Can You Eat Lamb Rare?

Lamb meat can be a tasty treat when appropriately prepared and is considered a staple of diets worldwide. Lamb meat is regarded as a red meat, just like beef, and can be a great source of protein and nutrients. 

Just like other red meats, you can eat rare lamb meat. Most harmful bacteria found in raw lamb meat will cook out when appropriately heated. A quick sear on both sides of the lamb meat should be sufficient to allow for safe consumption. Of course, whether you eat it fully rare or medium rare depends on your preference, but it will be completely safe to serve and enjoy at either temperature.

Lamb Rare

Credits: Cristiano Pinto

Rare lamb meat can be a great source of protein and minerals and can keep you healthy and fit. However, rare lamb meat can still contain bacteria on the inside of the meat, so caution should be taken when consistently eating rare lamb meat. Before you cook and consume, handling and storing the meat should also be considered.

What is Considered Lamb?

What exactly is considered lamb meat? Lamb is meat that comes from a domestic sheep that is typically less than one year old. 

Lamb and mutton can often be confused. Although very similar, lamb and mutton’s biggest difference is their age. The age of an animal can affect how tender the meat is as well as its flavor, regardless of the meat type. 

As stated above, lamb comes from a domestic sheep that is less than a year old. You will find little fat on lamb. Lamb less than 3 months old is called Spring lamb. In the United States, lamb is the preferred sheep meat and is the most popular. The most popular cooking method of lamb in the U.S. is grilled, roasted or braised. 

Mutton comes from a domestic sheep that is older than 1 years old and preferably more than 3 years old. It is higher in fat content and is darker red in color than its lamb counterpart. It also has a stronger flavor when cooked and is more popular in the Middle East and Europe than in U.S. Mutton is best used for slow cooking methods such as stews and soups as it helps tenderize the meat. 

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Most Bacteria In Lamb Meat Is On The Surface

How can you be sure that rare lamb meat is safe to consume? Most of the harmful bacteria that would make you sick are located on the outside of lamb meat. That means a quick sear on both sides of your meat that heats the surface should be more than sufficient to render it safe for consumption. 

The various lamb meat temperatures can be defined as the following:

  • Rare: The rawest form of any meat that can still claim it is ‘cooked’
  • Medium Rare: Slightly higher cooking temperature than rare with more heat going towards the inside of the meat
  • Medium: More done than medium rare with even less pink or raw center
  • Well Done: Meat that is fully cooked from the inside out

For a piece of lamb to be considered rare, you must sear the outside but contain a raw inside of the cut. Typically, you can achieve this on a BBQ grill or pan on the stove. 

Does Rare Lamb Have Nutritional Value?

Rare lamb does have similar nutritional value to its more well-cooked counterparts and has numerous health benefits when incorporated into a balanced diet. 

Rare lamb is nutritious. It is high in protein, B12, zinc, selenium, phosphorus and iron. It can help maintain muscle mass, boost your immune system, and prevent anemia. 

For example, a 3.5 oz piece of lamb offers 258 calories, 25.6 grams of protein and 16.5 grams of fat.

Rare lamb is an excellent source of protein, which is suitable for muscle maintenance and building. In addition, lamb contains beta-alanine, which assists in the production of carnosine, which is excellent for muscle mass. 

Rare lamb also contains heme-irons that can prevent the risk of anemia. It is also high in glutathione, an essential antioxidant that reduces oxidative stress and keeps you free of respiratory diseases. 

However, it is important to note that lamb meat is considered red meat. Studies have proven that a high intake of red meat can increase your risk of colorectal cancer and contribute to Type 2 diabetes. Lamb also contains saturated fats, which can raise your cholesterol levels. 

How To Prepare Rare Lamb

Lamb’s rich taste means it can be paired with numerous flavors and spices. Lamb chops are one of the most popular forms of lamb, and lamb, in general, is often roasted no matter what form it takes. 

However, lamb can be expensive, so ensuring you get the best cuts and quality of meat is important. Also, different cuts of lamb are better suited for varying cooking methods. Tougher cuts of lamb are great for stews, for example, while more prime cuts are good for barbequing or roasting. 

You can roast, fry, grill, and even broil lamb meat. However, to prepare rare lamb, the cut is important to consider. Nicer cuts such as lamb chops and cutlets are better served rare. As a rule of thumb, lamb is considered very rare at a temperature of 50C and medium-rare at 55C. 

The most common ways to prepare lamb in the United States are grilling, braising and roasting. Braising is when lamb meat is first browned in fat and then slow cooked in a covered pan. This can be accomplished on a stove top or in an oven. Dry heat such as the roasting method is better for more tender cuts of lamb such as a leg or rack, while braising is best for tougher cuts such as the lamb shoulder. 

Mutton, due to its tougher flavor, is best slow cooked and included in recipes such as stews and soups, which helps the meat tenderize. 

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If you are new to cooking rare lamb, purchasing a butterflied leg of lamb is recommended to begin. Rub the leg with strong herbs and spices such as garlic, rosemary and lemon zest, then roll and tie it. Place the leg in the oven and roast it at 275 degrees until the meat reaches 125 to 130 F for a medium-rare finish. Take the leg out, let it rest for 30 minutes Next, increase the oven temperature to 500 F and return the leg to the oven. Keep the leg in the oven for roughly 15 minutes to brown it. Then let the leg rest and serve. 

Cooking Terms for Lamb

There are a few terms to know and remember when it comes to cuts of lamb. 

  • Butterfly: When you butterfly a leg of lamb, you bone the whole leg of lamb and have a sheet of meat that cooks quicker and more evenly than other cuts. This cut is typically BBQed. 
  • French-Trimmed: A rack of lamb with its bones exposed that are free of fat or gristle. 
  • Studded: When the chef uses a small knife to cut into the meat and create small incisions where flavor-enhancing ingredients such as rosemary and garlic can be inserted before cooking.
  • Tunnel Boned: A part-boned leg of lamb that creates a cavity that can be stuffed with various food items to accompany the meat.  

There are also numerous cuts of lamb, which include: sirloin, roast, leg, sirloin chops, chops, frenched chops, rib chops, shoulder, and shank. Lamb meat can also be ground and cubed. 

Hot To Store Lamb Meat

How you store your raw lamb meat is important to keep it fresh and ready to cook. To keep the meat fresh and contamination-free, wrap the meat and keep it in the coldest part of your fridge for between 3 to 5 days. Frozen lamb can last longer if you aren’t prepared to cook it during that time frame. 

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What Are The Risks of Eating Pink Lamb

Although generally safe to eat, keep an eye out for rare and pink lamb. It can, in some cases, put you at risk for Salmonella, a form of food poisoning.

According to the UK’s Food Standards Agency, lamb chops and steaks are safer to eat pink or rare, while minced lamb isn’t. 

Salmonella is typically found in live animals’ intestines and can be consumed by humans when meat is not thoroughly cooked properly. Symptoms of Salmonella are unpleasant and mimic a stomach bug. These symptoms include diarrhea, nausea, vomiting and abdominal cramps.

Tips On How To Correctly Handle and Prepare Rare Lamb

First, be sure to handle the lamb meat safely. Wash your hands after touching any rare meat and use separate cutting boards or knives when preparing the lamb for cooking. 

Secondly, make sure you properly seal your lamb by searing it on both sides at high heat to burn away any surface bacteria. 

Also, Don’t forget to use a digital meat thermometer to ensure that your lamb has reached the cooking temperature that you desire. The cooking temperatures for lamb are:

  • Rare: 115-120°F
  • Medium-Rare: 125°F
  • Medium: 130°F
  • Medium-Well: 145°F
  • Well Done: 150°F

Because how you prepare and cook your lamb varies greatly depending on the cut of lamb itself, cooking times vary. This means there is no set time for ensuring a certain level of doneness for lamb. 

Eat Lamb Rare

Credits: photo_ reflect

Some general safety tips when handling lamb include:

  • Do not leave lamb meat on the counter. Instead, refrigerate your meat as soon as possible to eliminate bacteria growth.
  • Store meat on the bottom shelves of your refrigerator. When storing meat on higher shelves, you run the risk of meat juices leaking onto other items in your fridge. 
  • Do not wash your meat before cooking, as this can splash bacteria and germs into other areas of your kitchen. 
  • Do not thaw your meat on the counter as it could also lead to bacteria growth. 
  • Also, do not leave your lamb out at room temperature for more than 2 hours. Bacteria can grow rather rapidly if left out for this long and render it unsafe to eat. 

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What Are Popular Lamb Dishes 

Depending on where you are in the world, the most popular lamb dishes can vary. However, traditionally, lamb is most popular in the Spring season but can be enjoyed all year round.

Popular lamb dishes include Rack of Lamb with Red Wine Sauce, Lamb Chops, Lamb Kebabs, and Roast Leg of Lamb.

Lamb is more popular in countries such as India and Central Asia where other cuts of meat may be more expensive or avoided due to religious reasons. It has also risen in popularity in Australia 

What Are Meats You Can Eat Rare

You may be wondering what other meats you can eat when cooked at a rare temperature or have ‘pink’ in the middle. 

Fresh meats such as beef in steak or roast form, goat meat, and lamb when cooked at rare temperatures can be eaten at rare temperatures. 

On the other hand, ground meat including beef, pork, and chicken should be cooked to at least a temperature of well done or 160 F or higher. Also, seafood such as lobster, shrimp, fish and scallops should also be cooked thoroughly until they reach an opaque color and their texture is firm.

When Should You Not Eat Rare Meat

There are certain times when you should not eat rare meat, even if it is generally accepted safe to do so. 

You should not eat rare meat when pregnant, sick, a child or elderly with a compromised immune system.

During these times, your body already has other things going on that it needs to focus on, making it more vulnerable to dangerous bacteria. Children and the elderly could consume medium-rare more safely but should try to avoid rare options. In contrast, pregnant women and those that are sick or immunocompromised should avoid rare meats altogether. 

Also, as a general rule, you should not eat poultry such as chicken or turkey and pork, liver, sausages, and minced meat. 

Jess Smith
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