Lamb chops are cut from the rib racks of lamb, from the loin or from the shoulder, while racks of lamb are always a portion of the rib section. The meat from both cuts come from a sheep that is less than 1 year old, with the meat from younger lambs paler pink than meat from older lambs, whose meat is more pinkish-red. The two cuts differ not only in location on the animal, but also in how you cook them.
Here a Chop, There a Chop
Rib chops are just that -- individual portions cut from the rib, with part of the rib bone left on. Frenched rib chops, as well as Frenched racks, have all the meat trimmed from the end of the rib itself, leaving a bare bone. Loin chops, the most tender chops, are those taken from the section of the lamb behind the rib cuts, but before the legs. Arm or shoulder chops come from the section in front of the ribs.
Rack 'em Up
Rack of lamb are unseparated pieces of the lamb's rib section, which is located behind the shoulder and in front of the loin, or midsection. You'll find racks of lamb typically with eight ribs, but you or your butcher can cut them into smaller sections as well. When you tie two racks of ribs together in a circle, you form what is called a crown roast.
Into Your Grocery Cart
Lamb chops and racks are expensive cuts of meat. Their actual cost varies depending on where you live, with loin chops costing more than rib chops and both costing more per pound than a rack of lamb. Choose chops and racks with lighter meat and white rather than yellowed fat to ensure that the lamb is young. And choose a rack of lamb that weights less than 1 1/2 pounds, another indicator of a younger animal.
Turn Up the Heat
Broil, grill or pan-fry all types of chops from 7 to 15 minutes depending on their thickness, and roast racks at 500 Fahrenheit for 15 to 20 minutes. The U.S. Department of Agriculture recommends that you cook lamb until it reaches 145 degrees F on an instant-read meat thermometer, but at 125 F the meat will be done if you prefer it rare. Let chops and racks rest before serving so the meat juices reabsorb, 3 to 5 minutes for chops and 5 to 10 minutes for racks.
- The Deluxe Food Lover's Companion; Sharon Tyler Herbst and Ron Herbst
- The Cook's Thesaurus: Lamb
- The New York Times: The Minimalist; Rack of Lamb: Simple, Festive
- American Lamb Board: Is It Done Yet?
- Foodsafety.gov: Safe Minimum Cooking Temperatures
Susan Lundman began writing about her love of cooking, ingredient choices, menu planning and healthy eating after working for 20 years on children's issues at a nonprofit organization. She has written about food online professionally for ten years on numerous websites, and has provided family and friends with homemade recipes and stories about culinary adventures. Lundman received her M.A. from Stanford University.