• What to look out for when buying lamb

What to look out for when buying lamb

Unlike households, restaurants don't always have the luxury of hand-picking lamb cuts from supermarket refrigerators. Most of the time, food service providers entrust a supplier to ensure they're getting good quality lamb products for the money they pay. But, how can you always ensure you're choosing the right cuts for the right dishes and who do you trust to supply it to you?

When we spoke to Mary-Jane Morse, Chief Editor of Meat & Livestock Australia's popular trade magazine Rare Medium, she said it boiled down to two factors in ensuring you're getting the best lamb products at a reasonable price. That is, know which lamb cuts work best on your menu and find a supplier you trust and can be transparent.

Lamb cuts

Image of four cuts of lamb

"What we've found, particularly with the younger generation of chefs, is that they aren't always trained on how to use unconventional lamb cuts properly," says Mary-Jane. "But, when restaurants are up against ever-increasing prices and changing trends, the bottom line is more important now than ever." Publications like Rare Medium are using their platform to train younger generations on how to cook with rump and forequarter chops, in addition to learning how to crown a lamb rack.

Opening up a young chef’s creative influence to every part of the animal has more than one benefit. It minimises costs, which has a positive impact on the restaurant’s bottom line, they're supporting local producers by ensuring unpopular cuts are being used and they're also upholding their responsibility for sustainability. By creating a demand for lesser-known cuts of meat, fewer resources are exhausted and there’ll be a demand for unique and charismatic dishes that go beyond the ordinary.

"Whole-carcass cooking is the future of Australian food service," says Mary-Jane. "We're seeing fewer chefs order 40 kilograms of lamb shoulder at the beginning of the week and more ordering whole lamb carcasses to use in various meals throughout the week."

Our list of favourite cuts, from ordinary to adventurous:

Lamb ribs:

Lamb ribs are easier on the pocket but are bursting with flavour. Try slow-cooking ribs in a Moroccan spiced marinade and serve with a couscous salad and a herb yoghurt dipping sauce. Running short on time? Then, why not give our juicy and flavoursome pre-cooked lamb riblets from Global Meats a try.

Lamb mince:

Another economic cut that doesn't compromise on flavour is lamb mince. It’s most often made from tougher parts of the animal but don't be alarmed; tougher cuts tend to hold a lot more flavour than softer cuts. It's perfect for a steamy shepherd’s pie day or in moussaka and burgers.

Lamb neck:

The lamb neck is oxtail's doppelganger; it's rich, marbly and perfect for braising for ragus and stews.

Lamb sirloin roast:

If customers flock to your venue for your famous Sunday lamb roast, then the sirloin roast might be the next best thing to help you save on budget.


Also known as the eye of loin, backstrap is a popular cut that can be pan-fried, sous-vide or sliced for stir-fries. It has a really gamey flavour, which balances out much of its buttery flavour notes.


Image of lamb cutlets cooked

Who doesn’t love a lamb lollipop? Cutlets have always represented decadence in the Australian dining scene, but more and more low-key restaurants are using this cut in simple barbecued dishes that help to showcase its flavours, without the complexity of marinades and sauces.

Lamb forequarter shoulder:

You can marinate and roast a bone-in or boneless lamb forequarter shoulder to serve with a side of orange, fennel and pine nut salad. If you’re feeling adventurous, braise and slow cook the shoulder for a flavourful lamb terrine with duck fat and rosemary.

Lamb rack:

This juicy and tender cut runs perpendicular to the spine of the animal and usually comes as a single, 16-rib fillet or individual cutlets.

Lamb shanks:

Synonymous of pubs and cool temped afternoons, slow-braised lamb shanks are a real favourite for Aussie diners. They're an inexpensive cut of meat that are perfect for low and slow cooking. Give them a few hours and these tough cuts will transform into tender, succulent, fall-off-the-bone shanks with real depth of flavour.

Tenderloins: Lamb tenderloins are relatively small in comparison to its neighbouring muscles, but they don't compromise on flavour – it's an incredibly tender cut with a very subtle lamb flavour. Pan fry this lean cut to medium perfection over brown-butter and rosemary and your customers will slice through it like seared tuna steak

According to Mary-Jane, “the trick to curating an interesting menu with the right cuts of lamb is all about knowing the ingredients that complement the flavours” and working those flavour combinations into different cuisines and trends. "Today, we're working with so many different origins like South America, Europe and Spain, but traditionally many of these cuisines were birthed from whole carcass cooking,” she says.

Experiment with different cuts and spend some time playing around with techniques to see what works best for your dish. "Sometimes it may not be about slow braising a harder working muscle, but about finding the best way to slice a backstrap or marinate a lamb leg," Mary-Jane explains.

Supplier relationship:

When it comes ensuring you’re purchasing quality lamb at a decent price, it all comes down to relationships. Having a transparent relationship with your supplier could help you branch away from conventional cuts and push you to explore unchartered territories. "Having a positive relationship with your supplier is a key aspect of the whole narrative," says Mary-Jane.

Make the phone call and ask the simple question ‘what lamb products do you have at the moment?’ "Have a conversation with them to ensure you're getting the best value that your money can buy," she explains. "Instead of asking yourself 'how can I make a memorable lamb rack dish?', you should be asking yourself 'how can I have a closer connection with my supplier?’.”

Conclusion: The food service industry continues to evolve as the movement towards sustainability has spurred, increasing respect for whole animal cooking and stronger relationships between commercial kitchens and lamb suppliers. Optimal transparency across the entire supply chain, as well as a healthier approach to how and why you select the cuts that you do, will ensure you're getting the most out of your lamb products.