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Grilling Lamb - Cooking Tips

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Types of Grills | Grilling

Types of Grills

There are a wide range of grills available that are suitable for grilling various cuts of lamb. Some grills are designed for indoor use and provide convenience for consumers who are unable to grill outdoors due to location or climate. Grills designed for outdoor use provide a flavor to food that is difficult to match with indoor grilling.

Indoor Grills

Portable Countertop Models: The most popular indoor grills are electric countertop units, which come in a range of styles and sizes and provide a grilled or broiled flavor to lamb chops or small roasts. The food is placed on a grill rack, which is positioned above an electric heating unit. A drip pan is positioned on the bottom of the unit to catch the extra fat and grease that drips from the meat as it cooks, helping to reduce the fat content of some lamb cuts. Portable indoor electric grills are convenient to use and are easy to clean and most models are inexpensively priced.

Built-in Models: Many of the manufacturers of kitchen stoves offer models with built-in grills. Like portable indoor grills, the built-in models are convenient to use and are a good substitute when grilling cannot be performed outdoors.


Outdoor Grills

Wood Fire Devices: Traditional methods for grilling (which are still used) involve the use of a wood fire. A small wood fire is built within a ring constructed of heavy stones or metal or in a masonry structure designed to contain the fire. Before the lamb is cooked, the fire is allowed to burn down until the flames are small and the embers are glowing. A grate, supported by the stone or metal structure, is placed above the fire and the food is cooked directly on the grate. One drawback with this grilling method is that it can be difficult to regulate the cooking temperature unless there is a method for raising and lowering the grate.

Charcoal Grills:
Some lamb cuts are cooked on grills that use charcoal as the fuel source. Charcoal grills are available in a wide range of styles and sizes. Some are very basic, consisting of a small cast iron container (that may be round, square, or oblong) for holding the charcoal with a grate placed on top (hibachi). Other models are elaborate kettle grills with covers, vents on top and bottom for regulation of oxygen to change the cooking temperature, built-in ash containers, and attached carts with a work surface and storage for utensils.

Gas Grills: Among the most popular outdoor grills are gas grills, which, like charcoal grills, are available in many styles, sizes, and price ranges. They are easy to use and most people like the convenience that gas grills provide. Most models have automatic ignition and more than one burner, which are controlled with a knob to increase or decrease the fire, just like an indoor gas range. Depending on the manufacturer and the price, some gas grills may have warming trays, special smoker boxes to add a wood smoked flavor to food, built-in thermometers to monitor the cooking temperature when the cover is closed, and attached work surfaces that may be folded down when not in use.

For information on the set up of outdoor grills, see Outdoor Grill Preparation.


Direct Heat | Indirect Heat

The grilling process cooks foods with a high heat source, either directly, indirectly, or with a combination of both. The food is cooked above the heat source when grilling. Grilling temperatures typically reach as high as 650ºF, but any temperature above 300°F is suitable as a grilling temperature. The high heat of grilling sears the surface of lamb, creating tender meat with a flavorful crust. The required cooking temperature and the method of grilling (direct, indirect, or a combination) depends on the cut of lamb and the quality of the meat. As with any cooking method, lamb that is grilled should not be overcooked in order to produce the best results.

Direct Heat Grilling

Cooking with direct heat is accomplished by placing cuts of lamb on a grate directly over the heat source. For outdoor grilling, the grate can be positioned over an open fire or wood burning grilling unit, a charcoal grill, or a gas grill.

Charcoal Grills

When lamb is cooked with direct heat on a charcoal grill, the coals are usually spread in an even layer on the bottom of the grill. This provides a consistently hot, even temperature under the entire cooking surface.

The cooking temperature typically reaches 450ºF to 650ºF when grilling over direct heat. Thin cuts of lamb are quickly grilled over such high temperatures and should only be turned once to cook both sides.


Gas Grills

When grilling lamb with direct heat on a gas grill, all of the burners are lit to provide a uniform temperature under the entire cooking surface (grate).

The meat is cooked quickly over burners set to medium to high heat. Thin lamb chops or leg steaks, under ¾ inch thick, should be cooked over high heat for only 2 or 3 minutes per side and watched carefully to prevent overcooking.

Thin cuts of lamb are usually turned only once during the cooking process. A tongs or a spatula should be used to turn the meat. A fork should not be used because it pierces the meat allowing juices to escape. The hood of the grill is usually lowered during the cooking time.

Indirect Heat Grilling

The purpose of indirect heat cooking on a grill is to allow thicker cuts of lamb to cook thoroughly while preventing the surface of the meat from burning. Indirect heat cooking is often done in conjunction with direct heat cooking. Large lamb cuts are usually seared over direct heat and then the cooking process is finished using indirect heat to slowly cook the meat to the desired doneness.

Charcoal Grills

Several different configurations for arranging coals can be used for indirect grilling using a charcoal grill. All are effective for grilling larger cuts of lamb.

The coals can be pushed to one side of the grill and a pan is placed on the opposite side. The pan is used to catch fat as it melts and drips from the meat as it cooks, reducing flare-ups. This is the most commonly used arrangement for the coals, which creates distinct hot and cool zones for using a combination of direct and indirect grilling.
An alternative method for arranging coals for indirect heat grilling is to place half the coals on one side of the grill and the other half on the opposite side. Some charcoal grills are equipped with side baskets, which can be used for this purpose. A drip pan is placed between the coals under the location where the meat will be cooked.
A third method of arranging the coals is to bank them into a ring around the outer edges. Again, a drip pan is used under the meat. The grill should be covered while the lamb cooks (which is true for any of the three methods of arranging coals).
Before actually cooking a thick cut of lamb with indirect heat, the meat is usually seared on all sides, using direct heat, in order to create a flavorful crust on the surface. The meat is seared directly over the hot coals. A tongs or spatula is used to turn the meat. Utensils, such as meat forks, that will pierce the meat, should not be used. When the searing process is complete, the lamb is moved to the location on the grate that is directly over the drip pan. The grill is covered and the lamb is cooked to the appropriate doneness.

Gas Grills

A thick cut of lamb, such as the butterflied leg of lamb shown on the right, is seared on all sides over direct heat before it is cooked to the proper doneness using indirect heat. A tongs and/or spatula should be used to turn the meat. Do not use a meat fork because piercing the meat allows juices to escape, which can cause the meat to toughen and dry out before it is cooked to the desired doneness. Note: Legs to be grilled are often butterflied, to provide a more uniform thickness.
All of the burners, except one, are turned off. For the grill pictured at right, the center and rear burners are turned off and the front burner remains lit (on high heat).

A drip pan is placed on the opposite side away from the direct heat of the front gas burner and under the location where the meat will be cooked. The seared lamb cut is placed on the area of the grate over the drip pan, away from the direct heat of the front burner.

The heat from the one burner is sufficient to cook the lamb, indirectly, especially when the hood is closed to hold the heat within the grill.
Larger cuts of lamb, such as leg of lamb and rib racks, benefit from cooking with indirect heat because the meat remains juicy and tender and the risk of overcooking the meat is reduced.

For more information on Lamb, see Meat - Lamb.