Lamb is a common protein in Middle Eastern cooking. Some like the gamier flavor of mutton but most Americans prefer the more delicate taste of young lamb in cuts such as shoulder roast, rack, loin chops, and leg of lamb.
Whether your cooking method of choice is grilling, braising, or roasting to bring out maximum flavor, it's vital to understand how to handle lamb safely and store it properly until use.
The first rule of thumb, and probably the most important for safety, is to never allow the lamb to be exposed to heat until cooking, or to be left out at room temperature. Once purchased, lamb must be properly cold stored to prevent the meat from going bad.
Freezer or Refrigerator?
Lamb can be stored in either the refrigerator or freezer, depending on when it will be used. Lamb that will be used with a day or two should be stored in the refrigerator, kept in its original packaging, in the coldest area of the refrigerator. The ideal temperature should be around 35 F, but no higher than 40 F.
If lamb will not be used within a couple of days, it must be frozen. Make sure your freezer keeps a steady temperature of 32 F or below. Lamb cuts can be kept in a freezer for six to nine months, while it is best to keep ground lamb frozen for no more than four months.
When keeping lamb in the refrigerator, it is a good idea to store it on a plate, rather than directly on a shelf. This will prevent any juices that may leak through the packaging to come in contact with other foods in your refrigerator. Again, this is another example of preventing contamination from any possible bacteria on the lamb.
Tips for Properly Freezing Lamb
Lamb can be frozen in its original packaging, but if the lamb will be in the freezer for over a few months, it may be best to take it out of its packing and rewrap in foil or freezer safe containers for long time freezer storage. Freezer burn can occur on any meat, so to prevent this, rewrapping the lamb tightly in plastic wrap, followed by a layer of aluminum foil will prevent moisture loss that freezer burn has on the lamb.
Storing Leftover Lamb
Lamb that has been cooked can also be stored in the refrigerator or freezer. As a general rule, cooked lamb should be used within three days when stored in the refrigerator, and can be kept up to three months in the freezer.
Label Lamb With the Date
With either freezing or refrigeration, it is always a good idea to label lamb packages with the date. This way you will never be confused about how long it has been frozen or refrigerated. You wouldn't want to throw out good lamb because you are unsure of the date, or eat lamb past its proper storage time.