How to cook lamb chops to crisp, tender perfection

Here's how to give each and every kind of lamb chop the royal treatment

Published March 16, 2021 10:30AM (EDT)

 (Rocky Luten / Food52)
(Rocky Luten / Food52)

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Lamb chops are a scrumptious, savory treat, and a lovely way to bring variety to the typical rotation of chicken, beef, and pork. Quick-cooking and tender — depending on the cut, of course — lamb chops also possess a uniquely rich character that pairs well with many different combinations of herbs and spices. Learn how to cook lamb chops to achieve the best possible result, and bring this impressive dish to the table more often.

Types of lamb chops

"Lamb chop" is a broad term that can refer to several different cuts of meat. To understand how to cook a lamb chop, it's important to know which cut you're cooking. The two most popular kinds are rib chops and loin chops, but you'll also see shoulder (or blade), sirloin, and leg chops in the butcher's case from time to time.

Rib chops are cut from the rack: the primal cut from the upper part of the spine, below the shoulder. With a long rib bone attached to the round chop, rib chops are shaped a little like lollipops, or miniature tomahawk steaks. Some butchers even call them "lamb lollipops," or lollipop chops. Rib chops are often sold "frenched," meaning the bone has been thoroughly stripped of tissue, leaving a clean white handle (again, much like a lollipop). These chops are known for their exceptional tenderness, so they're also generally one of the more expensive cuts. For this reason, rib chops should be treated with care to avoid overcooking. Pan-searing for just a couple minutes on each side is recommended.

Loin chops are similar to rib chops, but they're cut from the "saddle" part of the loin, farther down the spine. These chops are the ones that look like miniature T-bone steaks. Like rib chops, loin chops are also very tender. Because they're cut thicker than rib chops, and because they have a bone running through the center, loin chops can withstand more direct heat, making them good candidates for grilling, broiling, or roasting.

Shoulder chops are also known as blade chops. These cuts are usually less expensive than rib or loin chops because, although shoulder meat is delicious, the muscles there do more work, and therefore are not particularly tender. Consequently, shoulder chops are ideal for braising or slow-roasting, methods that allow the fat to render and the connective tissues to soften. That goes for the less-common "arm chop" as well.

Farther down the animal are the sirloin and leg chops, sometimes also called leg steaks. In terms of tenderness, these cuts are somewhere between shoulder chops and rib chops. They hold up very well on the grill, and taste best cooked to an even medium temperature.

Seasoning lamb chops

Seasoning your chops is where cooking lamb gets really fun. Lamb's flavor profile lends itself to a wide variety of options drawn from many styles of cuisine. Fresh herbs, spice rubs, and sauces are generally the best methods for seasoning lamb. Marinades can work, too, but they usually don't add as much flavor as you'd think they would, and marinating lamb for too long can actually lead to unpleasant textures.

In terms of complementary flavor profiles, there's almost nothing that doesn't work well with lamb. Mediterranean flavors like rosemary and oregano, Indian spices like garam masala, Middle Eastern seasonings such as dukkah, and South American condiments like chimichurri all pair fabulously with lamb. Asian flavors like Chinese five spice also play well with this versatile meat.

Lamb chop temperature

Temperature is by far the most critical aspect of cooking lamb chops. Undercooking even tender lamb chops can render them unpleasantly chewy, while overcooking will lead to tough, dried-out meat.

Rib chops should be cooked to about 130°F, while loin chops are better at 135°F or even 140°F. Leg, sirloin chops, and shoulder chops (unless you're braising them) should be cooked to between 140°F and 145°F. For best results, allow the chops to come to room temperature before cooking, and always use a quality, instant-read meat thermometer.

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By Pete Scherer

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