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updated: 8/28/2013 1:14 PM

Lean and lovin' it: Where did our love of lean and tasty lamb go?

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Some folks love it; others can't stand it.

What is it?


By the numbers, few folks like lamb, let alone love it, and over the last 40 years we've come to like it even less.

Here's what's happened.

In the early 1970s Americans annually consumed an average of 3 pounds of lamb; a gnat on an elephant's rump when compared to the 90-plus pounds of beef that were consumed back then.

Over the next 40 years, chicken beat the feathers off beef consumption, going from 33 pounds in 1980 to 56 pounds by 2009, while during that same time, beef consumption sank to 58 pounds and lamb dropped to just 13 ounces. That's no typo -- 13 ounces.

What's not to like about lamb?

Lamb's lean, averaging 8 fat grams (3.2 grams saturated) per 3-ounce portion. A 3-ounce, lean-only serving (trimmed of all visible fat) can deliver as little as (before cooking) 5.3 grams which works out to 35.5-percent calories from fat. So lamb's fall from grace can't be about its nutritional content.

Perhaps its slide has to do with from where lamb comes?

When it comes to the differences between New Zealand and Australian lamb versus American lamb it all comes down to size, taste and price.

Imported lamb comes from smaller, mostly grass-fed lambs which produces meat that tastes slightly gamier (stronger flavored) than American lamb.

American lamb tends to come from the largest animals and since it's finished on grain it's milder in flavor and usually well-marbled (read, higher in fat).

Even though it's imported, New Zealand and Australian lamb generally costs less than American lamb.

Perhaps there's a cuteness-factor at play here?

When I first met my wife she wouldn't have anything to do with lamb. To her, lambs were cute little furry animals, young sheep. She said her mom never cooked lamb for dinner arguing that since they give us wool they've given enough. (Yet cows also give us milk and leather, so I'm not sure how she reconciled that.)

As for me, I've loved lamb all my life. I had Greek friends who made one of the finest legs of lamb I ever tasted by inserting garlic cloves all over the leg before roasting. Grilled shoulder lamb chops cooked to just pink in the center and seasoned simply with salt and pepper make a wonderful foundation for dinner. Hold the mint jelly, please.

My favorite preparation is a lamb shank slowly braised in red wine until it's succulent and falling off the bone. Yummmm.

If you don't want the hassle-factor of braising or roasting look for lean ground lamb. Grilled lamb burgers, finished with a smear of sharp mustard are absolutely delicious.

If it's been a while since you've had lamb on your menu, give my grilled gyros sausages a try this coming holiday weekend. Perhaps lamb isn't as baa-d as you thought.

• Don Mauer welcomes questions, comments and recipe makeover requests. Write him at

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