A rack of lamb is to lamb what prime rib is to beef—tender and loaded with flavor. It is an investment, but if the occasion is right it makes a fantastic meal. The secret is to keep it simple, sear the lamb quickly over a hot fire, and then drop the heat to let the center roast. This will create the perfect caramelized crust while keeping the middle tender and juicy.
But before you can begin cooking you need to make sure you purchase the right piece of meat.
Picking the Right Rack
Lamb is always very high-quality meat, but the best way to ensure you're getting the best cut is to visit a reliable butcher. Lamb is graded with the same system as beef but the vast majority of lamb is graded choice or prime so you will have no trouble getting a good piece of lamb. Ask your butcher to remove the thin skin from the outside of the rack and to cut off the chine bone to make it easier to carve. The chine bone is a square-shaped bone that is present between the shoulder blades.
A typical rack of lamb will be about 8 bones and will weigh in around 1 1/2 to 2 pounds, though you may find larger since this cut of lamb seems to be getting heavier these days. On the bottom end of the cut, you have a thick, round piece of meat. On the rack, this is like a long, thin roast. (Once cut off of the rack, it is a chop, similar to a small pork chop.) Sticking up from the rack are the long bones.
A single rack of lamb is the perfect amount for 2 people so it makes a great main course for an intimate dinner. If you plan on 1 rack for 2 people you will probably have a chop or two left over for a late night snack.
Prepping and Cooking the Rack
Before you begin cooking, examine the rack of lamb to make sure that any loose pieces of fat have been removed. Dry off the lamb with some paper towels and season it with salt and pepper. Now wrap the bone ends heavily in aluminum foil to protect them; if you overcook or cook at too high a temperature these bones can burn and crumble.
Place the rack on a hot, preheated grill for about 2 minutes per side to sear the surface. You want to keep the bones up, away from the fire; place something on the grill, such as a loosely packed ball of aluminum foil, to prop up the bones.
Once you have seared the lamb, reduce the heat or move the rack to a cooler part of the grill; allow it to roast for about 20 to 25 minutes per side. You will need a meat thermometer to test the internal temperature as you go—you definitely do not want to overcook this dish.
Lamb reaches rare at about 120 F (50 C) and medium about 150 F (65 C), which is the most you should cook a rack of lamb for best results. The rack will gain a couple of degrees in temperature after you remove it from the grill, so you can take it off when it is a few degrees lower than the target. Allow about 5 to 10 minutes resting time before you carve it up.
Carving a Rack of Lamb
Because this dish is so impressive whole, you may want your guests to see it before you cut it into serving pieces (don't forget to remove the foil from the bones first). When ready to carve the rack of lamb, stand it up on the meat side with the bones curving away from you. Slide a sharp knife down between the bones, cutting gently through the meat. You should be able to see the bones all the way down along the back side of the rack.
Arrange the pieces on a serving platter and garnish with fresh parsley or other fresh herbs. Or, place individual servings on to your guests' plates and finish by adding the side dishes.