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Springtime is the perfect time for grilled or smoked lamb. Really any time is good for this deliciously rich meat, but Spring has long been the traditional season for lamb. So now, you’re headed to your local butcher shop to pick up some meat to cook, but what cuts of lamb do you get? What are the best lamb cuts?
There are a variety of different lamb cuts available, all of which can be very good when cooked properly. Each cut has unique variations and characteristics. Some are better on the grill, while others can be smoked low and slow to a delicious finish. To truly expand your outdoor cooking skills and grill lamb perfectly, it is important to understand the types of lamb cuts and how they differ.
In this article, we’ll break down the different cuts of lamb and what to look for when buying lamb. Let’s take a look:
Source: The Spruce
As you’ll see below, there are a variety of different lamb cuts available. Depending on how much the muscle each is cut from is worked, they’ll have different levels of leanness or marbling, tenderness, flavor, etc. This also impacts the cooking method that works best for each cut.
Here are 9 popular lamb cuts:
One of the larger cuts of lamb (and one of the five lamb primal cuts), the shoulder comes from the top of the front legs. Because this is a muscle that is usually worked harder than other parts, the meat from the shoulder is very lean. But, it does still have some good marbling and is very flavorful.
The shoulder will take a while to become tender so this makes it a great cut to smoke and slow-roast. You can maximize the flavor and tenderness of the meat by cooking lamb shoulder on the bone, allowing you to easily pull apart the meat with a fork when it is done.
There are several different variations of lamb chops that come in different shapes and sizes, depending on the part of the lamb they’re cut from. One example is a shoulder chop. A shoulder chop (also called arm chop or blade chop) is a smaller cross-section cut from the larger shoulder cut that we just talked about above.
Shoulder chops require less cooking time than other lamb cuts, making them a good option to grill over higher heat for an easy, quick, and delicious meal.
The leg is going to be the leanest cut of lamb. Similar to the shoulders, the legs contain hard-working muscles, giving this cut a delicious, strong flavor. Another large cut compared to other types, usually weighing 7-8 pounds, a bone-in leg of lamb is great for any special occasion or holiday get-together not only because of its great presentation but it will also feed a lot.
This is another cut that is great for low-roasting and smoking whole to get a delicious exterior bark (thank you Maillard reaction!) and soft tender interior. Plus, the bone adds an even richer flavor to the meat.
Source: Serious Eats
A BRT or boneless leg roast is one of the most versatile cuts of lamb when it comes to cooking it. You can slow roast or smoke it whole, trim it into smaller pieces and grill it on kebabs, cut it into smaller roasts or individual chops to cook over a two-zone grill setup, or even butterfly it and grill it.
Another type of chop, sirloin chops are large, meaty cuts that are cut from the leg of lamb. These are easily identified by the crosscut piece of round leg bone within the middle of the meat. Less expensive compared to the prized rack and loin chops, sirloin chops can be just as tender and flavorful when cooked properly.
Taken from the lower part of the leg, lamb shanks are available in both hind shanks and fore shanks. Also a popular menu item at many restaurants across the country, when they are slow-cooked, lamb shanks practically fall off the bone. Another lean cut that is still big on flavor, the meaty lamb shank contains a high amount of collagen, which makes it perfect for cooking low and slow or even slowly braising in a simmering broth.
Cut from the upper ribs, the rack is an icon of fine dining menus throughout the country and is usually the most expensive cut of lamb, with highly tender and delicious meat. The rack of lamb consists of the first 8 ribs and will usually weigh about 2 pounds total.
Surprisingly easy to prepare at home, the impressive presentation of a rack will give you a restaurant-quality meal that is versatile for entertaining. You can keep the rack together and slow roast it or cut it apart into what are known as lamb chops (aka cutlets) and grill them individually over higher heat. Individual bone-in lamb chops are what are also sometimes referred to as lamb lollipops.
A rack of lamb can come in two variations as well:
Frenched Rack: A few inches of meat have been removed from the end of the bones.
Crown Roast: Two frenched racks are tied together resembling a crown.
Another prized cut, loin chops are cut from the waist of the lamb and are lean, tender, and deliciously flavorful. Because of their popularity, these are often one of the most readily available cuts at your local butcher shop and sometimes even available at the grocery store.
Easy to prepare and cook on the grill, loin chops are usually 3 to 4-ounces each and have a distinct “T” shaped bone that runs through the top of the meat. Hence why they are sometimes called T-bone chops. Marinating them for 4 to 6 hours before grilling can help flavor and tenderize the exterior of the meat even more.
You can also have a great small roast by keeping a few loin chops together in one piece.
Somewhat of an underrated cut of lamb, the neck is an inexpensive piece that can be slow-cooked whole or chopped into smaller chunks for kebabs or stews. Slow roasting lamb neck will really bring out all the flavors of the meat. While seasoning smaller chunks in salt, pepper, and paprika and cooking slowly over the indirect heat side of your grill makes for an easy and delicious meal.
When it comes to great-tasting lamb, the quality of the meat you are getting is just as important as the type of lamb cuts you choose and the cooking technique you use.
Your local butcher, smaller specialty grocery stores, or even top online meat wholesalers are the best places to find good quality lamb. There are a couple of things to look for and keep in mind to ensure you get quality lamb meat. These include:
Now you should have a deeper understanding of what differentiates the different cuts of lamb and also what to look for when you buy the meat. Lamb is something everyone should try at least once, as its tenderness and robust flavor are absolutely mouth-watering. Pair it with your favorite stout or porter beer and you’ll have a delicious flavor combination. Use a two-zone grill setup and experiment with cooking different cuts of lamb to find your favorites.
If you want to try a step-by-step recipe straight from the pros that shows you exactly how to grill a rack of lamb perfectly, check out our online video/class for Frenched Rack of Lamb Chops for only $7.98!
Or check out the BBQ Champs Academy All-Access Pass to dive into our in-depth online classes to learn how to cook everything from a perfectly smoked brisket to a championship-quality grilled steak and everything in between, just like the award-winning pitmasters and grillmasters!
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