With sheep raised in almost every state in the United States and 80 percent of those raised for meat, lamb is available year-round in most grocery stores. Not only can your cooked lamb chops be pink in the middle, but they will be much more tender than if you cook them longer. Whether your lamb chops come from the rib, the loin or the shoulder, they will taste best when cooked to medium-rare or rare instead of to well-done.
The Food Safety and Inspection Service recommends cooking lamb chops to an internal temperature of 145 degrees Fahrenheit on a meat thermometer. However, chops cooked to this temperature are medium-well, gray and tough. Cooking lamb chops to a pink, medium-rare temperature of 120 degrees to 125 degrees F still safely destroys any bacteria present on the surface of the meat. Meanwhile, bacteria is unlikely inside the chops.
Coagulation makes well-done lamb chops tough. When heated, the proteins in meat break apart and reform into more tangled and rigid bundles. In other words, they coagulate. When they tighten up, the proteins squeeze out the water in the muscles, making the meat drier and tougher. Moderate cooking actually makes meat more tender because the protein bonds are broken and not given a chance to completely coagulate.
Conduction means that carryover, residual heat continues to move from the hotter, outer surface of the lamb chop to the inner, more rare portion after you remove the meat from the pan or grill. To keep your chops pink, take them out of the pan when the temperature on a meat thermometer reaches 120 to 125 degrees F and let them rest for five to 10 minutes. Their temperature will be 130 degrees F when you actually serve the chops.
Keep your lamb chops pink by the touch method -- pressing them with your fingers and removing them when the meat feels like the fleshy portion of your palm -- but using an instant-read thermometer is more reliable. For most meats, you can slide the thermometer deep into the center of the meat. For thinner chops, remove the meat from the pan with a pair of tongs and slide the probe in through the side of the chop.
- American Lamb: Fast Facts
- The Deluxe Food Lover's Companion; Sharon Tyler Herbst and Ron Herbst
- United States Department of Agriculture: Safe Minimum Internal Temperature Chart
- Fine Cooking: Spice-Scented Lamb Chops with Onion-Tomato Compote
- The Science of Good Cooking; Editors at America's Test Kitchen and Guy Crosby
- What Einstein Told His Cook; Robert L. Wolke
- Eising/Photodisc/Getty Images