If you're planning a summer BBQ and want to serve a hearty and flavorful grilled meat dish that's a departure from the usual burgers, hot dogs, and pork ribs, consider picking up some lamb ribs. Rich, savory, and indulgent, these ribs cook beautifully over smoke and flame, and they'll make an unexpected treat for the carnivores and omnivores on your invite list. To learn how to find, prepare, and serve excellent lamb ribs, follow these tips from BBQ cookbook author and recipe developer Derrick Riches and Cuisinart BBQ Culinary Innovation Director David Faulkner.
How Do Lamb Ribs Differ From Others?
Lamb ribs feature several characteristics that set them apart from more common rib styles (like pork and beef). For one thing, "lamb ribs are small. A typical rack of lamb ribs (not to be confused with a rack of lamb) weighs about 1-1 1/2 pounds," explains Riches. He goes on to say that, "When we talk about lamb ribs, we mean the front section of the rib section. The back section is reserved for rack of lamb."
As far as the differences between lamb ribs and other ribs (and other cuts of lamb), Riches says, "What is sold as lamb ribs is more like pork spareribs. Lamb ribs, of course, have a definite lamb flavor and are not as tender as a rack of lamb or lamb chops. But to compare, pork spareribs are not as tender as pork tenderloin. The bones in lamb ribs are fine and thin."
"Lamb spareribs, aka 'Denver Ribs', should have a nice coating of fat and deeper color than pork spareribs," says Faulkner. Seek out a butcher you trust and invest in ribs from humanely-raised and ethically-sourced lambs.
"Since lamb ribs are small with most of the weight in the bones, three to four racks will feed about four people. The USDA grades lamb the same way as beef. For the best results, choose prime or choice grade," adds Riches.
Marinades for lamb ribs are as varied as any for pork ribs. You can really opt for any flavor combination that suits your fancy. Some cooks like to keep things simple by seasoning the lamb ribs with just salt and pepper, while others bring in Mediterranean seasonings like lemon juice, oregano, and other fresh herbs. Faulkner says that he likes to incorporate "North African and Southeast Asian influences." Because lamb has a distinct flavor of its own and because lamb ribs tend to be smaller and more delicate than pork ribs, "wet" barbecue lacquers during the grilling process might prove overwhelming. But feel free to play around with pre-cooking marinades and dry rubs to find your ideal flavor blend!
When it comes to the biggest challenge of cooking lamb ribs, Riches says, "Lamb ribs can dry out easily and become very tough. Overcooking lamb ribs is the biggest problem with this cut. Because of the small size and the thinness of the cut, they can cook very quickly when using high temperatures. Lamb is considered done at an internal temperature of 145° F. 'Hot and fast', lamb ribs cook in less than 10 minutes. 'Low and slow', they can cook for over an hour."
Read on for a step-by-step guide to making lamb ribs:
1. Season or marinate the ribs.
Start by rubbing the ribs with dry seasonings or marinating them in "wet" ingredients. For more on seasoning and marinating, see the "How to season lamb ribs" section above.
2. Cook the ribs on the grill over indirect flame for over 1 hour.
To cook the ribs "low and slow", Riches opts for grilling over indirect flame at a cooking temperature of 250-275 degrees Fahrenheit for 1-1.5 hours. "Long cook times at low temperatures are the best method for cooking lamb ribs. This allows fat to render while keeping the meat tender and moist," he says.
3. Char the ribs over direct heat for 3-4 minutes.
Ultimately, Riches likes to get the best of both worlds by cooking his ribs over indirect heat, then "I move the ribs over the direct fire to put a slight char on the meat. Usually, three to four minutes on the meat side of the ribs [is all you need]."
4. Cut and serve.
Riches cuts them into individual ribs. These small lamb ribs make perfect finger foods for a cocktail hour or can be grouped together for an entree.
Lamb Rib Recipe - By Wide Open Eats
- 2 pounds racks of Denver-cut Lamb Ribs about 2 ½ per rack, from the breast
- ¾ cup dry Ras El Hanout Spice Mix
- Preheat grill to cook on indirect heat to 250F. Place ribs on large sheet of heavy duty aluminum foil and rub both sides with Ras El Hanout Spice. Place on the indirect side of the grill and roast for 1-1½ hours until temperature reaches around 135F.
- Place on direct heat and char for 4-5 minutes, until desired doneness. Top with a squeeze of lemon juice.