If you or someone you know has sworn off lamb, it might be time to consider grass-fed. Beef, chicken, and pork tend to be the all-American protein staples, but you've probably noticed that other contender in the meats section around this time each year. Spring is, after all, for lamb lovers. But before you snatch up any old joint to test on the family roast or turn your nose up at lamb's presumed gamy exoticisms, get acquainted with its milder, superior counterpart. You might find yourself straying from pork chops and tri-tip.
"My sister didn’t like lamb at all, but I made [grass-fed lamb] for her and she said it was the best meat she’s ever eaten," said Loren Poncia of Marin County’s Stemple Creek Ranch, which has been run by the Poncia family for over 100 years.
Poncia, who raises and eats only grass-fed describes the lamb as milder in flavor, compared to what most people are used to, and endowed with a vanilla white fat. Spring lamb, which is harvested from December through July on the north coast, but tends to show up in spades around Easter, is even milder.
Poncia recommends leg steaks for both new and seasoned lamb eaters because they're great friends with the grill and easy to get right as long as you know the correct temperature for your preferred doneness. Don’t overcook it — let the meat rest to final temperature.
"I like to take my lamb to 130°, let it rest, and eat it at 140°," said Poncia, who prefers his lamb medium rare to medium. And if you really want to avoid gaminess, Poncia recommends choosing cuts from the middle and back half of the animal, like the loin and rack.
Eric Veldman Miller of V. Miller Meats agrees with Poncia on the mildness of grass-fed lamb compared to its grain-fed counterpart, swears by the former’s superior tenderness, and joins the chorus that sings a stress-free life translates to a higher-quality product. Amen.
"We have a lot of customers from different countries, and they buy grass-fed because this is what lamb tastes like in most other parts of the world," said Miller. His butcher shop sells only locally sourced, grass-fed meat.
"It's like an episode from Portlandia," Miller added. "People walk through the doors, hesitant to ask what's safe to eat and where the meat comes from. I take pride in being able to say it’s all safe. If you want to know where our meat comes from, you can go to Stemple Creek Ranch, where they keep an open door."
When introducing a lamb-wary friend to the wonderful world of grass-fed, Miller’s tip is to mix it up at the dinner table, serving it alongside the usual chicken and beef, encouraging them to try something new without forcing the issue.
Try this perfectly simple recipe from Stemple Creek Ranch for a dish that lets the meat do the talking.
Grilled Leg of Lamb (Courtesy of Stemple Creek Ranch)
- 4 tbsp of olive oil
- 1 tsp of black pepper
- 1 tsp of oregano
- 2–3 sprigs of rosemary
- 3–5 cloves of garlic (diced)
- 1/2 cup of lemon juice
- Butterfly the leg of lamb and trim the excess fat.
- Place the meat in a big ziplock bag.
- Add all ingredients into the bag.
- Let the mixture marinate for at least a few hours, and preferably overnight.
- Take the meat out of the bag and wipe the excess marinade off of it.
- Place the meat on a preheated grill for about 4–5 minutes per side for a thinner cut and 6–8 minutes per side for a thicker cut.
- Take the meat off the grill and add a sprinkle of garlic salt.
- Cooking Notes: Serve medium rare.