Lamb is a relatively forgiving meat to prepare; whether it's medium-rare or well-done, it will still be juicy and flavorful. Determine how you'd like to serve the lamb and check it often while it's roasting, broiling, grilling or braising to make sure that it reaches your preferred level of doneness without being over- or under-cooked. One of the most important things is having a reliable meat thermometer on hand to check the internal temperature.
Use the Correct Temperature
It's important to get the cooking temperature right for lamb. Extremely high heat can make it tough, while too low and it won't be done when you're ready to eat. If you're roasting a whole leg of lamb, half a shank leg or a lamb shoulder, the American Lamb Board advises heating the oven to 325 degrees Fahrenheit. This is true for boneless or bone-in legs or shoulders weighing between 3 and 9 pounds, and it works for ground lamb patties and meatballs, too.
To grill lamb chops, ribs, leg steaks, ground lamb burgers or kebabs, preheat a charcoal or gas grill to medium heat. For braised lamb shanks, roasts or chops, use a slow cooker on the lowest setting or put the meat in a Dutch oven and heat it in a 350 degree F oven.
Cook it Long Enough
Braised lamb requires the longest cooking time. Boneless stew meat or lamb shanks need between 1 1/2 to 4 hours of stovetop or oven time before you can expect them to be done. In the slow cooker, these cuts will take around 6 to 8 hours to cook. Expect a leg of lamb or shoulder roast to need 15 to 50 minutes per pound of meat, depending on the size of the cut, your desired level of doneness and whether it is bone-in or boneless. Grilled lamb steaks need about 14 to 18 minutes of cooking time, while lamb burgers may need only three minutes per side.
Check for Doneness
Use a fork to gauge the doneness of braised lamb, advises the American Lamb Board. When the meat is thoroughly cooked, a fork can easily shred it. Use your finger to estimate if roasted, grilled or broiled lamb is done to your liking. Press firmly on several sections of the lamb. If the meat gives easily but is firm and has cooked for the recommended length of time, it is probably medium-rare. A firmer texture and feel indicates more well-done meat.
Measure the Internal Temperature
Because cooking time varies by a number of factors, the best way to determine doneness is with a meat thermometer. Official food safety standards call for cooking any solid cut of lamb to 145 degrees F at center (which is medium-well) and cooking ground lamb to an internal temperature of 160 degrees F (which is well done).
However, many people prefer to eat lamb at a lower temperature, as it's more tender, juicy, and flavorful when it's not cooked beyond medium. Here's when to stop cooking lamb for different levels of doneness, taking into account that its temperature generally rises about another five degrees while the meat rests:
- For rare lamb, remove it from the heat at an internal temperature of 115 degrees F.
- To enjoy lamb medium-rare, cook it to 120 degrees F.
- Stop cooking lamb at 130 degrees F for a medium preparation.
- Cook lamb to 140 degrees F for medium-well.
- For well-done lamb, cook it to 150 degrees F at center.
Michelle Kerns writes for a variety of print and online publications and specializes in literature and science topics. She has served as a book columnist since 2008 and is a member of the National Book Critics Circle. Kerns studied English literature and neurology at UC Davis.