lamb illustration on transparent background

How to Cook Lamb:
A Nose-to-Tail Guide on How to Cook Every Lamb Cut

Bring Modern Lamb Into Your Kitchen: Q and A with Local-Food Chef Ted Habiger of Room 39

In this Q&A, we spoke with Chef Ted Habiger of Room 39 about the value of supporting local farmers and sustainable agriculture, cooking seasonally, and how he prepares amazing lamb dishes — and his recommendations on the best wines to pair with different lamb recipes.
sheep grazing at the central grazing company farm

Bring Modern Lamb Into Your Kitchen: Q and A with Local-Food Chef Ted Habiger of Room 39

In this Q&A, we spoke with Chef Ted Habiger of Room 39 about the value of supporting local farmers and sustainable agriculture, cooking seasonally, and how he prepares amazing lamb dishes — and his recommendations on the best wines to pair with different lamb recipes.

Lamb is one of the most commonly eaten meats in the world. Lamb is getting a fresh take in the U.S., and restaurants across the country are using simple, fresh ingredients to create mouthwatering dishes with lamb. When lamb is paired with fresh and seasonal ingredients, you might be surprised by the rich flavors you can create. 

That is why we’ve loved working with Ted Habiger, chef and owner at Room 39 in Kansas City. By combining seasonal ingredients with friendly service and welcoming atmosphere, Room 39 has become a must-visit in Kansas City. Nominated three times by the James Beard Foundation for the Outstanding Chef award, Ted Habiger is committed to prioritizing seasonal fresh produce from local farmers who use sustainable harvesting and growing practices to deliver bold flavors and unique dishes.

“The biggest thing that holds people back from cooking seasonally with local produce is that they think it's more work,” Ted says in a conversation with us. “Cooking and eating food should be fun, and preparing meals seasonally with local produce and meat reminds us to appreciate our relationship with food.”

In this Q&A, we spoke with Ted about the value of supporting local farmers and sustainable agriculture, cooking seasonally, and how he prepares amazing lamb dishes (and the best wines to pair with different lamb recipes).

What drives your passion for farm-to-table dining?

My father grew up on a farm in southeast Kansas that I would visit when I was young. Although leaving for the farm for college, my dad would always grow fresh vegetables at home. Although I didn't like everything, it exposed me to many different flavors, and it instilled in me a sense of where my food came from.

Ingredients are an essential part of my work as a chef at Room 39. Finding the best ingredients means buying fresh local produce most of the time. For example, carrots are truly amazing when you get them the day of or the day after they're harvested. I prize carrots for their flavor, not their color or ability to withstand shipping like store-bought carrots are bred to. 

I worked for a chef at a restaurant that cooked seasonally. It was exciting not to cook the same thing every month and every day – and I brought that to Room 39, where our menu changes throughout the year. Take asparagus for example: Although we didn't have it on our menu in February or November, we were excited when we saw asparagus at the farmers' market. 

How can people change their shopping and cooking styles to eat and cook local and seasonal foods?

The biggest thing that holds people back from cooking seasonally with local produce is that they think it's more work. Cooking and eating food should be fun, and preparing meals seasonally with local produce and meat reminds us to appreciate our relationship with food. People foster the habit of creating huge lists, buying a lot of groceries, throwing away the food that spoils, and preparing meals with ingredients shipped from across the country; it doesn't seem fun. And as our lives get busier, people allow recipes to determine what they buy rather than enable ingredients to guide their cooking plans. 

But going to the local market, holding hands with loved ones and talking with local farmers as you pick out what to cook — that can reconnect people with the joy of food. I want people to share in that joy.

What methods do you often use when preparing pastured lamb, like that from Central Grazing Company?

Every animal has different parts that need to be cooked in different ways. With pastured lamb, the loins and the chops are the kind of things you can cook to medium, medium-rare, and still have very tender without long cooking times. I often simply use salt and pepper for chops and loins before grilling or sautéeing them – they rarely go in the oven.

You can think about what parts of an animal are used. For example, because legs are an active part of four-legged animals like lamb during their lifetimes, they will likely be cuts that are a bit tougher and take longer to cook. If you want to cook them rare, you need to cut them into smaller portions first. Braising (cooking with liquid covered in a pan) or roasting (uncovered in a pan, basting along the way most likely) is better for the whole cuts, like an entire leg. One of my favorite preparations with the leg is to de-bone it and make a purée with garlic, fresh herbs, anchovies, and capers to spread on the inside of the lamb before roasting. The wonderful drippings that collect in the pan while roasting can be turned into a delicious sauce!

When cooking nose-to-tail, the neck meat is one of the most delicious meats of an animal. You can expect any meat close to a bone to be delicious, from halibut to steaks to lamb. With the lamb neck, I braise the meat with white wine, carrots, and celery before covering and cooking it in an oven at 350 degrees. The goal is to steam the meat with the wine and vegetable essence. After 3 hours, you can serve the meat in a soup or use it in a pasta sauce with tomato, onion, and fresh herbs. 

What flavors and wine pairings do you lean toward when preparing lamb? And what about dessert? 

If I prepare an appetizer such as lamb tartare or a lamb loin carpaccio, I'll pair the dish with Muscadet––a white wine from the Loire Valley of France. The wine is crisp, minerally, and light-bodied, making it an excellent pairing. You want to avoid grapefruity-style wines in favor of the more grassy-style white wines from California or Central France, such as a Sauvignon or Chenin Blanc.

When it comes to red wine, one of my favorite pairings is Dolcetto, a grape from the Piedmont region in Italy. The tannins in the wine give it a bright and slightly chewy mouthfeel. With lamb, the Dolcetto can cut through the flavors of the fat marbling and get you ready for the next bite! 

There aren't many red wines to avoid with lamb, but I advise people to branch beyond Cabernet. It's better with steak, and a Northern Italian red or a Pinot Noir can be great choices instead.

For dessert — something fudgy, like chocolate truffles or flourless chocolate torte sprinkled with cocoa powder or powdered sugar is an excellent pairing. 

For folks who consider lamb an old-fashioned meal: What are a few simple ways home chefs can modernize how they cook with lamb?

My father had terrible experiences with lamb growing up in the '50s. He was eating mutton, which is an older, larger animal. We had to get past that with him to try lamb dishes I loved, so we went back to basics with dishes like lamb chops. Together, we tried lamb from different places; imported from Australia, grain-fed lamb from Colorado. He liked the local, Central Grazing pasture-raised lamb the best.  

At Room 39, I like to play with the traditional lamb and mint pairing, because the flavors truly go so well together. Dishes that involve a mint aioli or a mint marinade braised with white wine can complement the meat in a modernized way.

We have come so far as a food culture in the U.S. in the last 50 years, and we're catching up with the rest of the world. We still have a long way to go, but when I was growing up, the thought of having lamb was awful. Spring lamb with peas and prosciutto is not what you might think of as mutton stew. It’s an incredible meal.

Cook with us: Find an excellent Yucatan Lamb Chops recipe created by Chef Ted for Central Grazing Company

Learn More about our lamb box offerings

General Tips on How to Cook Lamb

To ensure your lamb cooks evenly, take it out of the fridge 30 minutes before cooking to allow it to come to room temperature.

When cooking lamb, it is important to consider the cut of meat. Fattier cuts of lamb should be roasted long and slow at a low temperature, while leaner cuts of meat should be cooked at a high temperature for the first several minutes and then at a lower temperature the rest of the time. Braising is a popular technique for cooking less-tender cuts of lamb. This involves roasting or simmering the meat with a small amount of liquid in a tightly covered pan. Braising helps break down the meat's connective tissues, resulting in a tender and flavorful dish. For smaller, thinner cuts, such as chops or steaks, a simple marinade followed by a quick cook time on a hot grill will result in flavorful, tender meat.

Your cooking time will vary depending on the size and cut of the lamb. Using a meat thermometer to check for doneness is important, as individual cuts may vary in cooking time. Insert the thermometer into the thickest part of the meat and check the temperature.

Download our full temperature guide for a full rundown of internal temperatures and cook times for different lamb cuts!

How to cook every lamb cut

“Primal cuts” refers to the first piece of meat to be separated from the carcass of an animal during the butchering process, hence the name. These are generally large sections of the carcass, often referred to as “primals.” The primals are broken down further into secondary and tertiary cuts, or “sub-primal cuts,” which are the cuts you will typically find to purchase by name.

Lamb has five primals: shoulder, breast, rack, loin, and leg. Below, we’ve organized the cuts according to the primals and the various sub-primal cuts they can be broken down into. For each cut, we’ve provided cooking techniques and, when available, recipes in our collection to help you learn how to cook every cut of lamb. You’ll also want to refer to the temperature guide above to cook the meat to your preferred doneness.

Nose-to-Tail Guide

Click on the name of the primal to jump to that section below.
1. Shoulder
a. Neck
b. Stew Meat
c. Shoulder Chops
2. Breast
a. Denver Ribs
b. Belly
3. Rack
a. Rack of Lamb
i.     Rib Roast
ii.   Frenched Rack
iii.  Crown Rack
iv.   Rack of Honour
b. Rib Chops
4. Loin
a. Loin Roast
b. Loin Chop
c. Tenderloin
5. Leg
a. Sirloin Roast
b. Steaks
c. Kebab
d. Shank
e. Osso Bucco
6. Other Cuts
a. Heart


Lamb neck is an under-utilized cut of lamb that you can often find relatively cheap, making it an excellent option for lamb lovers on a budget. Lamb neck can be sold in different forms, such as cut into small fillets or diced as "braising lamb." It can also be bought as bone-in lamb neck steaks, which are perfect for long, slow-cooked stews or curries.

Lamb neck contains a little sinew and silver skin that can be trimmed away easily, and it is nicely marbled with a little fat. A fillet of lamb neck is easily suited to feeding about 2-3 people.

Since lamb neck is a muscle, it can be tough if not cooked correctly. A low and slow cook is the safest way to achieve tender meat. As the cut is relatively small, a good 90-minute to two-hour braise will leave you with meat that falls off the bone, resulting in a delicious off-cut that is a great alternative to beef short ribs or lamb shoulder for a dinner party menu.


Lamb Neck & Chickpea Stew

The shoulder is a heavily exercised muscle, so the stew meat cut from this primal can be tough and chewy. However, it is also highly flavorful, perfect for slow-cooking dishes.

Simmer the lamb stew over low heat so the liquid bubbles gently around the meat to prevent the excess fat from emulsifying and making the finished dish greasy. Check stew meat dishes after about 45 minutes for tenderness, as overcooking stew meat will cause it to fall apart and lose moisture.

Lamb stew meat is versatile and can be used in a variety of dishes. It can be used to make traditional stews, casseroles, and curries.


Instant Pot Lamb Stew

Lamb shoulder chops, also known as blade chops, are a delicious and versatile cut of meat that comes from the top front leg of the lamb. Lamb shoulder chops are best cooked bone-in, as this helps to tenderize the meat and impart more flavor. The bone-in chops can be cooked quickly or seared, which makes them ideal for a quick meal or BBQ. Lamb shoulder chops absorb marinades well, making the chops more tender and flavorful. Cover the chops with your favorite marinade in a resealable bag and let them marinate for at least an hour before cooking or even overnight.

Alternatively, the bone-in chops can be braised or slow-roasted, which is great for family meals or entertaining guests. While shoulder chops are thinner than other cuts of lamb, they contain a higher level of fat and connective tissue, which, when cooked slowly, melts away, producing a succulent and tender result. Shoulder chops are perfect for braising or slow-roasting, methods that allow the fat to render and the connective tissues to soften. Searing the chops at high heat before slow cooking also allows the exterior to develop a golden crust, adding flavor, texture, and visual appeal.


One-Pot Lamb Shoulder Chops with Rice Pilaf


Denver ribs are a type of spare ribs that come from the lower part of the rib cage. Denver ribs should not be confused with rack of lamb, which comes from the rack primal cut. The ribs in the rack are located at the upper part of the rib cage, and they have a different flavor and texture than Denver ribs.

Denver ribs are separated from the breastbone and then split and usually comprise 7 to 8 riblets A typical rack of Denver ribs weighs between 1 and 1.5 pounds. One of the distinctive characteristics of Denver ribs is that they are prepared by removing fat, gristle, and connective tissue from the meat. This process ensures the meat is leaner and more tender than traditional spare ribs.

When preparing Denver ribs, remove the translucent membrane that is located on the underside of the rack. Use the tip of a knife to lift the membrane, then grab it with a paper towel and peel it off entirely.

One of the best ways to cook Denver ribs is to use slow-cooking techniques, such as roasting, grilling with indirect heat, sous-vide, smoking, or braising. These methods allow the connective tissue and fat in the meat to slowly melt and lubricate the meat, making it more tender and flavorful. Finish the ribs with a fast hit of high heat to create a beautiful crust. You can also cover them with a flavorful sauce. Some popular seasoning and sauce choices for Denver ribs include barbecue sauce, dry rubs, and marinades.


Braised Denver Lamb Ribs

Lamb belly, also called lamb breast, is from the boneless, fatty underside of the lamb and is flavorful and very adaptable. Lamb belly is an often long, flat cut that is best marinated before being roasted. It’s often rubbed with spices or other ingredients before being rolled and tied with twine. As with any fatty cut, it's ideal to cook it low and slow, rendering the fat and leaving meat that falls apart.


Lamb Belly & Arugula on Flatbread


Rack of lamb is a popular and delicious cut of meat that includes ribs 6 through 12 and is considered the most tender and mild-tasting part of the lamb. The rack of lamb can be prepared in several ways, including as a crown roast, separated into individual chops, double chops, Frenched, or as a lamb guard of honour.

One of the most common ways to cook a rack of lamb is in the oven using dry heat. This method allows the meat to cook evenly and retain its natural juices, resulting in a flavorful and tender dish. Before cooking, the rack of lamb should be seasoned with salt, pepper, and any other desired seasonings. Some people like to score the fat on top of the rack to allow for better browning and flavor infusion.

Frenched racks of lamb are prepared by having the meat scraped clean off the rib bones, leaving a more prominent and clean presentation. The exposed bones should be wrapped in aluminum foil to prevent burning during cooking. After cooking, let the rack rest for 15 minutes to allow the juices to redistribute.

To make a crown roast, two racks of lamb are tied together to form a circle, with the rib bones pointing upwards and the meat on the inside of the circle. This creates a stunning presentation and makes for an impressive centerpiece for a holiday or special occasion meal. Paper frills, known as manchettes, can be attached to the exposed bones for a traditional touch.

A lamb guard of honour is another impressive presentation that uses two interlinked racks of lamb. The rib ends are often Frenched to make interlacing easier and for a more dramatic effect. The racks are interlocked and tied with kitchen string before roasting.


Frenched Rack with Garlic Dijon Rub & Cilantro Chimichurri Frenched Lamb Rack with Maple-Roasted Brussels Sprouts, Pears, and Delicata Squash Lamb Curry

Lamb rib chops, also known as "lamb lollipops," are a delicious and tender cut of meat that comes from the ribs of the lamb. These chops are sourced by separating the individual chops of each rib bone of a rack. Rib chops are made up of a large, single loin muscle and a slender rib bone. Slicing between the ribs creates a bone-in portion perfect for grilling or pan-searing. For a double chop, two chops are left attached to each other, resulting in a larger, meatier portion.

One of the advantages of lamb rib chops is that they do not have any sinew or connective tissues, which makes them easy to cook and gives them a tender, soft texture. The best method for cooking lamb rib chops is pan-searing, as they are too delicate for grilling. Pan-searing allows you to achieve a crispy exterior while keeping the inside juicy and tender.


Rib Chops with Mashed Sweet Potatoes & Rosemary ButterMarinated Lamb Rib Chops


Lamb loin roast is a succulent, flavorful, and tender cut of lamb meat obtained from the center of the lamb's back, also known as the "saddle." It is a popular cut of meat that can be cooked in a variety of ways to suit different tastes and preferences.

Lamb loin roast is best prepared using dry heat cooking methods such as roasting, grilling, or broiling. Cook lamb loin with care, as it can dry out easily if overcooked. Other cooking methods for lamb loin roast include brushing the loin with oil and sprinkling it with salt and pepper before grilling or broiling.

The lamb loin can be presented as chops instead of loin roast. Lamb loin chops have a T-shaped bone in the middle, which separates the meat into two sections. They are also sometimes referred to as lamb loin cutlets. The meat in lamb loin chops is often compared to beef in flavor and texture. The meat is tender and juicy, with a mild flavor that pairs well with many different seasonings and sauces. 

Lamb loin chops are typically cooked quickly on the grill or in a pan. When cooked quickly, they develop a caramelized crust on the outside and have a pink, juicy center. We recommend cooking the chops to medium-rare or medium, which will allow the meat to retain its tenderness and flavor. To prepare lamb loin chops, start by seasoning them with salt and pepper or any other desired seasonings. Heat up a grill or pan on medium-high heat and add oil to prevent the meat from sticking. Once the grill or pan is hot, add the lamb loin chops and cook for 4-5 minutes per side for medium-rare or 5-6 minutes per side for medium. After cooking, allow the lamb loin chops to rest for a few minutes before serving.


Loin Lamb Chops with Roasted VegetablesKorean American Lamb Chops with Grilled Scallions

The lamb tenderloin is a very small (about 3 ounces each) but extremely tender piece of meat. It is best cooked rare, as they are such a small, thin, and tender cut. Tenderloins are best lightly seasoned and treated as a thin steak — cooked over high heat for a very short period of time in a pan or on the grill. Drizzle them with a balsamic reduction or other flavorful sauce for a melt-in-your-mouth dish.


Cast-Iron Lamb Tenderloin


Lamb sirloin roast is a tender and flavorful cut. Sirloin is the muscle that connects the loin to the hind leg. Sometimes sold as part of the leg, it can be cooked separately, trussed for a roast, or grilled as a flavorful steak. A lamb sirloin roast can provide a flavorful dinner for two to three people that are relatively simple to prepare. A sirloin roast will often be rubbed in spices and browned in a hot pan before finishing at a lower heat in the oven.


Grilled Lamb Sirloin with Carrot and Coriander Mash and Ramp Purée

Lamb shank is a meaty cut that comes from the lower part of the lamb leg. It is a flavorful and economical meat cut popular in many Mediterranean cuisines, such as Greek, Italian, French, and Moroccan. The shank has a bone running through the center, which provides a lot of flavors as it cooks.

Lamb shank best responds to a slow-cooking method, such as braising or stewing, to break down connective tissues and become tender and juicy.

Lamb shank may come with a thin, white membrane that can be trimmed away before cooking or left on to melt away during cooking. Brown the meat before slow cooking or braising to add a deeper flavor.

Lamb shank pairs well with warm spices, such as cinnamon and cloves, as well as bold herbs such as rosemary and mint. Mint sauce is a traditional accompaniment for lamb shank because the herb's sharp, clarifying flavor can stand up to the protein's equally sharp flavor profile. Other complementary sauces include bright, kicky salsa verde or chimichurri. When serving lamb shank, it is best to pair it with garnishes that can soak up its flavorful braising liquid, such as mashed potatoes or polenta. Simple preparations of fresh spring veggies like green beans, radishes, snow peas, asparagus, or mushrooms make excellent side dishes.


Shredded Lamb Birria TacosApple Cider-Braised Lamb ShanksBraised Curried Lamb Shank with Yucca

Osso Bucco (literally “bone with a hole”) references lamb shanks cut into rounds or cross-cut. Osso bucco is also the name of a traditional Italian dish that uses cross-cut shanks.

Traditionally, osso bucco is made with shanks cut into 2-inch-thick pieces and slow-cooked until tender, resulting in a succulent and flavorful dish. The recipe calls for the shanks to be cooked in some combination of wine, stock, and vegetables and then braised in the oven for around three hours, or until fork-tender. Osso bucco is typically served with a starchy side dish, such as risotto, gremolata, or mashed potatoes, to help soak up the flavorful sauce.


Decadent Slow-Cooked Lamb Osso Bucco with Gremolata

Other Cuts

Lamb heart is a type of organ meat that is often overlooked but is actually an excellent source of protein and other essential nutrients. Lamb heart is also relatively easy to prepare and cook, making it a great option for those new to cooking with organ meats.

To prepare lamb heart for cooking, trim away as much fat and connective tissue as possible using kitchen scissors or a sharp knife. Once you have trimmed the heart, rinse it under cold water and soak it in a bowl of cold water mixed with a pinch of salt for about an hour. This will help remove excess blood and ensure the heart is clean and ready to cook.

To cook lamb hearts, use a low-fat cooking method like broiling or grilling. Before cooking, you can marinate the heart in your favorite spices and seasonings to add flavor and help tenderize the meat. 


Chimichurri Grilled Lamb Hearts

Want to prepare these cuts in your kitchen? Get lamb delivered directly to your door with the Central Grazing Lamb Box subscription! With the Lamb Box, you’ll be introduced to new cuts in addition to lamb cuts you know and love so that you can help support our value of nose-to-tail, no-waste meat production. We also have an extensive recipe catalog where you can find seasonal recipes to prepare your lamb box contents. Before each delivery, you’ll receive an email with information and what you can expect in your Lamb Box as well as seasonal recipes customized to each box. 

sheep grazing on midwestern grass under a blue sky, on a farm that practices ethical animal farming in lawrence, kansas