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How to cook perfect lamb shoulder chops 

New Zealand lamb is some of the finest in the world and it's at its very best in spring and summer when fresh lamb has the most delicious flavour, is highly nutritious and most affordable. Buying fresh lamb when it’s in season means you and your family get to enjoy exceptional meat whilst spending less from your weekly food budget. 

Budget conscious shoppers will appreciate that lamb shoulder makes economical, tasty family meals and is a great alternative to lamb leg which is much more expensive. If you’re looking for ways to save money on groceries, buy fresh meat in bulk when it's cheaper and freeze it to cook later.


Lamb shoulder

The lamb's shoulder at the top of the leg has to work very hard which makes it full of flavour. The meat in lamb shoulder chops is not as lean as the leg. It's a fattier joint with more connective tissue and bones. The meat can be tougher than leg meat but slow cooking at low temperatures transforms it into a wonderfully tender, fall-off-the-bone, succulent piece of lamb.

For quicker mid week meals  and summer grilling, lamb shoulder chops are a great choice. They have a strong gamey flavour so benefit from being marinated overnight as this helps to soften the meat and dial down the gameyness. They can then be grilled, or pan fried before serving.

Knowing how to prepare shoulder chops is the key to great tasting lamb and we share our tips and advice below.

Choosing the cheapest lamb chops

  1. The rib chop or lamb cutlet is the smallest and most expensive lamb chop. They can be purchased as a full rack of lamb or as cutlets.
  2. The loin chop has more meat than a cutlet, but less than a shoulder chop. It's also priced between the two.
  3. The lamb shoulder chop is the largest lamb chop, the cheapest and the tastiest.

Buying lamb shoulder chops

Look for fresh chops which are 2 cm thick, a brownish pink colour with clean white marbling or fine flecks of fat within the lamb meat. The bone should still be present as it adds extra flavour. You want to see a little bit of fat around the edges which will crisp up nicely during grilling.

Fresh vs frozen meat: Out of season, you can often purchase frozen shoulder chops on special. This is a great time to buy in bulk and enjoy the extra savings.
Buying one shoulder chop per person should be enough but if you have large eaters, allow an extra chop for each of them.


Buy lamb shoulder


Storing lamb shoulder chops

When you buy fresh lamb shoulder chops, never leave the meat in a hot car or sitting out in a hot kitchen for long. Fresh lamb needs to be kept in its original wrapping and refrigerated until you are ready to cook it.

Remember to keep raw meat separate from cooked meats to prevent bacterial contamination. Lamb shoulder chops should keep up to 4 days in the fridge but check the 'use by date' on the packaging. 

Take care when marinating lamb chops

When marinating lamb chops, keep the meat in the marinade in the fridge and discard all of the marinade before cooking as it contains raw juices which may harbour bacteria.

Freezing fresh and cooked lamb chops

If you don't plan to use lamb within 4 days of purchase, you should wrap it in aluminium foil or freezer proof bags, label and freeze for up to 6 months. Thaw completely overnight in the refrigerator and cook within 5 days of defrosting.

Leftover cooked lamb is safe to keep in the fridge for 3 days. If you can't eat it all, wrap and freeze for up to 2 months, just remember to reheat until piping hot throughout.


Cooking lamb shoulder chops

To achieve deliciously tender chops, they need careful handling:

  • Remove chops and bring to room temperature before cooking - this ensures they cook evenly
  • Pat with a paper towel to get a a nice crust when grilling or pan frying
  • Either cook low and slow in a slow cooker or casserole dish in the oven for fall off the bone tenderness
  • ...or marinade for at least an hour to tenderise the meat fibres and then cook quickly in a hot cast iron skillet over a medium high heat to achieve a nice crisp crust
  • The optimum internal temperature when cooked should be 70C for medium or 75C for well done
  • Let lamb shoulder chops rest for at least 5 minutes before serving

Cooking tips

Shoulder chops are best cooked medium rather than rare or well done. If rare the meat can be too tough and if well done they can be too dry. If your lamb chops are chewy they may be overcooked or you haven't allowed them to rest before serving.

The best method to tenderise tough meat cuts is to marinate. Mix together olive oil, fresh herbs like rosemary, thyme and fresh mint, crushed garlic or garlic powder. Then immerse the meat in the marinade for a minimum of 1 hour before cooking.

Some people like to soak their chops in milk overnight. This is an effective method to reduce the strong gamey smell sometimes associated with lamb. 


Methods of cooking lamb

Lamb chops are best cooked slowly at low temperatures or quickly at high temperatures.  

Slow cooking lamb shoulder chops


Long slow braising at 150C for 3 hours in your favourite dry red wine, beef stock, onions, rosemary and garlic will guarantee you tender, melt in the mouth lamb chops. Dish up braised lamb chops with a loaf of crusty bread to soak up the fabulous cooking juices.

Slow cooking

Slow cooking brings out the best flavour in these delicious chops which the whole family will love. Taking little more than 5 minutes to prepare, your casserole can be prepared the evening before, removed from the fridge in the morning and set on a timer to start cooking 3 hours before mealtime. A simple flavorful sauce made with tinned tomatoes, olive oil, onions and fresh herbs will create the perfect liquid for cooking your chops perfectly.

Marinated, rapid, high heat cooking lamb shoulder chops

Barbecue grilling

It's a good idea to marinate the lamb first with garlic, salt and pepper, rosemary and olive oil. Completely remove the marinade and pat the chops dry with a paper towel before cooking. 
Cook lamb shoulder chops on very high heat, covered for 4 minutes then move to a cooler part of the grill for 10 minutes. Check the internal temperature has reached 70-75C before removing. Rest and serve.


Pan frying
Marinate then pat dry the shoulder chops. Take a skillet made from cast iron and pre-heat until very hot. Cook chops on medium high heat for 6 minutes on each side. Remove from the heat and allow to rest for 5 minutes before serving with mashed potato and a side dish of fresh green salad.

Roasting/oven baking
Roasting is another quick and simple method for cooking these delicious lamb chops. 
Marinate the meat in a combination of olive oil, red wine vinegar, garlic and fresh herbs like rosemary and thyme to infuse these delicious flavours. 
Bring the lamb to room temperature, pat dry, season well, then sear to brown both sides in a hot cast iron pan before placing in the oven to roast for another 10 minutes at 190C. Your lamb chops will be wonderfully juicy and succulent.
Remove rest and serve with cauliflower cheese, freshly minted new potatoes and peas on the side.

Air frying
Air frying is a super quick way to cook your chops. Spray the tray and the chops with spray oil, and place in a single layer. Add salt and pepper and garlic powder with a handful of fresh herbs. Air fry at 195C for 8 minutes, then flip over and cook for another 5-6 minutes. Allow to rest and serve.


What to serve with lamb shoulder chops

Juicy, tender lamb shoulder chops are always the star of the show and pair well with so many different side dishes to complement their sweet, gamey flavour. Combine with one or two of the sides suggested below and elevate family meals to a whole new level. 

  • Buttery mashed potato
  • Fresh green salad
  • Crusty bread
  • Cheesy cauliflower
  • Macaroni cheese
  • Risotto
  • Glazed carrots
  • Lemony roast asparagus
  • Roasted brussel sprouts
  • Red capsicum and feta salad
  • Baby new potatoes with mint dressing
  • A medley of roasted root vegetables
  • Minted baby peas
  • Using up leftover chops

    Don't waste any of that precious tasty lamb. Here are a few ideas to use leftover lamb chops:

  • Add as a pizza topping
  • Use as a filling in lamb gyros or tacos
  • Breakfast griddle - make a one pan meal from leftover meat and veggies
  • Add to a salad with creamy hummus
  • Add to a delicious vegetable soup
  • Make deliciously tasty lamb sliders
  • Save more on your grocery shopping with our Fresh Market Update

    Remember, buying NZ lamb when in season means you’ll enjoy meat at its freshest, tastiest and most nutritious. It’s the perfect way to make your weekly food budget stretch further so you can continue to eat well, whilst spending less. If you’d like to find out what else is in season at this time of year, visit our Fresh Market Update.

    You can also find more ways to save money on groceries here.