How to cook lamb ribs in oven, on the grill or a combination of both. Expect tender riblets with lots of flavor.
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Read on for useful information and workflow pictures (2 mins)
One Lamb Ribs Recipe – Two Ways
This is a very versatile lamb rib recipe in the sense that the same cooking technique is used with two different thermal approaches and a multitude of possible flavor finishes.
We start by slow cooking lamb rib racks using an oven or a grill. This essential process transforms the meat into tender perfection and primes it to take on the flavors of a sauce. To that end we suggest two simply scrumptious glazes that are easy to make and complement the rich taste of lamb. One is a sticky honey, fresh rosemary and garlic mixture and the other one an Asian inspired hoisin barbecue sauce.
Finally, a fast blast of higher heat creates a wonderful crust. You will appreciate the simplicity of the process and love the results!
What Are Lamb Ribs Called?
Lamb ribs are also known as lamb riblets or Denver style ribs and are the equivalent of pork spare ribs, which is why they are often called lamb spare ribs.
Typically, the rib tips are removed and the lamb rack is nicely shaped in a clean rectangular manner.
Where Are the Riblets Cut From?
Lamb ribs are part of the breast primal cut. Typically they are separated from the breast bone and then split. Ribs two to nine are usually the meatiest. The typical rack weighs between 1 and 1.5 pounds, depending on the size of the animal from which it was harvested.
Pictured below are two Colorado lamb rib racks, each weighing 1.25 pounds.
Lamb Rack vs Lamb Ribs
A lamb rack (rack of lamb) is not the same as lamb ribs.
- A rack of lamb, also known as the bracelet, comes from the rack primal. It is separated from the shoulder (between ribs 4 and 5) and the loin (between ribs 12 and 13). The rib bones are frenched and the resulting cut is known for its very tender meat. The ribs in the rack comprise the upper part of the rib cage.
- Lamb ribs are considered as part of the breast and are not nearly as tender. They constitute the lower part of the rib cage.
Are Lamb Ribs Tough?
Yes, they are. But this does not mean that you cannot create supremely soft and tender meat that effortlessly comes off the bones and is tantalizingly juicy.
All you have to do is cook the spare ribs correctly.
How to Cook Lamb Ribs
The best ways to cook lamb riblets are slow roasting, indirect heat grilling, sous-vide, smoking or braising.
The common denominator for all of these methods is giving time to the connective tissue and the fat to slowly melt, lubricate the meat and help it loosen away from the bones as it takes on their flavors. Then typically a fast high-heat finish along with a flavorful sauce or spice rub complete the job.
Where to Buy Lamb Ribs?
We buy racks of lamb spare ribs from D’Artagnan (affiliate link). All the riblets you see in the pictures of this post we purchased from that meat seller and are from young, responsibly raised Colorado lamb. We actually used to live near a cooperative in the mountains, just outside of Edwards, that raised lamb for D’Artagnan.
To buy lamb ribs near you, simply ask the local butcher or the folks at the meat department of your grocery store – they can easily special order them for you.
How to Prepare Lamb Ribs for Cooking
You need to prepare the lamb spare ribs for the slow cooking part of the recipe. We strongly recommend that you follow the steps illustrated above in order to achieve fall-off-the-bone tender meat.
- First pat dry each rack with a paper towel and turn it over so the meatier side faces down. You will notice a translucent membrane that helps hold the ribs. To remove it, use the tip of a knife to lift it and then peel it off entirely.
- Next, place the rack(s) onto a parchment paper lined baking sheet. Season with kosher salt and black pepper only, on both sides, and position with the meaty side up.
- Finally cover with another parchment paper sheet and tightly wrap with aluminium foil, just as shown in the image grid.
This style of wrapping the ribs for slow cooking in their own juices has several advantages:
- the ribs do not dry out
- clean up is easier
- because the ribs are in between two layers of parchment paper there is no danger of aluminium seeping into the meat. If aluminium comes in contact directly with seasonings on the surface of meat it can penetrate into it. The parchment paper creates a barrier which prevents that and ensures food safety.
Oven Lamb Ribs
The image sequence below illustrates the step-by-step process of cooking lamb ribs in the oven.
Making the honey, rosemary and garlic sauce to glaze them with is optional – feel free to skip the step and use your favorite barbecue sauce instead.
Stage 1 – Slow cook. Once you have prepared the spare ribs in the manner shown above, cook them in the oven for about 1 hour and 45 minutes at 275 to 300 F, depending on how strong your oven is. Check on them at the end of that time and if satisfied with the tenderness, brush them on both sides with the glaze. (If not, cover them back up and cook for a few more minutes and check again.)
Stage 2 – Glaze and finish (broil if you can). Place them back in the oven and cook for 20-25 minutes. The fat and glaze will sizzle and the ribs will begin to darken and form a crisp exterior. To make them really appetizing consider broiling them for 5 minutes or so at the end of the 20-25 minutes. Stand by the oven and watch them closely!
This is how tender an oven baked lamb rib can become if cooked properly:
Grilled Lamb Ribs
The best way to grill lamb ribs without drying them and while creating juicy, tender meat is to set up a dual heating zone with charcoals on one side (or gas burners only on one side of the grill).
Stage 1 – Slow cook. Once you have wrapped the racks, place them near the heat source, not direclty over it. In this manner they can cook slowly on lower heat. Close the lid and maintain 275-300 F grill temperature, simulating oven slow cooking.
Stage 2 – Grill and rest. After about 1.5 hours remove them from the foil and paper and place them directly onto the grill grate, over the direct heat, for about 4-5 minutes per side. Brush the ribs with barbecue sauce on both sides. Grill for another couple of minutes per side for a good crust. Move the racks to a platter or a carving board, brush with sauce one more time and tent with foil for about 10 minutes.
How Do You Know When Lamb Ribs Are Done?
The lamb ribs are done when they are fall-off the bone tender and have formed an appetizing crust.
There is no need to take internal temperature, so relax.
Whether you are oven baking or grilling, or starting in the oven and finishing on the grill – when you see that the meat has substantially pulled off the bones and is very tender when you probe it with a fork – the lamb spare ribs are very close to done. Continue with the rest of the recipe. They will be perfectly tender at the same time the outside is done cooking.
SIZE MATTERS. If you have racks from a smaller animal than Colorado lamb you should cut down the slow cooking time because they will cook faster. Check them about 30 minutes earlier – you might find that they are already very tender and you can proceed with the rest of the steps.
Serve Lamb Spare Ribs
Select the sides to your ribs in accordance with the culinary profile of the glaze or barbecue sauce you smothered them with.
We like to serve the honey, garlic and rosemary glazed sticky riblets with fresh Mediterranean salads seasoned with just olive oil and lemon juice, barley salad, green salads, couscous, mashed potatoes, rice pilafs with dried fruit, or a side dish such as herb roasted potatoes.
The hoisin barbecue sauce for the grilled version is very compatible with grilled green onions, Asian inspired cucumber salads or coleslaw, jasmine rice with cilantro or scallion pancakes.
You Might Enjoy
- 2 racks lamb spare ribs, Denver style, about 1.25 lb each
- salt and pepper, to taste
Sticky Honey Garlic Sauce
- 1/2 tbsp olive oil
- 3 cloves garlic, minced
- 3/4 cup honey
- 1 tbsp fresh rosemary leaves, very finely chopped
- 2 tsp lemon juice, freshly squeezed
Hoisin Barbecue Sauce
- 3/4 cup hoisin sauce
- 2 tbsp dark soy sauce
- 2 tbsp shaoxing wine or sake
- 2 tbsp honey
- 1 tsp rice vinegar
- 1 tbsp sesame oil
- 2 tsp fresh ginger, finely grated
- 2 tbsp green onion, finely chopped
LAMB RIBS IN OVEN
- Preheat oven to 275-300 F.*
- Pat dry the lamb racks and remove the membrane holding the ribs together by gently lifting on one side with the tip of a knife and peeling it off.
- Line a baking sheet large enough to fit both racks with parchment paper. Place the racks on top and season generously with salt and pepper on both sides. Position ribs with the meaty side up and cover with another sheet of parchment paper. Wrap the so prepared ribs with aluminium foil, tightly.**
- Slow cook for 1 hour and 45 minutes and then unwrap to check for tenderness. If satisfied, leave uncovered and brush with your choice of sauce on both sides. (If it appears that the meat can use a little longer in the oven, go for another 20 mins and check again).
- Place the uncovered ribs back in the oven for 20-25 minutes. They will form a nice crust as the sauce bubbles. You can turn on the broiler for the last 5 minutes - stand by the oven and watch closely because the sugars in the sauce can burn.
- Transfer the cooked lamb ribs to a platter or cutting board, brush with sauce one more time and allow a 5 minute rest before you cut them for serving.
GRILLED LAMB RIBS
- Preheat the grill to 275-300 F by setting up a dual heating zone - charcoals or burners on one side only, ensuring an indirect heating zone next to the source of heat.
- Prepare the lamb ribs exactly as described in steps 2 and 3 above.
- Place the wrapped ribs near the heat source, not above it (charcoals or burners). Close the lid and maintain the temperature. Cook for 1 hour and 30 minutes and then unwrap to check for tenderness. If satisfied, move the racks directly onto the grill grates over the direct heat. (If it appears that the meat can use a little longer wrap again and check in 20 minutes).
- Grill over the direct heat for 4-5 minutes per side. Brush with barbecue sauce or glaze on both sides and continue cooking for a few more minutes per side until a nice crust forms.
- Move the racks to a platter, brush with sauce one more time and tent with foil for about 10 minutes.
STICKY HONEY GARLIC SAUCE
- In a small sauce pan saute the minced garlic in the olive oil, over medium heat, just until garlic is fragrant and turns soft.
- Lower the heat to low, add honey and chopped rosemary. Let reach a slight bubbly simmer, then remove from heat. Add the lemon juice, stir and allow to steep. Keep warm. Use to brush over lamb ribs.
HOISIN BARBECUE SAUCE
- In a small sauce pan combine all the ingredients. Bring to simmer over low heat. After 7-10 minutes as the sauce thickens, remove from the heat. Use to brush over lamb ribs and as a dipping sauce.
This recipe assumes lamb ribs are harvested from American lamb, such as Colorado, which is bigger than New Zealand or Australian lamb. If working with racks that weigh less than 1.25 lbs you may want to shorten the slow cooking time as they will cook faster.
*Depending on how strong your oven is.
**Refer to the detailed pictures in the post illustrating this method of preparation.
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Nutrition Information:Yield: 4 Serving Size: 1
Amount Per Serving: Calories: 766Total Fat: 30gSaturated Fat: 9gTrans Fat: 0gUnsaturated Fat: 16gCholesterol: 91mgSodium: 1509mgCarbohydrates: 92gFiber: 2gSugar: 79gProtein: 23g
Calories are based on half a rack per person and assuming both sauces are being consumed.