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Cooking Guide: Lamb Temperatures & Cooking Times

Kiwis love eating lamb but when it comes to cooking it a lot of us are a bit more apprehensive. However, there's no reason to be. Cooking lamb is a lot like cooking beef. Depending on the cut of lamb you are working with, you will want to cook it hot and fast or low and slow, or a combination of both. This guide should help you navigate the methods, times, and temperatures to cook your lamb perfectly.

Roasting Lamb

For larger, more tender cuts of lamb, roasting is often the best method. A rack of lamb or a boneless leg of lamb roasted to a rosy, juicy medium (60°C) to medium-rare (55°C) is perfection on a plate every time.

If you're looking to go the extra mile to ensure the most even, flavorful results, think about doing an overnight dry brine and a reverse sear. A dry brine is as simple as generously sprinkling it all over with kosher salt and refrigerating overnight on a wire rack set into a rimmed sheet pan. The general rule of thumb is ½ teaspoon of kosher salt per 450 grams of meat, plus any seasonings you choose.

From there you set it into an oven at 130°C for 1-2 hours (depending on the thickness of your roast) or until a thermometer reaches 45-50°C in the thickest part of your roast. Then turn on your oven broiler and turn until you have a beautiful bronzed crust on all sides and a thermometer reads at 55°C. This roast will be rosy pink all the way to edges, perfectly cooked and tender.

Grilling and Searing

If you are looking to cook up something like lamb chops, grilling or searing is the best method to keep them tender and juicy. Generally speaking, it's best to cook thinner cuts hot and fast, while thicker chops do best on a two-zone fire. This method keeps starts the chops on the cool side of the fire then finishes them on the hot side for quick sear for a minute or two on each side. The thicker the chops, the longer you keep them on the cool side of the fire. Using an instant read thermometer takes the guesswork out of grilling and searing your lamb since you can cook it to an exact temperature, ensuring delicious results every time.

Braising Lamb

Cuts like lamb shoulder or lamb shank come from hard-working muscles on the lamb making them extremely flavourful, but not as tender. To get around this, braising these cuts makes for extra tender and tasty results.

Braising is a combination-cooking method that starts with pan searing followed by slow cooking in a liquid—usually in a slow cooker—until ingredients become tender. A successful braise transforms both the ingredient being cooked and the cooking liquid itself into something harmonious.

A simple method for braising lamb is to salt, sear, then add liquid and aromatics, and then cover to simmer for a couple hours. If you would like to make a stew, add some chopped root vegetables halfway through cooking. After 2-3 hours, the lamb will be fork tender, perfect to pair with crusty bread.

Temperature Check

Ovens perform differently and barbecuing or pan-frying lamb will involve guesswork, unless you have a digital cooking thermometer. Here are the temperatures of the meat when probed with a cooking thermometer that you need to know to cook lamb to your liking:

  • Rare: An internal temperature of 50-60°C. It'll look deep pink verging on red, and be very juicy and “bloody”. It will have a slightly mushy texture.
  • Medium-rare: An internal temperature of 60–65°C. It will have a warm pink colour and be juicy, flavourful, and tender.
  • Medium (Pink): An internal temperature of 65–70°C. It will have a light pink colour and be moist but not be as juicy as medium-rare. The fat will be completely rendered.
  • Medium-well: An internal temperature of 70-75°C. It will look barely pink turning to gray, and be moist verging on dry.
  • Well-done: An internal temperature of 75°C and over. It'll be gray throughout the meat and be dry.

The Finger Test

For those of you without a meat thermometer, the 'finger' or tong test offers a reliable way to test the doneness of your lamb. As the end of the cooking time draws near, press the outside centre of your lamb lightly with tongs or a clean fingertip to judge its degree of doneness. As a guide:

  • Very soft = Rare
  • Soft = Medium-rare
  • Springy = Medium
  • Firmer = Well-done range

Posted by Shawn Moodie

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