As far as red meats are concerned, beef gets most of the attention. Some people don’t even realize that pork is a red meat. As for lamb, it has its moment in the spotlight every year around Easter, but otherwise, people tend to forgo it as an option.
This guide will explore the delights of lamb vs pork—not to favor one over the other, but to help you understand the superb qualities that each one has to offer.
Lamb vs Pork
Lamb has a more robust and specific flavor than pork, which is often masked by seasonings and sauces. As a result of this difference, pork is usually a more versatile option, but there are many recipes that will only work when lamb is the key ingredient.
Lamb: The Basics
Like chicken, lamb has a self-explanatory name: the meat comes from baby sheep. In nearly every other respect, however, lamb is is a class by itself.
The flavor of lamb is quite distinctive. Earthy and rich, with fatty undertones that some folks classify as “gamey,” the meat is dark in color both before and after cooking. Once it’s cooked, however, it trades its bright red tones for a mellow opaque rosy hue.
It’s traditional to eat lamb in the spring, but we think its deep flavor makes it a great fit for the winter months as well. It’s especially good when paired with fresh herbs, which is why it’s often served with mint jelly at Easter.
Pork: The Basics
Pork is an umbrella term for meat that’s taken from pigs, but there are so many terms for the various cuts that it would take all day to list them all. Its flavor ranges from mild to intense, depending on which part of the pig it came from.
Due to the plethora of available options, pork is one of the most versatile types of meat you’ll find. It can be ground into sausage and served for breakfast, grilled and used as a salad topping, or roasted and transformed into the centerpiece of a fancy dinner.
Pork ranges from light to dark pink in color. The darker the meat, the richer the flavor. It can be seasoned and prepared in numerous ways, as we’ll discuss in more detail later on.
Lamb vs Pork: A Head-To-Head Roundup
Lamb tends to be more expensive than pork because it takes longer to raise the animals to market weight. In addition, a lamb carcass yields much less usable meat than other animals, partly because they’re small to begin with.
By contrast, there are cuts of pork that you can buy for less than $1 per pound. Pork butt, for example, is often sold at just 89 cents a pound. Bargain shoppers will be better off choosing pork over lamb every time.
As we mentioned, lamb is a full-flavored meat that requires pungent herbs or acidic ingredients like tomato sauce to offset its richness. That’s true whether you’re dealing with rib chops, leg of lamb or ground meat that’s been transformed into sausage.
Lean cuts like pork chops have almost no flavor on their own. These are a good choice if you want to experiment with bold seasoning rubs and marinades. Other cuts, like spare ribs, have a strong pork flavor that requires very little seasoning.
It all comes down to what flavor you prefer. For some people, lamb is on the menu year-round, while others can’t bring themselves to consume it even once per year. Similarly, while it’s hard to believe, some people don’t enjoy the taste of pork at all, even the milder cuts.
In general, lamb has a softer texture than pork. While cuts like the pork tenderloin are tender enough to melt in your mouth, even tougher cuts of lamb will soften up when they’re cooked right.
Remember: muscles that get more exercise will result in tougher meat. That’s why cuts like leg of lamb and pork shoulder are stringy and chewy if you cook them too quickly.
Pork and lamb are both excellent sources of protein. Both are classified as red meats, which is confusing to consumers reared on the “Pork is the other white meat” campaign. To clarify, all livestock is red meat, while poultry and fish are considered white meat.
The two meat types are also rich in iron, potassium, and vitamin B12. That means they can both be included in a well-balanced diet. Pork is slightly higher in potassium, while lamb has higher proportions of iron.
In terms of fat content, it’s a toss-up. Both contain high levels of saturated fat and cholesterol, which isn’t good news. However, pork also has more monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fat, which help to reduce cholesterol levels.
Which cooking technique you use depends on the cut of meat you buy. This is true of both pork and lamb.
Lean cuts like chops, which come from the loin primal, are best when cooked quickly over high heat. That makes them a great choice for the grill.
On the other end of the spectrum, the tougher cuts we mentioned earlier benefit from long, slow cooking processes. Leg of lamb and pork shoulder cuts, including the butt, fall into this category. See below for more info on safe cooking temperatures.
We highly recommend cooking lamb to 145 degrees Fahrenheit, regardless of the cut you’re using. When the meat is overcooked, it gets unpleasantly stringy. The one exception to this would be dishes made with ground lamb, which should cook to at least 160 degrees.
Pork chops, loin roasts, and tenderloin should also come off the heat at 145 degrees. It was once considered unsafe to serve pork at temps below 160, but that’s no longer the case as farming practices have moved into the 21st century.
However, the larger and tougher cuts of pork need to cook to a higher temperature. Spare ribs, for example, will be dry and tough if you don’t cook them to at least 195 degrees. The same is true of pork butt, especially if you want to use the meat for pulled pork.
It’s always best to cook raw meat products as soon as possible after bringing them home. The same day is preferable, unless you want to apply a seasoning mixture ahead of time and let the meat sit in the fridge overnight.
That said, we recognize that this isn’t always possible. Fresh meat should keep for 3 to 4 days in the fridge, as long as you don’t bring it up to room temperature for longer than 2 hours at a time (or 1 hour in hot weather).
You can follow these guidelines for lamb and pork alike. However, bear in mind that ground meat has a much shorter shelf life. Try to cook ground pork and lamb off within 2 days. The same rule applies if the meat has been cut into small pieces for stew.
Any meat that you don’t cook off right away can be stored in the freezer. Wrap it tightly and freeze it as soon as you know you won’t be able to cook it within the recommended time frame. Both lamb and pork should keep well in the freezer for 6 to 12 months.
The Bottom Line
Although lamb and pork are both classified as red meat, they have different flavor profiles. If you want to try making a substitution, make sure your recipe can withstand the change.
Best of luck, and happy grilling!