Lamb Cuts And Grades

"If you love beef and don't love lamb, then you've never had it cooked properly."Meathead

If you say you don't like lamb, you probably really mean you don't like the preparation of lamb you were served. Either that or you were served mutton, which is an older sheep, not a young lamb. If you have never savored the rich, tender, beefy (never gamey) flavor of a lamb loin chop or rack of lamb, served medium rare, no mint jelly allowed, you are missing what I consider to be one of the best nuggets of red meat in the world. Period. Really. No cow poop.

Lambs are much smaller and leaner than pork and beef, so there are fewer cuts of interest to the backyard cook. Most lambs are graded as either USDA Choice or USDA Prime. Because lamb is small and young when slaughtered, the meat is almost always tender and tasty. While beef grades are based on marbling, the thin strands of fat woven throughout the muscles, lamb is graded on the basis of the fat cap, which we usually trim off! I don't get it.

As with beef, the best cuts are from the back of the animal.

Rack of lamb

This is a section of eight ribs with the loin meat attached, the same cut as bone-in prime rib of beef or pork crown roast. Only lamb loins are much narrower in diameter. But the meat is heavenly.

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Rib chops

Cut between the ribs for lollipop like chops. I think the best prep is to cut every second rib making double wide chops (below). Marbled, tender, juicy, grilled to medium rare, they are simply spectacular. Click here for my recipe for Herbed Rack Of Lamb Lollipops.

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Saddles

You can order a lamb hind saddle, which is both legs connected to the spine and running all the way up through the sirloin. You can also order a rib saddle, which is a rib cage from the spine half way down the side, including the ribeye. Next best thing to cooking a whole lamb.

Ribs

Some butchers actually sell the front seven ribs in a slab with the loin muscle removed. Not exactly a he-man meal, there is not much meat on them and a lot of fat. I don't recommend them.

Loins and loin chops

From just behind the rib section comes the loin, home of the most amazing porterhouse and T-bone type cuts. They are best when cut thick, have a bit of fat to be trimmed, and an adult serving is a minimum of three chops because they are so small, but they possess some of the most tender and flavorful meat I know on any animal. Photo below. Click her for my recipe for Lamb Loin Chops In Sheep Dip.

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Legs. Cone shaped, lamb hind legs are a twisted mass of muscles, sinew, and fat, but the whole leg can be roasted, with or without smoke, and you get a whole range of doneness from well done at the tapered end by the shank, to rare at the hip end, if you wish. Or you can take the leg apart, remove the bone, and cut it into chunks that make great grilling. The leg can be cut crosswise into steaks, but they can be tough. You can also bone a lamb leg and get a huge flat slab of meat, but it will be uneven in thickness, and in the process hunks start falling off. You can buy boneless legs like the one below held together in something sort of tube shaped by netting or string. Click here for my recipe for Grill Roasted Leg Of Lamb With A Lick Of Smoke.

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Shoulder

Another group of complex muscles that can be cut into arm chops and blade chops, but is better roasted whole or chunked for grilling. Some butchers sell boneless shoulders wrapped in mesh. Below is a whole shoulder I cooked in the same fashion as a pork shoulder, smoked low and slow for hours. Click here for my recipe for Kentucky Smoked Lamb or Mutton with Sunlite Black Sauce.

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Stew and kebab meat

If you don't want to cook a whole lamb or shoulder, take the whole jugsaw puzzle apart, trim off the excess fat and sinew, and then cut the muscles into large chunks about 2" square. Grill them like kebabs (kabobs, kebobs), but without the metal skewer. If you cut the chunks too small it is impossible to get a dark exterior and all the rich flavors that come with it without overcooking the interior. Click here for my recipe for Binghamton Spiedies or Lamb Mechoui.

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Shank

About the same size as turkey drumsticks, they are usually braised in a flavorful liquid.

Ground lamb

If you like hamburger, you'll love lamburger. Click here for Mary's Little Lamburgers.

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lamb cuts

Meathead Goldwyn

Meathead is the founder and publisher of AmazingRibs.com, and is also known as the site's Hedonism Evangelist and BBQ Whisperer. He is also the author of "Meathead, The Science of Great Barbecue and Grilling", a New York Times Best Seller and named one of the "100 Best Cookbooks of All Time" by Southern Living.

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