Sugar Ridge Ranch
Jon, Charlotte & Vivian Stephenson

608-637-6474 (H) / 608-774-3151 (C)

Cooking with Lamb

Cooking Tips...

A successful outcome in cooking lamb depends on matching the recipe or cooking method with an appropriate cut of lamb. For example, if you plan to grill chops, you will get the best results using rib, loin or sirloin chops. If your recipe calls for chops to be marinated and then baked, shoulder chops are a much better choice. The following shopping guide will give you helpful suggestions in making your choices from the many lamb cuts that are available. 

Lamb Chops

Lamb chops vary a lot in tenderness and flavor, depending on the section of the lamb from which they are cut. Chops can come from the shoulder, rib, loin or leg. Chops are usually bone-in and should have a clear pink-to-red color. Dark purplish red indicates mutton which is less tender and has a stronger flavor, but could be a good choice for a highly seasoned, long-cooking recipe that might overwhelm the milder taste of young lamb. The most tender and expensive chops come from the rib and loin. The slightly fatter rib chops have a bit more flavor, but many people prefer the leanness of the loin chops. Rib and loin chops should be cooked quickly, using dry heat cooking methods such as grilling, broiling, or pan-broiling. They should not be overcooked - there should be some pink visible in the cooked meat. loin chopsRib and loin chops will be dry and tasteless if they are cooked until the center is gray. Rib and loin chops may be marinated for a very short time to add flavor, but long exposure to the acids in a marinade will cause the tender meat to become mushy. Rib and loin chops should be at least 3/4" thick, but 1" or more is ideal.
Shoulder chops are less tender and less expensive than rib or loin chops. They are also from a more complicated muscle, so there are several "sections" in a shoulder chop, with more fat and connective tissue, making it less elegant and 
"chop-like" in appearance. Shoulder chops can be tenderized by marinating or moist heat cooking and are the best choice for recipes calling for the meat to be baked, braised, or simmered with other ingredients, as in a curry.
Leg, or sirloin chops are larger, meatier and may be less tender than rib or loin chops, but are still a good choice for grilling or broiling. Leg steaks, cut from the center of the leg, can be used like leg chops. Both leg steaks and leg chops make good shish kebab cubes.

Lamb for Roasting

There are several lamb cuts that make good roasts. The leg and the shoulder are typically the larger roasts. The leg, boned or bone-in, whole or half, is the cut most commonly roasted. Leg roasts can be successfully cooked at low, medium or high temperatures. The whole shoulder can also be roasted, boned or bone-in. Boneless shoulder roasts are often stuffed with a zesty filling, then rolled and tied.leg of lambBecause shoulder cuts are not as reliably tender as the leg, they are usually slow cooked at low heat after an initial few minutes at high heat to brown the surface and destroy any surface bacteria. The rib and loin areas provide small, tender, expensive roasts. The rack, or rib roast, is an elegant small roast, usually only large enough for two or three. It is usually roasted quickly, at high heat. Two racks may be joined end-to-end then curved into a circle and tied, to make a Crown Roast. Two racks can be joined side-by-side with the protruding rib-ends interlocked, to make a Guard of Honor.
A whole loin roast is somewhat larger and will usually serve four or five. A double-loin roast, or Saddle of Lamb, consists of the loin roast from both sides of the backbone, left in one piece. More exotic roasts, which would have to be special ordered, are the rear half of the lamb, known as the "Baron of Lamb", and the front half of the lamb, known as the "Foresaddle". These would usually be obtained from a small lamb weighing 20 pounds or so.

Lamb for Shish Kebab

Chunks of meat threaded on skewers, with or without other ingredients, and grilled over hot coals, has long been a favorite way to cook lamb. Kebab chunks are usually regular cubes, about 1 inch on a side, trimmed of fat and connective tissue. Irregular shaped pieces can be cooked this way as well, but they won't cook as evenly. Some cooks enjoy the varying doneness this produces.
Whether you purchase meat precut or cut your own from larger pieces, the best cuts to use are shoulder and leg. Since kebabs are typically marinated prior to grilling, the somewhat tougher shoulder meat, tenderized by the marinade, is a good choice because it is economical and flavorful. Rib and loin cuts can be used, but they are very expensive. They may be marinated for a very short time to add flavor, but long exposure to the acids in a marinade will cause the tender meat to become mushy. Meat from the breast is too fat; neck or shank meat is too tough.

Lamb for Stewing or Braising

"Stew meat" can vary from tidy 1 1/2 inch cubes to small irregular bits left from trimming various cuts. Leg meat is easy to cut into uniform shapes, but will not be as moist or flavorful as shoulder, neck or shank meat.
Shoulder, neck and shanks are also ideal for braising, as the long slow cooking dissolves the collagen (connective tissue) and makes a rich smooth sauce. Leg roasts are sometimes braised, although the result will be less flavorful than if using a shoulder roast. Loin and rib cuts are better prepared with a quick dry-heat method such as grilling or pan-broiling.

Quantity to Prepare

It is sometimes difficult to know just how much lamb to use so that you have the proper amount for a particular recipe or to serve to a specific number of people. Some of the information that will determine the quantity needed may be the type of cut you are selecting, whether the meat is bone-in or boneless, the number of people being served, whether or not it will be served in controlled portions, or if the meat will be served on a "help yourself" basis. The following information may be helpful in determining your needs.

Approximate Pounds per Serving:
Type of Lamb Cuts /Serving Size

Lamb Rib Crown Roast / 3 to 4 ribs per serving
Rack of Lamb/ 3 to 4 ribs per serving
Double Ribbed Lamb Chops/ 1 chop per person
Center-Cut Loin Roast/ 1/2 lb. per serving
Shoulder Roast / 1/2 lb. per serving
Leg of Lamb/ 3/4 lb. to 1 lb. per serving
Boneless Leg of Lamb / 1/2 lb. per serving
Shank, Spare Ribs, Brisket/ 1 lb. per serving
Ground Lamb, Stew Meat/ 1/4 lb. per serving


Nutritional Benefits of Lamb

The iron found in lamb meat is in a form that is easily absorbed by the body. Lamb is an especially good source of easily abosorbed zinc and iron. Today's lamb meat is low in fat and is an excellent source of minerals. Lamb is also nature's best source for an amino acids.

The Seven Nutritional Benefits of Lamb

1. Lamb is an excellent source of high quallity protein.

2. Lamb is an ideal source of iron. An average portion can provide twenty percent of the recommended daily intake for men and twelve percent for women. The iron found in lamb and other red meat is in a form that is easily absorbed by the body. The inclusion of iron in the diet is vital in the formation of red blood cells.

3. Lamb provides forty-five percent of the daily requirement of zinc, essential for growth, healing and a healthy immune system. Like iron, the zinc found in lamb is more easily absorbed by the body than zinc found in other sources.

4. Lamb is a great source of B vitamins, essential for metabolic reactions in the body. it can provide over 100 percent of the daily requirement of B12 and is a good source of thiamine.

5. Lamb also contains trace elements such as copper, manganese and selenium 

6. As a result of improved breeding practices, feeding practices, and butchery and trimming methods, the fat in lamb has been greatly reduced over the past twenty years. For example, lamb leg steaks may contain as little as 5.1 percent fat

7. Half of the fat in lamb is unsaturated, which is good for you. Most of the unsaturated fat is monounsaturated, commonly found in the healthy "Mediterranean-type diet."

Try this tasty recipe with a Sugar Ridge Ranch Lamb...

Rosemary Crusted Lamb Chops Recipe

  • Prep time: 10 minutes
  • Cook time: 10 minutes

    In this recipe we are working with lamb rib chops, with two ribs per chop. This yields a thicker piece of meat than if we had single rib chops, and is more forgiving with cooking time if you like your lamb rare or medium rare. If you have single rib chops, which are thinner pieces, you'll have to pay closer attention, and sear quickly, to not overcook the chops. Note that 1 pound of lamb rib chops is about 4 double-rib chops, which serves 2 to 3 people. You can also use lamb loin chops in lieu of rib chops for this recipe.

    Lamb chops are best eaten on the rare side. Error on less cooking time than you would expect, that way you can always cook them further if you want them more well done.


    • 1 pound lamb chops (lamb rib chops are what are pictured here)
    • 2 Tbsp minced fresh rosemary
    • 2 teaspoons salt
    • 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
    • 1 garlic clove, minced
    • 4 Tbsp olive oil, divided


    Before you start, decide if you want your lamb chops rare or medium. If you want your lamb chops rare in the center, you can cook them entirely on the stovetop.  If you want them a bit more cooked, and you have double rib chops (2 ribs per piece of meat, each piece of meat about 1/4 of a pound), you will want to finish them in the oven, at 400°F for a few minutes. Or you can cover the pan and remove from the heat and just let sit for a few minutes.

    lamb-chops-1 lamb-chops-2

    1 In a small bowl, mix the rosemary, salt, pepper, garlic, and 2 tablespoons of the olive oil together. Coat the lamb chops with the mixture, massaging it into the meat with your fingers. If you are working with double rib chops, cover and let stand at room temperature for 30 to 45 minutes. (If you are working with single rib chops, and you want the result to be rare, let the chops sit in the rub in the refrigerator, do not let come to room temp or the thin ribs will easily overcook when you sear them in the next step.)

    lamb-chops-3 lamb-chops-4

    2 Heat the remaining 2 tablespoons olive oil in an oven-proof sauté pan over high heat. When the oil is shimmering hot, sear the lamb chops on all sides, about 2 to 3 minutes per side. (If you are working with single rib chops, sear only on two sides, and only a minute or so on each side if you want the result to be rare or medium rare.)

    3 At this point, if you want your lamb chops rare, they are likely cooked enough. Remove them from the pan, cover them with foil and let sit for 5 to 10 minutes before serving. If you would like your chops more cooked, you can put them in a 400°F oven for 3 to 5 minutes, or keep them in the hot pan, remove from heat, and cover the pan for a few minutes. Then remove from the pan to a plate or cutting board, cover with foil and let rest 5 to 10 minutes before serving. Enjoy!

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