The Walden Effect: Farming, simple living, permaculture, and invention.

How to cook various cuts of lamb

Lamb chopI eased into cooking with meat by buying it ground, but have since been branching out into using more and more of the whole animal.  Growing our own broilers trained me to use every bit of a chicken, and now that we've bought a whole lamb, I've been doing the same with red meat.  It turns out that there are five main categories:

Ground meat is the easiest to cook with since you can make it into burgers, sausage, or use it any other way you'd use hamburger or ground turkey.  If I hadn't asked for the front legs of our lamb to be ground up, there wouldn't have been much ground meat, though, mostly from the belly.

Steaks are cuts that are tender enough to fry or grill and eat with a knife and fork.  Both chops and sirloin can be cooked as steaks, with the latter being a bit more tender.  Our pastured lamb growers recommend searing lamb steaks over medium-high heat then finishing up cooking at a lower temperature, which worked great for us.

Roasts are cuts that are a bit tough to be fried up and should instead be either stewed over low heat or baked in a cool oven for an hour or more.  Letting them marinate first Stewed lambin an acidic marinate like tomatoes or wine can also help tenderize the meat.  Legs are the hind legs, cut whole and looking a bit like a ham.  Shanks are the upper arm (front leg).  Riblets are half bone and half fat and meat --- they're the only part that I'm a bit at a loss about how to cook.

Bones won't come with your lamb unless you specifically ask for them, but you should!  Bones make a wonderful broth, boiled for several hours in a pot of water.  The remains can be fed to your dog.

Heart and liver are cooked like any other organ meat.  I sometimes cook these up into broth, very occasionally fry up a liver for Mark, and sometimes give the organs to the cats and dog as a health boost.

Once you learn to cook meat in each of these categories, you'll be ready to cook nearly the whole animal of just about every type of livestock out there.  With chickens, the meat type is more a factor of age than cut, but it's still good to know how to grind or stew up old birds and to make broth out of the bones.  Even if you're not buying a whole animal, cooking with unusual cuts allows you to buy cheaper meat that is just as good for you, and to respect the meat animal by not tossing less tender parts of their body.

Our chicken waterer is the POOP-free alternative that backyard chicken-keepers love.

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About us: Anna Hess and Mark Hamilton spent over a decade living self-sufficiently in the mountains of Virginia before moving north to start over from scratch in the foothills of Ohio. They've experimented with permaculture, no-till gardening, trailersteading, home-based microbusinesses and much more, writing about their adventures in both blogs and books.

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We have recently been using a obscure French style of cooking that breaks down the collagen in meats and pectin in vegetables to make them easier to eat. You guys are technical enough that you might enjoy this sort of thing.

sous-vide is cooking your food in a nylon/silicon vacuum bag that is placed in a temperature controlled water bath. The idea is over 200 years old, but only has been used in practice for the last 40 years.

For meats we cook them at 132F for 72 hours. For vegetables we cook them at 183F for 1-2 hours.

You can get into the setup for around $100 using a crock pot, temperature controller and vacuum sealer. It will make your meals more convenient and allow you to eat more of the lamb you purchased.

I just made a example video which helps illustrate this idea:

Comment by Mikey Sklar Fri Apr 8 09:49:06 2011
You should check this site for two books on cooking grass fed meat. We have the grilling book and it is awesome. She is a wealth of information about this topic:
Comment by Robert Fri Apr 8 14:24:12 2011

Mike --- That sounds interesting, but I'm not sure I understand why it's more useful than just roasting tougher meat for a few hours in the oven. (Also, why would you cook vegetables that long? We try to minimize vegetable cooking time to maximize taste and vitamins.)

Robert --- Interesting! I'll have to check that out! I've been meaning to read her Radical Homemakers book for a while.

Comment by anna Fri Apr 8 17:29:54 2011


The long cook times are for breaking down the toughness of meat (collagen) and the crunch of vegetables (pectin). The vitamins are preserved as there is no contact with outside moisture. It's not for everyone, but it is really popular right now in the geeky cooking blogs.

Comment by Mikey Sklar Mon Apr 11 19:27:58 2011
I see -- so the food would be higher in vitamins than if I'd roasted the meat for a couple of hours? I still don't understand why you'd want to break down the crunch of vegetables, though. Isn't that some of the best part?!
Comment by anna Mon Apr 11 20:35:38 2011

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