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What Kind of Meat is Mutton?

Mary McMahon
Updated Nov 15, 2021
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In certain parts of the world, mutton is a dish that is frequently enjoyed. Depending on where you live, this meat could be a dish that you are very familiar with. If not, you may be curious about what mutton is and how to prepare it. First, there are important distinctions to make about this meat because there are some misconceptions about which animal it comes from.

What Does Mutton Mean?

Essentially, when someone requests mutton, they want the cooked meat of a mature domestic sheep. Mutton refers specifically to the meat of mature sheep and therefore differs from young lamb meat. While an animal’s age is primarily the determining factor of whether an animal is lamb meat or not, there are several notable distinctions between lamb meat and sheep's meat.

Difference Between Lamb and Mutton

Mutton is meat which is harvested from a mature domestic sheep, so it tends to be tough, with a more complex flavor than lamb, or meat from young sheep. Many parts of the world use meat from sheep in their cuisine extensively; the Middle East, for example, is home to many famous recipes that include this meat. In other regions, consumers tend to prefer lamb, so it can be challenging to obtain. In the United States, for example, mutton is extremely rare, and consumers may need to track down a boutique butcher to obtain the meat.

Where to Buy Mutton

While cooks can certainly find mutton in a butcher shop, they may also contact small, local farms to ensure the quality of the meat they will eat. American supermarkets are more likely to carry lamb, like lamb chops, than meat from a sheep. Depending on where you live, it might be best to conduct a little research about local butcher shops, small local farms, or specialty grocery stores before venturing out to make a purchase.

When shopping for mutton, you may request certain information about the animal. You might ask the butcher how old the animal was or request a certain cut. You may take note of the color of the meat, noticing a pale red or dark red color. The process of purchasing meat from sheep is not similar to purchasing pre-packaged cuts of red meat. This may bring you to ask if sheep is considered red meat.

Is Mutton Red Meat

Red meat is simply meat from large mammals. Beef, lamb, pork, goat, veal, and mutton are all types of meat from large mammals, so it all falls into the same category. While there is a stigma that encourages consumers to limit consumption of certain meats, sheep is a quality source of protein. Even though meat from sheep is considered red meat, it could be a nice addition to any menu rotation. There are several common ways to incorporate mutton in a variety of dishes. Because sheep's meat is an accessible protein source in many countries around the world, it is important to note that the word mutton can mean different types of meat in different countries.

Is Mutton Goat or Sheep

Some countries may include goat meat as a variety of mutton. If you request this dish in India, South Asia, or the Caribbean, you could receive goat meat instead of meat from a sheep. While this deviates from the Merriam Webster dictionary definition of mutton, goat is widely accepted as this dish in these countries. This could cause confusion for travelers who know mutton as deriving from sheep. For European countries and American cuisine, mutton is generally considered a product of sheep meat. It’s important to be aware that there are variations in what constitutes mutton from country to country.

How to Cook Mutton

There are several different popular cooking methods to prepare a mutton dish. These dishes vary in preparation, use of spices, and duration of cook time. Whether you enjoy a meal that has been cooked slowly for a delicate flavor, or if you enjoy a specific combination of spices, these different cooking methods may appeal to you.

Mutton Stew

Generally, mutton comes from a sheep that is over two years of age, not a younger animal. The sheep may be male or female, although meat from rams can be extremely gamy due to their hormonal balance. The meat is tougher because the animal is older, but it also has a more developed flavor. Since sheep's meat is so tough, it needs to be cooked carefully; it benefits from long, slow simmering which will make it extremely tender while bringing out the flavor.

Lamb, on the other hand, comes from a sheep which is less than one year old. In many countries, the bulk of the available lamb on the market is from sheep under six months of age. Because the animal is so young, lamb is extremely tender, and it can be prepared in a wide range of ways; lamb often tastes better than rare, however. Many people who express distaste for lamb have experienced overcooked lamb which tends to be bland, dry, and chewy.

Mutton Mixed with Hoggett

In some countries, meat from sheep between one and two years of age is called hoggett. Because these sheep are of an intermediate age, hoggett is not as tender as lamb, but not as tough as mutton, either. Some recipes call specifically for hoggett, while other cooks may prefer it because it mixes a bit of the best of both meats.

Mutton is an efficient food, because it takes advantage of the myriad uses of sheep. A sheep used for its meat may first be used for wool and milk, or to produce lambs to strengthen the herd. As sheep age and become less economically valuable, they can be converted to mutton.

Mutton Curry and Roasted Mutton

Mutton stew or curry is a common dish in middle eastern cuisine. Since stews and curries lend themselves well to slow cooking, mutton is an ideal meat for them. It may also be roasted, although the roasting needs to be performed at a low temperature to keep the meat tender as it cooks. Many Indian dishes feature mutton, because beef is not eaten in most of India.

It pairs particularly well with the heavy spices used in a great deal of Indian cuisine, and it can be roosted in tandoori ovens, slowly simmered in curries, or even fried in some dishes. Whether you prefer the stronger flavor of mutton curry or the milder flavor of mutton mixed with tender cuts of hoggett, mutton is a versatile dish that varies based on the preparation process.

If cooking with sheep's meat is new for you, there are some terms that include the word mutton that can create confusion for anyone new to cooking with mutton. Because mutton is a term used globally, there are bound to be instances of confusion caused by variations in the use of the word mutton. When you hear the words mutton chops or mutton busting, these terms do not commonly refer to sheep’s meat or a meal prepared with sheep’s meat.

Mutton chops

While mutton chops are in fact different parts of sheep, including the loins, tenderloins, and belly flap, the frequently used term “mutton chops'' does not exclusively refer to cooking with sheep's meat. Instead, mutton chops can also refer to sideburns, or facial hair, that men grow. This can create confusion if a person is unfamiliar with the cuts or variety of sheep meat.

Mutton Busting

Mutton busting involves young children racing or riding sheep. This practice frequently occurs at rodeos or similar events. It is estimated that thousands of children participate in the event each year. While it is an accepted form of entertainment, the practice has been banned in New York and California. Mutton busting involves sheep but in no way indicates any association with cooking mutton or sheep meat.

Ultimately, cooking with mutton can include a variety of methods, cuts of adult sheep, and cooking times. These variations allow cooks to use sheep's meat in a way that best suits their individual palates and tastes. While mutton has a more complex flavor than lamb, it can be equally enjoyable.

DelightedCooking is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a DelightedCooking researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments

By anon177570 — On May 18, 2011

In my eating experience (which comprises 16 breeds of sheep) the breed determines gaminess way more than age. We just butchered 2 two-year-old Cotswold (the breed) rams and they're far less gamy than lamb of most commercial breeds. The lamb from Cotswold and Icelandic is simply non-gamy and is much like beef, only way tenderer and more "buttery."

By anon156945 — On Mar 01, 2011

Mouton = French for sheep.

Pretty much all culinary terms for meat in English come from French.

By anon156865 — On Feb 28, 2011

What does mutton look like?

By anon141023 — On Jan 09, 2011

Jamaicans refer to goat meat as 'mutton'. We do, however, know that 'mutton' refers to sheep meat, but we rarely (if ever) eat sheep meat.

By anon134071 — On Dec 13, 2010

Probably from the french word "mouton", meaning sheep.

By anon89923 — On Jun 13, 2010

As a foreigner living in India for the past three years I have seen mutton on the menu in nearly every restaurant I have been in. It was only a few weeks ago that I found out that mutton, here in south India, means goat. Which in the end only makes sense, since I have never seen a single lamb!

By lokithebeak — On Feb 28, 2010

Why is it called mutton? The word alone doesn't sound very edible.

I would like to try it though, especially in an authentic Indian curry.

Mary McMahon

Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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