After beef, pork, and chicken, lamb is the most commonly consumed meat in the world. In certain regions like Greece, the Middle East, India, and Mongolia, lamb is a primary meat source, surpassing even beef. Here in America, though, it retains the status as an “alternative meat,” not something that people instinctively turn to when they want to grill or braise something. Lamb is something you get when you go out to eat at a Greek or Moroccan place. You might make an Indian curry with it, or some other elaborate dish with tons of spices. That needs to change. Lamb is one of the most nutrient-dense animals we can eat, and it’s far more versatile than you think.
You don’t have to do anything elaborate with lamb or use a dozen spices to make it taste good. You can just add salt, pepper, and fire and it will taste incredible. In fact you can pretty much treat it like beef and be very successful.
Let’s dig right in.
Is Lamb Red Meat?
Lamb is the second most common red meat after beef. What makes it red meat?
It’s high in myoglobin, a protein in the muscle that serves as a reserve of oxygen. Myoglobin is red and is rich in heme iron. Heme is the most bioavailable “animal” form of iron, far more potent than inorganic iron or iron found in plant foods. Heme iron is particularly crucial for growing kids and pregnant women (who are growing kids), but everyone should be getting a regular supply of heme iron in their diet and lamb is a great way to do it.
Is Lamb Healthy?
Red meat is healthy as a rule, being a rich source of important micronutrients like the heme iron mentioned above as well as some others:
Creatine, involved in ATP generation and physical and mental performance
Carnosine, a fusion of histidine and alanine, which can improve mood and muscular endurance1
It’s also a great source of the all-important animal protein, which almost no one eats enough of. Getting more protein via red meat like lamb has been shown to improve health and the ability to simply function in everyday life activities in older adults.2
To cut it short, if beef is healthy, if bison and elk and venison are healthy, lamb is healthy.
But there are some unique attributes to lamb that make it particularly good to eat. For one, lamb doesn’t take well to grain feeding. Oh, you can do it, a sheep will eat grains, but it doesn’t “take” as well as cattle. Lamb is almost always grass-fed, and exclusively so. New Zealand and Australian lamb tend to be almost purely grass-fed, while a lot of American lamb is grass-fed for most of its life but shifted onto grains toward the end for fattening up.
Eating all that grass and green forage produces a meat that is uniquely resistant to oxidation and carcinogen formation during cooking. The antioxidant compounds from the plants the animals eat are incorporated into the meat and fat of the animals and offer protection against degeneration during heating. To eat grass-and-forage-fed lamb is like eating meat that’s been marinated in antioxidant herbs.3
Lamb is also a very good source of conjugated linoleic acid, a natural type of trans fat formed in the digestive tract of ruminants like lambs and cows as they digest grass and other plant matter. Contrary to synthetic CLA, the natural CLA found in lamb fat and sheep’s milk has been shown to have anti-atherosclerotic properties and improve metabolic health.4
If the label doesn’t indicate whether the lamb is grass-fed, you can look at the color of the meat and the color of the fat. The fat should have a slight yellowish tinge—very faint, but perceptible if you look closely. The meat should be red, almost purple.
What does lamb taste like?
Lamb is very distinct from beef. It’s a bit sweeter, often more mineral-rich. You can really taste the grass, which some people interpret as “gamy” but is actually different. Lamb reflects what it grazed upon. If it was grass and wild forage, it will taste unlike any red meat you’ve ever had.
However, if you get grain-fed lamb, it’s much closer to beef. You can still tell it’s lamb, but the flavor is milder and less distinct.
How to cook lamb
Okay, lamb sounds great, but how do you work it into your Primal diet? How do you cook it?
Lamb is a ruminant animal with dozens of different cuts, each of which perform differently in the kitchen and require specific methods of preparation. I’ll break down the basic cuts and how to simply prepare them.
Leg of lamb
Bone in leg of lamb should be roasted. Rub with garlic, rosemary, lemon, and olive oil with plenty of salt and pepper and cook it low and slow until medium-rare to medium closest to the bone.
De-boned leg of lamb can be butterflied and cooked like a big steak or a tri tip on the grill. High heat to sear on all sides then finish over low heat.
You can also cut leg of lamb into steaks. Cook as you would top sirloin. Sear it hot and fast and let it rest.
Whole shoulder should be braised in liquid, covered, then finished cover off to reduce and make a thick gelatinous lamb sauce. A good go to braising liquid is red wine, fresh oregano, lemon juice, pomegranate molasses, salt, pepper, garlic, and possibly a hot pepper if you want.
There are two shoulder chops. One has the marrow, the other just has bones without marrow. Both are excellent and should be marinated in lemon, garlic, rosemary, and olive oil then grilled. Cook until medium to make sure all the fat renders and finish with a big squeeze of fresh lemon.
Rack of lamb
Rack of lamb can be cut into separate lamb chops, but I think keeping the rack intact improves the flavor and texture. Salt and pepper the rack and sear it in avocado oil or olive oil on all sides, then finish in the oven with a big sprig of rosemary resting on top until medium rare.
Treat this like oxtail. Braise it in liquid. Very gelatinous and makes a rich broth with a surprising amount of meat.
Treat ground lamb like ground beef. You can dust it with salt and pepper and pan sear or cook on the grill.
It also makes good Turkish kofta (or sausage) using spices like cumin, turmeric, all spice, garlic, and onion.
Lamb shank must be braised in the oven, slow cooked in the crockpot, or pressure cooked. It’s extremely rich in connective tissue that requires ample cooking time in liquid to break down and turn into collagen.
Lamb is one of my favorite meats. It’s nutritious, delicious, and as easy or as hard as you want to prepare. Hopefully after today you have a good idea how to get started cooking and eating more lamb.
If you have any questions, drop them down below. Or just let me know how you like to cook lamb.