What Is Mutton?

Mutton is making a comeback as a choice cut of meat that can handle long, slow cooking and big flavors.

lamb tagine closeup

"Everybody like mutton?" Jerry Seinfeld's date asks as she serves a platter of her family recipe on an episode of Seinfeld. Jerry spends the rest of the scene pretending to chew the mutton and then hides the meat in fancy dinner napkins in the pockets of a parka. Later in the episode, George asks about the dinner and what exactly the cut is. '"I don't know," replies Jerry. "And I didn't want to find out."

What Is Mutton?

A sheep in the first year of age is considered lamb. The meat from sheep in the second year is labeled as hogget. Any sheep older than two years is mutton. Mutton used to be a more popular meat in the United States but fell out of favor in the early 20th century when trends turned to lighter meats such as beefsteak and pork chops.

There has been a renewed interest in mutton and it is appearing on menus of both fine eateries and more casual dining spots. You can find meat marked as lamb, hogget, or mutton - these terms are all categorized as sheep meat of varying ages. Mutton has been a popular dish on menus and in home kitchens across Europe. It works well for long and slow cooking techniques and pairs beautifully with bold, strong spices.

In the early 1900s, mutton was widely consumed in the United States, but consumption declined after World War II. Mutton is making a comeback because it has lost its cheap, tough image. Farmers and butchers have seen an uptick in environmentally-conscious consumers choosing to buy mutton as a choice of meat.

Mutton vs. Lamb

Mutton is often described as having a strong, grassy taste that some consider to be gamey. Lamb is often preferred because of its mild flavor and tender slice. Is it better to use mutton or lamb in a recipe? Mutton is a rich cut of meat with bold flavor that becomes deeper when it is slow cooked. The cuts themselves tend to be larger and darker than lamb.

Lamb is considered to be a more tender and delicately flavored meat and has been more popular with shoppers. It is a sought after choice cut and can be used in a variety of recipes cooked from rare to medium-rare. It can also be prepared as ground, shank, or stew meat. The decision to use mutton or lamb depends on the dish you are preparing and your preference.

How to Cook Mutton

mid angle looking at a plate full of lamb tagine
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Get the recipe: Lamb Tagine

A cut of meat like mutton with a heft of flavor requires the correct cooking method to bring out the best flavor. Braising or slow cooking the mutton for a few hours on a low temperature helps soften it. The tough fibers and connective tissues will eventually begin to break down and help to make the cut juicier in texture.

Mutton benefits from a marinade to produce the desired results. Marinating helps to tenderize the meat and add other flavor profiles. Salt is also a key ingredient and is a boost when you don't have time for a long marinade. A quick search of recipes for mutton might use lamb as an optional choice of meat for many recipes.

Can lamb be used as a substitute in a recipe that calls for mutton? Yes. Because mutton and lamb come from the same animal, they are both available in similar cuts of meat. However, a cut of lamb can be smaller than the same cut of mutton due to the younger age and size of the animal. Lamb can be substituted for mutton in a recipe with adjustments in cooking time.


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