According to food safety experts, you should only be eating lamb cooked medium or more. Here’s why.
Grassy in odor and gamey in taste, lamb is a real favorite among carnivores, and a delicacy in quite a few cuisines. As with all other meats, caution should be taken when preparing lamb to make sure it is cooked thoroughly, no matter the cooking method.
The reason behind that is simple: Any type of meat that’s undercooked can, and very often does, harbor harmful bacteria that can give you food poisoning, as well as parasites that can make you sick.
For the prudent cook, this can’t help but beg the question: Should lamb be cooked to medium-rare, regardless of what the recipe instructs you to do or Auth Ruth insists on?
According to the USDA, lamb should be cooked to an internal temperature of 145°F (63°C) and no less. This would leave the meat closer to medium than medium-rare. It also kills the bacteria and parasites that cause food poisoning, which hospitalizes 128,000 Americans each year.
As long as the lamb hasn’t been ground or minced, it is safe to consume at 145°F (63°C). If it has, then that is a different story—and it should be cooked to an internal temperature of 165°F (74°C). Bacteria live on the surface of meat. Once it is ground up, that bacteria can contaminate an entire batch in the factory.
Is It Safe to Eat Lamb Medium-Rare?
Is it safe to eat lamb cooked medium-rare or not? This question can quickly be answered by following the USDA guidelines:
It isn’t safe to eat lamb cooked medium-rare. The USDA, the authority on food safety stateside, recommends cooking it to a minimum internal temperature of 145°F (63°C) when whole and 165°F (74°C) when ground.
When the lamb has been cooked to this internal temperature, it’s safe to assume the bacteria on the surface and the parasites inside it have been killed. Thus, the lamb is safe to human consumption, especially for the eater with a weakened immune system.
Some people may think that, by cooking their lamb medium-rare or below that temperature, they can rid themselves of this concern and eat their food with a lower risk of getting sick.
Unfortunately, eating undercooked meat also poses its own health risks because it leaves in harmful toxins left behind by the bacteria and increases one’s chances of contracting a food-borne illness.
The USDA Guidelines on Cooking Lamb
Consuming lamb rare or medium-rare can be dangerous because it has been linked with Toxoplasma gondii (T. gondii), a type of parasitic illness.
This parasite can cause toxoplasmosis, which can damage the brain, the eyes, or other organons of vital importance for the good functioning of the body. The consumption of this form of lamb is also dangerous because it has been linked to Escherichia coli (E. coli).
E. coli is the name for a group of bacteria that typically live inside our body, but can become harmful if found outside the bowel and enter the bloodstream through various openings in your digestive system—the mouth.
This breed of bacteria is responsible for causing food-borne illness with symptoms such as diarrhea, urinary tract infection, respiratory disease, pneumonia, and disorders in the central nervous system.
The CDC Guidelines on Cooking Lamb
The recommendation of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), which backs up that of the USDA, to cook all types of red meat, including beef, pork, lamb, and veal, to a minimum internal temperature of 145°F (63°C).
These guidelines are set in place to ensure that consumers are not exposed to harmful bacteria, which can cause infections or food-borne illnesses if they are consumed.
When it comes to food poisoning, the CDC keeps track of all the cases. It estimates that, every year, 48 million Americans contract food poisoning. Of them, 128,000 get hospitalized and 3,000 die.
The Dangers of Eating Undercooked Meat
Eating undercooked meat, including lamb, can expose individuals to harmful bacteria and the toxins that they produce, increasing their chances of contracting a food-borne illness.
Another primary concern in undercooked red meat is trichinosis, caused by a parasitic roundworm in the raw and insufficiently heated flesh of various types of animals. It can be contracted when consumers eat or drink something that has been contaminated by the roundworm’s larvae.
The Canadian Food Inspection Agency recommends cooking all kinds of wild game and pork products—including ham, hot dogs, and sausages—to a minimum internal temperature of 160°F (71°C). Individuals should be aware that pork can still carry the Trichinella parasite, which is killed at 137°F (59°C).
Another dangerous toxin found in undercooked meats is Listeria monocytogenes, which causes listeriosis, an infection caused by eating food contaminated with this bacterium.
The CDC reports that lamb can also carry Listeria monocytogenes on its surface and muscle tissue; that said, lamb should be cooked thoroughly to its recommended temperature.
Getting an Accurate Reading with a Meat Thermometer
The only reliable way to test lamb for doneness is to use a meat thermometer. You can achieve this by sticking the point in the middle of the cut of lamb. The other methods are cooking time and pressing the meat to see if it’s firm, but both are approximate.
If you’re looking to cook your lamb based on time rather than temperature and the fastest way possible, then allow 8-10 minutes of cooking for every pound of meat in a 425°F (220°C) oven.
However, variations in the oven’s heat and the meat’s thickness may affect this rule of thumb. For instance, gas ovens heat less evenly than electric ovens do, and not every electric oven has convection. Typically, meat is thicker in some areas and thicker in others; these areas will cook unevenly.
Press to Test for Doneness
Another way to test if lamb is finished cooking is to press the meat: When it is ready, it will feel firm. The firmer it feels, the more cooked it is.
Medium-rare lamb will be a bit squishy in the center when pressed with your finger, while medium lamb will not give in at all. Well-done pieces of lamb will feel very stiff and rigid, which is what you do not want.
Cut and Check the Color of the Meat
The interior color of the lamb is another cue for its doneness. However, it requires you to cut the meat, which leads to the loss of juices. This method is seldom reliable, and it should never be used on its own to judge the meat’s doneness.
- Rare meat is 90% shiny red to dark pink in the middle and has a 10% gray ring;
- Medium-rare meat is 75% pink in the middle with a 20% gray ring;
- Medium meat is 50% light pink in the middle with a 50% gray ring;
- Medium-well meat is 25% pale pink in the middle with a 75% gray ring;
- Well-done meat is matte gray all over.
How to Cook Lamb to Perfection
We have guidance for your for how to cook lamb to perfection. All you need is fresh meat, a hot oven, a roasting pan, and a meat thermometer. Oh, and the secret ingredient in every recipe: good ol’ patience.
Consider the cut of lamb that you are about to cook and, if necessary, adjust cooking times and temperature. For example, it takes more time to cook lamb legs than it does lamb chops. Thicker cuts of meat are best cooked low and slow; thinner cuts of meat hot and quick.
How to cook lamb like a restaurant:
Step 1: Heat your oven to 375-425° (190-220°C), depending on the thickness of the cut, for 30 minutes. When you put the meat inside the oven, you want the air scorching and the walls radiating heat.
Step 2: Rub the lamb all over with an abundance of kosher salt and freshly cracked black pepper. Lay it on a roasting pan with a wire rack and fill the pan with a good amount of water so that the lamb comes out juicy and tender.
Step 3: Roast for 30-40 minutes (thinner pieces of meat cook faster, their thicker counterparts slower). Halfway through the cooking time, check the water level in the roasting pot and add water if need be.
Step 4: Check the internal temperature of the lamb by inserting the tip of your meat thermometer ½ inch into the thickest part and waiting 2-3 seconds to get an accurate reading. When the thermometer reads 145°F (63°C), it is done.
Step 5: Remove from the oven and rest for 5 to 10 minutes. During that time, the lamb will finish cooking in its residual heat and the juices will settle. As a result, the meat will be juicier and more tender when cut.
Step 6: Serve and enjoy the outcome of your cooking project!
Summing Up the Importance of Thoroughly Cooking Lamb
The option is yours as to the slow or fast cooking in the oven. Most people go for the rare side of meat because of the tenderness. That said, you should always ask yourself, is it worth the risk?
We hope you have found this information helpful, and we hope you see perfection in cooking the cut of the lamb of your choice. That is the proper way of cooking at home! The main thing is to follow the guidelines and cook it with your health and your loved ones in mind.