The Best Cut Of Lambs Chops For Grilling

With summer here, it's likely that you are firing up the grill a bit more often, and you probably have a stable of grilling recipes that you have mastered and cycle through. But, if you're stuck in a pork, beef, and chicken rut, then it is high time you give lamb a turn on the grill. With its unique flavor that some describe as gamey, grassy, or pastoral, lamb is well-suited to the robust flavor imparted by grilling.

There are, of course, many cuts of lamb. It is important to pick a cut that will be optimally suited to the style of cooking, in this case grilling. Lean cuts, like lamb chops, perform quite well on the often intense heat of the grill, but lamb chops themselves come in a few different cuts, and it is important to know the differences.

Probably the best known are rib chops, also known as "rack of lamb," which are prized for their tenderness and succulence. But, there is another cut that too often gets overlooked as folks reach for another rack: lamb shoulder chops. In the realm of luscious cuts of lamb, the lamb shoulder chop stands proudly as a true champion of flavor. What's more, shoulder chops are slightly larger and can be more economical, making them an excellent choice for those seeking flavor and value.

What are lamb shoulder chops?

The lamb shoulder chop, as the name suggests, is derived from the shoulder area of the lamb. Also known as lamb blade chops, this is a bone-in cut that showcases a rich marbling, which contributes to its strong flavor. The meat is typically cut about an inch thick, allowing for a perfect balance between juiciness and a caramelized exterior when grilled. You want to choose a high-quality lamb shoulder chop, preferably from a trusted butcher or supplier. Look for chops that exhibit a vibrant red color with visible marbling, indicating a good distribution of fat.

Unlike the lamb rib chop, which is known for its delicate and lean meat, the lamb shoulder chop boasts a more robust and intense flavor profile. The presence of fat and connective tissue in the shoulder creates a meltingly tender texture, making it a prime choice for slow cooking methods such as braising. However, grilling the lamb shoulder chop can elevate its taste to new heights when done right.

Lamb shoulder chops take quite well to a marinade. A classic combination of garlic, rosemary, olive oil, and lemon juice works wonders, infusing the lamb with aromatic and zesty flavors. Red or white wine — maybe a Greek varietal — are also great additions along with other fresh herbs, like oregano and thyme. Allow the chops to marinate for at least two hours, or preferably overnight, in the refrigerator, ensuring that the flavors penetrate the meat thoroughly.

Grilling lamb shoulder chops

When it's time to grill, ensure that your grill is preheated to medium-high heat. Remove the lamb shoulder chops from the marinade and let any excess liquid drip off before placing them on the grill. Cook the chops for about 4 to 5 minutes per side, turning once, until they reach an internal temperature of 135 F for medium-rare or 145 F for medium doneness. Remember to use a meat thermometer for accuracy.

As the lamb shoulder chops sizzle on the grill, the fat will render slightly, basting the meat and creating a beautifully caramelized crust. Once the lamb shoulder chops are cooked to your preferred doneness, remove them from the grill and let them rest for a few minutes to allow the juices to redistribute throughout the meat. This crucial step ensures a moist and tender final product. 

Direct grilling isn't the path to delicious lamb shoulder chops, though. If you're craving that grilled flavor, but want your chops a bit more tender, try slow-smoking. The chops can be marinated as directed or dry-rubbed and placed away from the direct heat where the smoke from smoldering wood chips or chunks can more gently break down the fat and connective tissue until a texture akin to barbecue is attained. 

Adding lamb to your grill repertoire is a simple and delicious way to shake up your routine, and lamb shoulder chops offer tons of flavor that won't break the bank. Just keep in mind our simple hints and enjoy a scrumptious summer.