Prepare to master the impressive lamb roast.

By Zoe Denenberg
December 15, 2020
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No dinner party is complete without a stunning main course, and a perfectly-cooked rack of lamb is a surefire way to impress the guests. You may only be used to cooking lamb for the holidays, but our Editors are here to make a case for cooking lamb on any old Tuesday. "In our opinion, lamb doesn't necessarily need to be limited to being a holiday centerpiece. It'll work just as easily into your weeknight routine," our Editors write. "Think everyday lamb dishes like juicy burgers, grilled kebabs, kid-friendly pita pockets, and roasted chops."

Whether you're hosting for the holidays or simply looking to incorporate lamb into your family's dinner repertoire, this is the perfect place to start. We're here to break down everything you need to know about cooking lamb, from the different types of cuts to the preparations and cooking temperatures.

Know The Different Cuts of Lamb

This versatile protein comes in many shapes and sizes, from the tender leg and rack to the tougher shank and shoulder. The leg and rack of lamb are perfect for herb-crusting and oven-roasting; since the shank and shoulder are a bit tougher, they fare well in stews or braises—the long cook time allows them to significantly break down and become fork-tender.

Each cut of lamb has its unique strengths, but one thing remains certain no matter how you're preparing your lamb: It must be properly cooked.

Tips for Cooking Lamb

  • Before you begin the cooking process, be sure to remove your lamb from the refrigerator and let it sit at room temperature for at least 30 minutes. This helps to ensure that the lamb cooks evenly and that you get an accurate temperature reading.
  • Prepare your lamb by trimming some of the excess fat and silver skin, then seasoning with salt, pepper, and herbs.
  • Roast leaner cuts of lamb in a hotter oven (450°F) to get a lovely brown crust and a well-cooked center; cook fattier cuts of lamb low and slow (325°F) to render all the fat and allow the lamb to cook in its juices.
  • Due to residual heat, your lamb will continue to cook even after you pull it out of the oven. For this reason, we advise removing your lamb from the oven when it's 5-10 degrees shy of your desired temperature. It will fully cook to your desired doneness while it rests.
  • After removing your lamb from the oven, let it rest on a platter for 15-30 minutes to keep it tender and juicy.

How to Use a Meat Thermometer

If you've never used a meat thermometer before, Our Food Editor's got you covered. "To get the most accurate temperature reading, place the thermometer in the meat while it's still cooking in the pan, oven, or on the grill. Do not take it off the heat before gauging the temperature."

The most important thing to remember is to insert your thermometer into the thickest part of the lamb, avoiding any bones or fat. "With most thermometers, you need to insert the probe at least 1/2 inch into the meat. If your cut is thicker than an inch, you will want to go even deeper to reach the very center," our Food Editor writes.

Cooking Temperatures for Lamb

The USDA recommends cooking lamb to 145 degrees F, which will result in medium-well doneness. This is the official guideline for safely cooking lamb, but many chefs and cooks prefer their lamb rarer. No matter how you like your lamb cooked, the best way to gauge when it has reached your desired doneness is with a meat thermometer.

  • Rare: 115-120°F
  • Medium-Rare: 125°F
  • Medium: 130°F
  • Medium-Well: 145°F
  • Well Done: 150°F

You don't want to cook your lamb much past 145°F, or else it will dry out. The only exception to this rule is ground lamb, which should be cooked to 160°F.

Since cooking preparations vary greatly based on which cut of lamb you're using, there is no standard time estimate for achieving a certain level of doneness. Generally, a leaner cut like rack of lamb will take 15-18 minutes to cook through in a hot oven (450°F), while a thicker cut like lamb shank will braise for 6 hours in the slow-cooker. No matter the preparation, this succulent meat is guaranteed to be the star of the show.

Our Favorite Lamb Recipes

Once you're ready to get cooking, find a recipe that's right for you. Want to impress the dinner party guests? Turn to our Pecan-Crusted Rack of Lamb with Mint Dipping Sauce. The holidays call for Herb-Crusted Roasted Leg of Lamb, while Broiled Lamb Chops make an easy weeknight dinner. Take the low-and-slow route with our impressive Braised Lamb Shanks with Parmesan-Chive Grits, or feed the kids with a classic Shepherd's Pie.

Find all the lamb inspiration you need with these recipes.