Lamb isn't as popular as beef or chicken in a lot of places, but many people believe that it deserves a place on the table, especially when it comes in the form of lamb shoulder chops. These delicious, tender cuts of meat come from young sheep of a variety of ages, are cut from the shoulder primal, can be differentiated by cut and are sold under a variety of names. With the right information, the savvy shopper can identify lamb shoulder chops easily.
As their name implies, lamb shoulder chops come from young sheep. The same cuts can come from lambs of different ages, however. Lamb shoulder chops from baby lambs come from animals six to eight weeks old, and chops from spring lambs usually means that the animals were five to six months old. Other lambs that might be used to produce lamb shoulder chops include a regular lamb, which is less than a year old, or yearling lamb, which is one to two years old.
True lamb shoulder chops come from the shoulder of the animal. In some places, lamb is usually cut into primals, which are large sections. The shoulder is one such primal. Others include rack, loin, shank or breast and leg. Knowing this is important because only lamb chops labeled as shoulder chops are actually shoulder chops. Lamb chops labeled as loin chops or rib chops come from other areas of the animal, such as the loin primal or rack primal.
Lamb shoulder chops also can be identified by the color of the meat. Unlike poultry and pork, which typically are pale in their raw state, lamb has a distinct red color, much like that of raw beef. This is because lamb, like beef, includes iron-rich muscle tissue, and the iron in the blood produces the red color. If chops are labeled with terms indicating the age of the lamb, shoppers can differentiate between older and younger animals by color. A light pink means a young lamb, and darker red indicates an older specimen.
Not all stores sell lamb shoulder chops under that name. Butchers shops in different areas and different parts of the world label the same cuts in different ways, and knowing the various names can help shoppers ensure that they get what they want. Lamb chops cut from the shoulder can also be labeled as blade chops or arm chops. If a shopper is in any doubt, asking the butcher will help the shopper get the best lamb chops available.