How to cook lamb
Learn how to cook lamb to perfection with our top tips, timings and recipes. This tender, juicy meat is ideal for Sunday roasts, barbecueing or slow-cooking.
Lamb is a meat that’s eaten all over the world, because its rich taste works so well with spices and other highly flavoured ingredients. It's a versatile meat with lots of different cuts suited to different cooking methods. In the UK, lamb is closely associated with roasting at Easter. It's also perfect in tagines and stews, or for quick-cooking as lamb chops.
Tougher cuts are ideal for slow-cooking and make great braises and stews, while prime cuts can be quick-cooked, barbecued or roasted and are best eaten pink. Lamb also comes minced, which makes it a great alternative to beef in burgers, kebabs and shepherd’s pie.
Read our guide on how to cook lamb below, then find more advice on specific cuts with our other guides: how to cook lamb chops and how to cook a leg of lamb. Plus get more recipe inspiration from our collection of lamb recipes.
What to look for when buying lamb
- Lamb is available from most supermarkets and butchers. Aim for British and organic if you can, as grass-fed animals with have a significantly better flavour and omega-3 fat percentage than grain-fed ones.
- When choosing lamb, look for meat that is a deep brown-pink colour with a layer of creamy, white fat.
- The cut of meat you choose will affect the flavour of lamb. Higher fat cuts from the shoulder, shank and leg are likely to have a more gamey flavour than leaner cuts such as the loin chops, rib chops and rack of lamb.
- The bones of the lamb should appear pink in colour (look at the rib bones if you can for this).
What are the different cuts of lamb?
There are a variety of lamb cuts available to buy, each with slightly different cooking requirements and end results depending on what kind of dish you are cooking.
Lamb shoulder – This is a fatty cut that can be left whole on the bone, or boned then rolled into a roasting joint. It can be traditionally roasted but is best slow-roasted, pot-roasted or braised with liquid until practically falling apart. Shoulder can also be diced for stewing, or cut into shoulder chops. Try our lamb shoulder recipes.
Neck fillets – A boneless fillet of meat that is best quickly pan-fried or roasted then sliced. A single neck fillet serves two.
Rack of lamb – This is a trimmed rack of six chops that can either be roasted whole and carved, or cut into chops from raw and then quick-cooked. Discover our rack of lamb recipes.
Saddle of lamb – The saddle is two racks of lamb still attached normally, boned, stuffed, rolled and tied into a prime roasting joint that feeds six people. When kept on the bone and sawed into thick slices the saddle becomes a Barnsley chop.
Lamb loin – Also called a cannon or fillet of lamb, this is the eye of the meat from the rack and is like the lamb equivalent of beef fillet. It’s a very lean, neat piece of meat that should be quick-cooked and served rare.
Lamb breast – A very fatty inexpensive cut that’s often minced. Whole, it needs to be slow-cooked until tender and can be cooked on the bone, or boned and rolled.
Lamb chump/rump – The same cut is called two different things by different chefs and butchers. This is a boneless square of meat from the top of the leg. The chump can be thickly sliced into boneless chump chops, or kept whole then roasted, or barbecued and carved. A whole chump will serve two to three people and is best served pink.
Lamb shank – Lamb shanks need to be slow-roasted or braised and each one makes a generous single serving. Check out our lamb shank recipes.
Leg of lamb – The most versatile of all the cuts, it’s lean enough to serve pink and has enough fat to remain succulent when well-cooked. A whole leg of lamb on the bone is the iconic Sunday lamb roast, but legs can also be boned, stuffed and rolled to roast. Leg is the best cut to barbecue when it's boned and opened up (butterflied), cut into leg steaks, or diced for kebabs. See our leg of lamb recipes.
Lamb chops and steaks
Chops are quick to cook and easy to portion, but they differ depending on which part of the lamb they come from.
Lamb cutlets – Taken from the rack of lamb, these neat chops can come with a layer of fat surrounding the meat which extends to the bone, or they can be French-trimmed to expose the bone. These can be pan-fried, griddled, quickly barbecued and used in casseroles. Browse our lamb cutlet recipes.
Loin chops – Cut from the saddle, these meaty chops have a T-shaped bone in the middle and as they're so thick, the meat is quickly roasted.
Barnsley chops – A double loin chop (see above). A single Barnsley chop is the perfect portion for one.
Chump chops – A boneless slice of the chump, these are very good value and can be pan-fried or barbecued like a steak.
Leg steaks – A cross-section of the leg, these steaks can vary in size and normally have a piece of bone in the middle that the marrow can be eaten out of once cooked. A great steak to barbecue. Try our lamb steak recipes.
How to prepare lamb
There are various techniques for preparing lamb, depending on what cooking method and desired dish you are going for:
Butterfly – To open up and bone the whole leg of lamb so it’s a sheet of meat that cooks quicker and more evenly. A butterflied leg of lamb is normally barbecued, but can be roasted.
French-trimmed – When a rack of lamb has the bones exposed, neatly trimmed and cleaned of any fat or gristle.
Tunnel-boned – This applies to a leg of lamb that’s been carefully part-boned to create a cavity that can be stuffed. When tied, a tunnel-boned leg of lamb keeps its original shape and is easy to carve.
Studded – Small incisions are made in the lamb flesh with the point of a small knife, then stuffed with flavour-enhancing ingredients like slithers of garlic and sprigs of rosemary.
Simple roast leg of lamb & gravy recipe
Here is our basic recipe for roast leg of lamb with gravy, but you can choose other flavours from our flavour guide to enhance it. We’ve also given a general guide to timing and temperatures, if you want to make changes.
Prep: 20 mins
Cook: 2hrs, plus resting
- 2 onions, roughly chopped
- 2 carrots, roughly chopped
- 2 garlic cloves, kept whole
- 1 branch of rosemary
- 2 tbsp olive oil
- leg of lamb, around 2kg
- 1 tsp plain flour
- 150ml red wine
- 300ml lamb, beef or chicken stock
1. Heat oven to 200C/180C fan/gas 6. Tip the vegetables, garlic and rosemary into a roasting tray and toss in a little of the oil. Sit the lamb on top, rub with the remaining oil and season generously with salt and pepper. Place the lamb in the oven and roast for 1 hr 40 mins for rare meat, 2 hrs for medium and 2 hrs 30 mins for well done (see our temperature guide below).
2. Carefully lift the lamb onto a board with a moat, or a warm platter, then leave to rest for 20 mins. Meanwhile pour most of the fat from the tin and place the tin on a low heat. Stir the flour into the roasted veg and cook for a few mins to make a sandy paste. Pour in the wine and simmer for 2 mins then pour in the stock and any juices from the resting lamb. Simmer and stir for a few more minutes, season to taste and strain through a sieve into a small saucepan ready to reheat and serve. Carve the lamb into thick slices and serve with the gravy.
See our collection for more roast lamb recipes.
How do I know when the lamb is done?
Wondering how to know when your lamb is ready to eat? Ovens perform differently and barbecuing or pan-frying lamb will involve guesswork, unless you have a digital cooking thermometer. Here are the temperatures (when the meat is probed with a cooking thermometer) that you need to know:
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50C – very rare
55C – medium rare
60C – medium (pink)
65C – medium well
72C – well done
How long to cook lamb
The exact lamb roasting time depends on how well done you like your meat. We recommend the following times when cooking in an oven at 200C/180C fan/gas 6:
Rare: 1 hr 40 mins
Medium: 2 hrs
Well done: 2 hrs 30 mins
How to barbecue lamb
Lamb is a delicious meat to barbecue, especially over coals when the fat and juices drop onto them and sizzle, creating smoke that flavours the meat. Minced lamb makes great burgers and koftas, while individual chops and steaks can also be cooked quickly. A large ‘butterflied’ leg of lamb is the perfect barbecue option when catering for a crowd. We've got plenty of inspiration in this collection of barbecued lamb recipes.
Any good butcher should be able to butterfly a leg of lamb for you, or watch our video on how to do it yourself:
The best lamb flavour pairings
Lamb is eaten globally and can be cooked with a wide variety of flavours. Here are some classic pairings:
British – cooked with capers, rosemary and or thyme, or served with redcurrant jelly or mint sauce
Mediterranean – cooked with one or a combination of garlic, olives, anchovies, lemon, basil
North African – cooked with one or a combination of cinnamon, saffron, chilli, cumin
Indian – cooked with one or a combination of cinnamon, turmeric, coriander, ginger, lime, cumin, curry paste, garam marsala, yogurt
Slow cooking in liquid transforms tougher cuts of lamb into fork-tender meat. Neck, shoulder and belly, either diced or as whole joints, are the best cuts for slow cooking and need to be cooked for at least 2 hrs at 150C to soften the meat. Lamb is slow-cooked all over the world, from veg-packed Irish stews, Greek lamb kleftiko, Southern-French daubes, North-African tagines and spicy Indian curries.
Hogget, mutton and goat
‘Lamb’ is meat from an animal that’s under a year old, hogget is an older lamb (1-2 years) and mutton is the meat from a fully-grown sheep (2 years +). British goat meat is becoming more readily available and is generally sold at the same age as lamb.
The meat from lamb, hogget, mutton and goat are interchangeable, but hogget and mutton have a stronger, more developed flavour and the meat from goat is a bit richer than lamb.
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