliced roast slathered in mint jelly and explore all the preparations that make this meat shine.

How to Choose the Right Cut of Lamb

Will you be serving a crowd or putting together a simple dinner for two? Lean on your butcher to help select the best cut.

Leg of Lamb

  • Tender and iconic, leg of lamb can be purchased in several iterations, from the full leg to the shank (or lower) end or the sirloin end.
  • Bone-in leg of lamb will take longer to cook, but won’t need to be tied with twine like a boneless leg of lamb.
  • A whole leg (usually about 6 pounds) should feed at least 8 people.

Rack

  • The lamb rib rack is an impressive, 7-8 tined cut that grills beautifully but can also be crusted with herbs and roasted.
  • Frenching the rack (or removing the layer of fat and meat around the rib bones) ups the ante — ask your butcher for help.

Chops

  • Tender rib chops are cut from the rack and the long rib bone provides a delicate effect on the plate.
  • Sirloin chops are tiny T-bone steaks with a generous ratio of meat-to-bone.
  • Wallet-friendly shoulder chops have the bone-in elegance of their counterparts with a more toothsome texture that’s great for braising.

Shoulder

  • Also called a square-cut shoulder, this cut is great for low and slow roasting or for cubing into stew meat.

Top Round

  • This tender, flavorful cut is a larger piece from the leg.
  • Use this cut for kebobs, thin steaks or a quick-cooking roast.

Shank

  • Lamb fore shanks are stars of the braising world; use a long, slow cook time to develop a velvety texture.
  • Each shank will serve one person generously.

How to Cook Lamb

Lamb roasts and steaks should be cooked to an internal temperature of 145°F while ground lamb needs to reach at least 160°F.

Slow Cooking (leg, shank, shoulder roasts, stew meat)

  • Tougher cuts of lamb render fork-tender stews and braises, but remember to sear meat before starting the slow cooking process to build flavor.
  • A leg of lamb can be deboned, stuffed and rolled for a more nuanced roast.
  • Slice roasted lamb for memorable next-day sandwiches and salads.

Quick Cooking (chops, rack, ground lamb)

  • Lamb’s gamey nature marries well with the smokiness produced by cooking over an open fire.
  • If grilling a whole lamb rack, cap the cleaned rib bones in aluminum foil to prevent them from burning.
  • Smaller cuts like rib chops and sliced roast cuts can be fully cooked on the stovetop.

For a lamb-infused shortcut, try ground lamb in place of ground beef in your favorite burger or meatball recipes.

Slow-Cooked Lamb Shoulder with Roasted Lemons
Slow-Cooked Lamb Shoulder with Roasted Lemons Recipe

How to Finish Your Lamb Dish

Lamb is used in cuisines the world over. Take advantage of the meat’s versatility and wake-up your spring table with internationally-inspired preparations.

Herbs and Spices

  • Fresh herbs — mint, cilantro, rosemary, thyme and basil — can work to flavor the lamb before cooking in a marinade or join in later as a side dish component.
  • Make a fragrant seasoning paste using lemon juice, garlic and paprika for lamb cuts bound for the grill.
  • Warm spices like nutmeg and cinnamon are excellent with lamb, as well.

Sauces

  • Curries spiked with chiles, tomatoes and sometimes coconut milk coat lamb stew meat in a classic Indian gravy.
  • Creamy yogurt-based sauces call upon lamb’s uses in Greek and Middle Eastern cuisines.

Fruits

  • Lamb is a constant in Mediterranean and North African meals, so dried fruit is a natural pairing — try dried apricots, prunes, currants and figs.
  • Add grapes or pitted and wedged stone fruit to a lamb roast in the final 15 minutes of cooking.

More Lamb Recipe Ideas

Lamb Chops with Red Wine-Glazed Spring Vegetables

Lamb Chops with Red Wine-Glazed Spring Vegetables Recipe

Leg of Lamb with Crispy Onions
Leg of Lamb with Crispy Onions Recipe

Seared Lamb Shoulder Chops with Warm Chimichurri

Seared Lamb Shoulder Chops with Warm Chimichurri Recipe

Lamb Sliders with Celery-Yogurt Sauce

Lamb Sliders with Celery-Yogurt Sauce Recipe

While hosting loved ones at Easter can be a great experience, it can be a lot of work too. If you’d rather focus your time elsewhere, reserve meals, entrées and party must-haves online and pick up in store.