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The weather is warming up and you’re itching to start grilling more. You may have perfected grilling the perfect steak or smoking a delicious brisket and you are wanting to try something new. Springtime has long been the traditional season for lamb. Grilled lamb is absolutely delicious, and when cooked the right way, results in tender and delicate meat with a rich flavor that is not too overpowering or “gamey”.
If you haven’t tried it yet, you’re missing out! But, if you are wondering how to grill lamb the right way, we’ve got you covered. We went straight to the Champion Grillmasters to find out what you need to know:
As we have mentioned before when dealing with other types of meat, ensuring you are starting with good quality meat will have a significant impact on the taste of the final result.
Your local big-box supermarket will usually not have a huge selection of lamb cuts. Specialty grocery stores, your local butcher, or even high-quality online meat wholesalers are the best places to find good lamb.
When buying your lamb to grill, you want to look for meat that is light pink with evenly distributed smooth white fat and red streaks running through the bone. This meat will be the most tender and have a mildly-robust flavor. If the meat is darker (almost purple) and has yellow fat, it was an older sheep and the meat will be tougher and have a more “gamey” taste. Marbling is not as important in lamb as it is with beef selection, but just make sure the fat is evenly distributed.
If you are new to the taste of lamb, American lamb, which is often fed grain versus grass-fed, will have a milder flavor compared to New Zealand or Australian lamb which is pasture-raised. Once you’ve tasted lamb that is properly cooked, don’t be afraid to venture out to those more robust lamb varieties.
The best cuts of lamb for grilling are going to be the rack/rib chop, loin chop, leg, rump, and shoulder.
Some cuts of lamb may have some exterior fat around the edges. Go ahead and trim this off. The meat will remain tender without it. This fat won’t add any additional flavor and trimming it off will help reduce any oil-induced grill flare-ups.
Also, leaving it on can actually cause the lamb to cup up, as the connective tissue under the fat layer shrinks when it heats up, causing uneven cooking.
You don’t want to immediately take your lamb out of the refrigerator and put it on the grill. In doing this, because the meat is cold, you’ll quickly increase your chances of the outside charring too much before the interior of the meat is cooked to temperature. This quickly leads to overcooked meat.
So, you want to let the meat sit out at room temperature for about 30 minutes before it goes on the grill. This will make properly grilling the lamb much easier. First, pat the meat dry with a paper towel after pulling it out of the refrigerator, lightly season it with salt, and cover it with aluminum foil to let it sit.
Lamb is a rich-flavored meat that, unlike other types of meat, can hold up to bold seasonings, spices, and aromatics. If you want to add some seasoning to the lamb (more than salt and pepper) or use a marinade, some specific ingredients help enhance the natural flavor of the meat. These include:
You don’t want to go overboard with the seasonings and end up masking the meat’s natural flavor. Use just enough to lightly coat the exterior and amplify the meat itself.
Lamb has a tendency to stick to a hot grill more than other meats. So, it is important to make sure the meat has a good coating of oil before it goes on the grill. This can either be done by brushing it shortly before cooking it or marinating it overnight.
Lamb does well with marinades that are oil and lemon-based and this provides an opportunity to work in some of those spices and aromatics.
It also helps to use a paper towel dipped in oil and coat the grill grates before the meat goes on also.
Like many other types of grilled meats, with lamb you want both a seared exterior crust and a nice tender interior. Using a two-zone grill setup is the best way to make this happen. With two-zone grilling, you have one side where you can cook directly over the direct heat above the fuel/heat source and the other side is the indirect heat side which is away from the heat source.
Two-zone grilling gives you the versatility to sear the exterior to a deep brown first (without charring) and then grill for longer periods over lower heat without overcooking the meat. Cooking the lamb for the majority of the time over the indirect side will slow roast it and create a much more flavorful result.
At this point, you may be wondering how long to grill lamb for to cook it perfectly. The important thing to understand is that you should cook to the proper temperature versus relying on cooking times. This is why it is important to have a good quality thermometer on hand.
To grill lamb properly using a two-zone method, the indirect zone of your grill should be 225 degrees Fahrenheit, while the direct zone is between 350 and 450 degrees Fahrenheit. For medium-rare lamb, you want to cook the meat until it reaches 135 degrees Fahrenheit in the center away from the bone. If you prefer medium, leave it on until it reaches 150 degrees Fahrenheit. Anything more than medium can quickly result in a very tough and gamey tasting piece of lamb.
After you pull the meat off the grill, let it rest and the internal temperature will rise roughly another 10 degrees, bringing it to the final desired temperature. Per the USDA, the minimum final internal temperature of lamb is 145 degrees Fahrenheit.
Just like when grilling steak, an important tip for delicious and juicy lamb is not to immediately carve it and serve as soon as it comes off the grill. As touched on above, after removing it from the grill, cover it with aluminum foil and let it rest for roughly 5 minutes.
This not only allows for the carryover cooking to bring the internal temperature to the desired point, but it also allows the juices to redistribute throughout the meat. This results in a perfectly flavored, tender, and juicy result.
*Bonus tip: Always make sure to cut lamb against the grain.
Lamb is deliciously tender meat with robust flavors all its own, and something everyone should try at least once. No matter if you are grilling lamb chops or kebabs, the tips we covered above will help you end up with a delicious final result.
Now, if you want a step-by-step recipe that shows you exactly how to grill lamb perfectly, check out our online video/class for Frenched Rack of Lamb Chops for only $7.98!
Are you planning on trying your hand at grilled or smoked lamb soon? Do you have any other tips on how to grill lamb that you’ve discovered? Tell us about it in the comment box below. We want to hear from you!
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