Selecting, Seasoning, and Grilling Lamb Chops

A tender and succulent spring tradition

Grilled lamb chops with pilau

Burcu Atalay Tankut / Getty Images

The coming of spring not only heralds the beginning of the outdoor cooking season, but it is also the traditional season of lamb. Ritualistically, I set aside one weekend every spring to grill lamb. Sometimes it's a leg or a rack, but frequently it's a pile of lamb chops. Of course, I always get the same excuses when I invite friends and family for this dinner. The truth is that most people think lamb has too strong a flavor. Many will tell you that they just don't like it. The average American eats less than one pound of lamb per year.

The real truth is that if most people had a taste of a good, properly cooked lamb chop, they would change their tune. I invite you to join me this year and try a good, grilled lamb chop. I bet you'll become a regular follower of this tradition. Here's how:

Selecting: Start by selecting the right chop. This requires a careful examination of the label and possibly a short conversation with a butcher. What you are looking for is a loin, rib or sirloin chop. If you get a shoulder or leg chop you'll need to use a marinade to make it tender. The chops you choose should have a light red, finely textured meat with smooth, white fat. Marbling is not as important with lamb as it is with beef, but the fat on your chops should be evenly distributed. Also, the chops should be a little bit more than an inch thick.

Flavor: The second thing you need to do is select your flavors. Lamb is excellent when seasoned with garlic, rosemary, thyme, oregano, savory, fennel, and mustard. Any rub, marinade, or sauce made with these will enhance the flavor of your lamb chops. Begin with a thin coating of olive oil and then a light sprinkling of seasonings, but you don't need to go overboard. You don't want to cover the flavor of the meat—you only want to add to it.

Grilling: Lamb chops should be grilled on a covered grill over a medium-high heat. Ideally, you should grill them to medium rare or medium. There are few things worse than a dried out, over-cooked lamb chop, so keep a close eye on them and remove the chops from the grill when you reach an internal temperature of 140 F. And as always, let the meat rest for a few minutes before you serve it; in this case, five minutes will be good.