Lamb may seem like unconventional meat but it isn’t. Would it surprise you to discover humans began raising lamb around 9000 years ago in the Middle East?
Although lamb is not the most popular meat here in the U.S., it is very popular in other parts of the world.
If you’re used to eating bland or mild-flavored meats like chicken breasts and pork, the taste of lamb could be a shock to you.
In this article, we’ll explore what lamb is, what it tastes like, the best spices to use, and how to cook it as well as some tips to implement, and mistakes to avoid. Let’s get started!
What does lamb taste like?
Compared to conventionally raised beef, lamb has a stronger, earthier, and somewhat gamey flavor. Lamb has a distinctive taste derived mainly from its branched-chain fatty acids, which beef does not contain. As with beef, the diet of the lamb can affect its flavor. Grassfed beef has a stronger flavor than grain-fed beef. The same holds true for lambs. Lambs raised on grass and grains have a more delicate flavor than those raised on grass alone.
What Is Lamb?
Lamb is the meat of a sheep less than one-year-old.
What Is The Texture Of Lamb Meat?
Because lamb is from sheep less than one-year-old, lamb is generally tender. It is not as firm as many cuts of beef but a little firmer and chewier than chicken.
What’s The Difference Between Domestic And Imported Lamb?
Here in the U.S., domestic lamb has a milder flavor than lamb imported from New Zealand or Australia.
This is because imported lamb is raised much like grass-fed beef, in the pasture with grass. Domestic lamb from the U.S. is raised on grass and grains, causing it to have a milder, sweeter taste than imported lamb.
What Cut of Lamb Should I Try First?
As we previously discussed, lamb’s distinctive taste is derived mainly from its fat. The cuts of lamb with the higher fat content will have a stronger, gamier flavor than those cuts with little to no fat.
If you’re looking for a milder cut of meat, try loin chops, the rack of lamb or rib chops. The other cuts have more fat and a much stronger taste.
Lamb kabobs are my favorite!
What Herbs and Spices Go Well With Lamb?
Lamb goes particularly well with strong spices as many people are unaccustomed to its distinct flavor.
Here are a few spices to try with your lamb dish: rosemary, garlic, black pepper, oregano, curry powder, fennel, and cumin.
Mint combined with rosemary, thyme, and oregano is one of my favorites.
Harissa is another excellent choice for lamb. It’s a North African chili paste that contains garlic, cumin, coriander, and hot chiles.
For a Middle Eastern flair, try baharat. Baharat is a warm Middle Eastern Spice blend with cumin, cloves, black peppercorns, allspice, paprika, nutmeg, and cardamom.
If you’re worried about adding so many heavy spices, brighten up your lamb dish lemon juice or go exotic and add sumac (it’s similar to lemon juice).
What Internal Temperature Does Lamb Need To Be Cooked?
As with beef, pork, and veal, the USDA recommends cooking lamb chops, roasts, and steaks to a minimum internal temperature of 145°F and ground lamb should be cooked to a minimum of 160°F.
How To Cook Lamb: What Methods To Use
Many of the cooking methods you apply to other meats can be used for cooking lamb. For example, you can braise it, roast it, bake it, or grill it. You can even use the slow cooker or instant pot successfully on certain cuts.
Your success will depend on the cut of lamb you have. The tougher cuts will be more tender if cooked low and slow whereas the more tender cuts (the center cuts) will do better on the grill or on the stovetop as they are already tender.
Tips For Cooking Lamb
Know Where Your Lamb Came From
As previously discussed, domestic lamb in the U.S. is fed grass and grains whereas imported lamb is usually always pastured and fed only grass.
Grass-fed, imported lamb will have a much stronger, earthier flavor than domestic lamb.
Choose The Right Cut For the Right Method
Make sure you match the right method with the right cut of meat.
Cuts from the shank, rump, leg, and front shoulder will do much better if cooked low and slow. The center cuts such as the breast, ribs, and loin will do better in a skillet or on the grill.
Trim The Excess Fat
Again, if you are new to lamb and you don’t like really strong-tasting meats, be sure to trim the excess fat from your lamb before cooking.
Remember, lamb gets much of its flavor from its BCFA’s (branched-chain fatty acids) so if you want to have milder flavored meat, don’t forget to trim the excess fat.
Don’t Overmarinate or Skip The Marinating
Marinating lamb for long periods of time with acidic ingredients like vinegar or lemon juice can cause the proteins to start breaking down. This will result in an unpleasant mealy and possibly mushy texture.
If you want to marinate your lamb with acidic ingredients do so no more than 20 minutes to prevent the proteins from breaking down.
Generously Season Your Lamb WIth Herbs and Spices
Even though you don’t want to marinate your lamb for more than 20 minutes in acidic ingredients, lamb loves and in my opinion, needs lots of spices.
As previously mentioned, lamb can handle a myriad of strong spices. Don’t be afraid to experiment with your spices and apply them generously.
Let Your Lamb Come To Room Temperature Before Cooking
As with any meat, the lamb will cook more evenly if you remove it from the fridge and let it come to room temperature before cooking.
Don’t panic. The USDA recommends that you should, “never leave food out of refrigeration over 2 hours.” They go on to say that if the temperature is higher than 90°F, meat should not be left out longer than 1 hour.
With that said, you don’t need to remove your lamb 2 hours before cooking. Depending on the size and cut of your lamb, and the temperature in your home, 30 minutes to no more than one hour should suffice.
Don’t Overcook Your Lamb
We know the USDA recommends cooking ground lamb to a minimum of 160°F and other nonground cuts to 145°F.
Invest in an use a digital quick read thermometer to ensure you don’t overcook your lamb.
Let Your Lamb Rest
Lamb is just like beef, pork, and poultry. You need to let it rest for 3 to 5 minutes once it comes off the heat.
If you cut your lamb too soon, all the juices will be released and you’ll likely end up with dry lamb.
Allowing your lamb to rest before carving, allows the juices to be reabsorbed resulting in a moist, juicy dish.
Related Frequently Asked Questions
What is hogget?
A sheep that is two years old and its meat is known as hogget.
What is mutton?
A sheep that is at least three years old and its meat is known as mutton. However, in other countries, “mutton” refers to goat meat.
Personally, I love lamb. But I also eat grass-fed beef and pastured pork and grew up eating venison.
Lamb is not the most cost-effective protein on the market. So, if you are concerned you might not like it, I would suggest you try lamb at a local Mediterranian, Indian or Middle Eastern Restaurant.
First, Middle Eastern, Indian, and Mediterranian spices are delicious on lamb.
Secondly, you will know what properly seasoned and cooked lamb will taste like so you can make an informed decision as to whether you will start cooking it at home.
Just be sure when you try lamb for the first time you:
- Go to a reputable restaurant
- Let the server, manager, or chef know you’ve never tried lamb
- Ask what they would recommend
Personally, lamb kabobs or medallions are my favorite!
Got any questions? Please reach out and let me know. I’d love to hear from you.