A sheep less than 1 year old, known for its tender meat. Baby lamb and spring lamb are both milk fed. Baby lamb is customarily slaughtered at between 6 and 8 weeks old. Spring lamb is usually 3 to 5 months old; regular lamb is slaughtered under a year of age. Lamb between 12 and 24 months is called yearling or hogget (UK, Australia and New Zealand); when over 2 years, it’s referred to as mutton and has a much stronger flavor and less tender flesh.
When purchasing lamb, let color be the guide. In general, the darker the color, the older the animal. Baby lamb will be pale pink, while regular lamb is pinkish-red.
The meat of a lamb is taken from the animal between one month and one year old, with a carcase (carcass in American English) weight of between 5.5 and 30 kilograms (12 and 65 lbs). This meat generally is more tender than that from older sheep and appears more often on tables in some Western countries. Hogget and mutton have a stronger flavor than lamb because they contain a higher concentration of species-characteristic fatty acids and are preferred by some. Mutton and hogget also tend to be tougher than lamb (because of connective tissue maturation) and are therefore better suited to casserole-style cooking, as in Lancashire hotpot, for example.
Lamb is often sorted into three kinds of meat: forequarter, loin, and hindquarter. The forequarter includes the neck, shoulder, front legs, and the ribs up to the shoulder blade. The hindquarter includes the rear legs and hip. The loin includes the ribs between the two.
Lamb chops are cut from the rib, loin, and shoulder areas. The rib chops include a rib bone; the loin chops include only a chine bone. Shoulder chops are usually considered inferior to loin chops; both kinds of chop are usually grilled. Breast of lamb (baby chops) can be cooked in an oven.
Leg of lamb is a whole leg; saddle of lamb is the two loins with the hip. Leg and saddle are usually roasted, though the leg is sometimes boiled.
Forequarter meat of sheep, as of other mammals, includes more connective tissue than some other cuts, and, if not from a young lamb, is best cooked slowly using either a moist method, such as braising or stewing, or by slow roasting or American barbecuing. It is, in some countries, sold pre-chopped or diced.
Lamb shank definitions vary, but generally include:
- Lamb shank is cut from the arm of shoulder, contains leg bone and part of round shoulder bone, and is covered by a thin layer of fat and fell (a thin, paperlike covering).
- Lamb shank is a cut of meat from the upper part of the leg.
According to Jewish Kosher law, sheep may be eaten, but as with cows, they must be killed while conscious and the sciatic nerve, as well as certain types of fat on the back half of the animal, may not be eaten. This makes certain cuts, such as leg or steaks, very difficult to produce in some countries. Similar rules apply for the Islamic dietary code, Halal.
Thin strips of fatty mutton can be cut into a substitute for bacon called macon.
Lamb tongue is popular in middle-eastern cuisine both as a cold cut and in preparations like stews.