Why Lamb Is An Underrated Meat For Barbecue, According To Famed Pitmaster Pat Martin - Exclusive

At Martin's Bar-B-Que Joint, his chain of barbecue restaurants, Pat Martin cooks up Southern classics like spare ribs, pulled pork, and beef brisket. However, he doesn't like to limit himself to the traditional rules of barbecue. As he told Tasting Table in an exclusive interview, he views tradition as a jumping-off point for his own creativity.

One way Martin pushes the boundaries of barbecue is by smoking unexpected meats like lamb. While lamb is quite popular around the world, it's not a common choice for barbecue in the U.S. "When you say barbecue, people don't think about lamb; they only think about pork, chicken, and beef," he explained. But Martin clarified that lamb is actually perfect for barbecue because of its high-fat content. "I want fatty proteins because they help stand up to the long cooking period," he shared. Fat protects meat while it's smoking, preventing it from drying out.

How to pick cuts of lamb to barbecue

When selecting a cut of meat to barbecue, you should look for something that's tough and has a lot of connective tissue, regardless of what animal it comes from. The collagen in the connective tissue is the secret to great barbecue. Per Martin, "What I'm really looking for is muscle fiber, collagen, tough cuts of meat because I want that collagen to turn gelatinous over time." It's the dissolved collagen that gives barbecue its tender, moist mouthfeel.

So what cuts of lamb should you buy to throw in your smoker? Lamb shoulder is a tough, fatty part of the animal that responds well to low, slow cooking. After hours of smoking, it can be shredded into pulled lamb and made into sandwiches. Lamb ribs, just like beef or pork ribs, also taste great when smoked. Just be aware that the uniquely earthy, gamey flavor of lamb comes mostly from the fat, not the meat. Since the best cuts for smoking tend to be fatty, that means they will also taste "lambier" than leaner choices like loin or leg. If you're not a big fan of that particular flavor, you might want to stay away from lamb barbecue and stick with less fatty cuts that you can roast or grill.

Martin's Bar-B-Que Joint has locations in Tennessee, Alabama, South Carolina, and Kentucky.