Table for One

For Better, Juicier Lamb Chops, Use This Marinade

Lamb and peas for date nights in (with yourself).

May 10, 2022
Photo by Rocky Luten. Food & Prop Stylist: Sarah Jampel.

Table for One is a column by Senior Editor Eric Kim, who loves cooking for himself—and only himself—and seeks to celebrate the beauty of solitude in its many forms. This week: his favorite lamb chop marinade.

"My dinners at home are startlingly simple," Marilyn Monroe said in a 1952 interview for Pageant Magazine. "Every night, I stop at the market near my hotel and pick up a steak, lamb chops, or some liver, which I broil in the electric oven in my room. I usually eat four or five raw carrots with my meat, and that is all. I must be part rabbit; I never get bored with raw carrots."

Animorphing aside, I identify wholly with Monroe—especially as a solo home cook. Steak is a no-brainer when you're cooking just for one. Liver, though less popular these days, certainly has a special place in my home. (Lightly salted, heavily peppered, and pan-fried in a little garlicky butter? Delicious.) Lamb chops are harder to find, but not impossible; purchasing them might just mean that you have to talk to your butcher, since he’ll probably have them in the case or a specialty meat section rather than displayed alongside every cut of chicken, pork, and beef. This might sound intimidating, especially if you’ve had fewer interactions with strangers in the grocery store during the pandemic, but trust me, it’s worth it because…

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...Lamb chops are my latest obsession. And chops with our best lamb marinade are even better. They feel fancy-schmancy, when in reality they're even easier to cook than steak and liver, mostly because they're so little. They take hardly any time at all to come up to temperature in a hot pan (120°F for rare and closer to 145°F for well-done—I prefer the former). They also boast a gamey, succulent flavor that beef could never achieve, no matter how much you marinate it.

Not to mention that lamb, even more than steak, seems somehow more adept at gaining an absolute perfect sear every time, which means you get the best of both worlds: caramelized crust on the outside, juicy rare meat on the inside. Maybe it's the reduced surface area, I don't know, or the fattiness of the cut. Less effort with a higher culinary payoff is a no-brainer in my weeknight handbook.

The one thing you do not want to do with lamb chops is overcook them: They lose their flavor and their characteristic tenderness. But if you are, like me, prone to looking away for what you swear will be two seconds but which turns quickly into several minutes, then you might consider insurance. Also known as: a good lamb chop marinade.

A marinade serves as a lamb chop safeguard for a few reasons:

  1. It's an opportunity to infuse the meat with other flavors (in the case of our lamb chop marinade, that means, jalapeño, garlic, and mint). Though, contrary to popular belief (and according to science, aka J. Kenji López-Alt over at Serious Eats), the molecules of these aromatics are much too large to penetrate that far into the meat. They're more flavoring agents for the outside, which is why I've developed this marinade to double as a great serving sauce to go with the chops after they're done cooking.

  2. Lastly, I always add sugar to my lamb chop marinades because a) it balances out the other flavors and b) it aids in caramelization and just general deliciousness. In other words, Insurance Clause A: Even if you do happen to overcook your lamb chops, at least it'll taste incredible from a flavor perspective.

  3. The salt in the marinade, however, does travel into the meat. As Kenji writes, salt "is one of the few ingredients that penetrates and seasons meat deeper than the outer surface." I'm also convinced that it keeps the lamb extra juicy, or rather helps it to retain moisture (not unlike what a dry brine does for chicken). Insurance Clause B: Let's say you accidentally leave your chops in the pan a minute or two longer than your desired doneness, chances are they'll still be pretty darn tender.

  4. There's olive oil in the lamb chop marinade already, which means you can transfer them straight into a dry, heated skillet. Insurance Clause C: If all else fails, at least you'll have achieved less oil splatter (and less cleanup) because you've greased the meat, not the pan.

I usually eat four or five raw carrots with my meat, and that is all. I must be part rabbit; I never get bored with raw carrots.
Marilyn Monroe

So go forth!

How Long Should You Marinate Lamb

As a general rule of thumb, smaller cuts of lamb only need about four hours to sit in a marinade while larger cuts could benefit from a 24-hour to 48-hour marinade. Marinating the lamb for too long won’t do it any good; you’ll have successfully imparted as much flavor as you possibly can in this time frame. Once you purchase fresh meat from the grocery store, it should be cooked within three to five days (again, depending on the size of the cut). Marinate your lamb chops (I like to do it for an hour minimum, but you could let them sit overnight in the fridge covered in an airtight plastic bag), cook them for a couple of minutes per side, and enjoy a lovely solo supper lickety-split, just like Monroe—with raw carrots or cooked peas, depending on just how much of a rabbit you are.

Better yet, apply these rules before cooking lamb for Easter or another special occasion holiday. Don’t forget the mint jelly!

Do you have a lamb chop marinade you love? Tell us in the comments below.

This article was updated in May 2022 by our editors with even more recommendations for making the best lamb chop marinade.
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Eric Kim was the Table for One columnist at Food52. He is currently working on his first cookbook, KOREAN AMERICAN, to be published by Clarkson Potter in 2022. His favorite writers are William Faulkner, John Steinbeck, and Ernest Hemingway, but his hero is Nigella Lawson. You can find his bylines at The New York Times, where he works now as a writer. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram at @ericjoonho.


Stan B. July 9, 2019
I love to marinate lamb in soy sauce, Dijon mustard, and garlic. I don’t measure but I use generous amounts of garlic and mustard.
bunten June 21, 2019
Terrific condiment for lamb chops: mash together 1 can anchovies, 4 T capers, hot red pepper flakes to taste, and juice of one lemon. Spread some on each chop.
Gaye E. June 20, 2019
I use a high quality (Lucini) EVOO, fresh squeezed lemon juice, Worcestershire sauce, a couple of minced garlic cloves, chopped fresh rosemary, kosher salt, fresh ground pepper. I marinate the chops for several hours (or overnight) prior to either grilling (on a grill pan since we are apartment dwellers) or broiling in the oven. I often serve with Greek salad (chunked cucumbers, chunked ripe tomatoes, chunked fresh feta cheese, chunked green pepper, pitted kalamata olives, topped with my own dressing made with dried oregano, salt, pepper, EVOO, red wine vinegar) and baked potatoes. Definitely one of our favorite meals.
Gary June 9, 2019
We raise our own of my favorites is balsamic vinegar, olive oil, garlic, salt, pepper, smoked hot paprika, and rosemary from our driveway border (bruised to release oils)...marinate overnight, then bbq
Trekkdog June 28, 2020
I agree, balsamic vinegar, rosemary and garlic are so essential ingredients in any lamb marinade. Unfortunately garden rosemary doesn't grow in Eastern Idaho.
Gary June 29, 2020
Then I won't taunt you by telling you that we have it growing on both sides of our driveway...If you are ever in Northern CA, swing by, I will hook you up with some chops and rosemary (btw, we are butchering on July 3 and 10 for the 2020 year...
Trekkdog June 29, 2020
Ya I know about rosemary Gary. It filled my parents front yard in Alamo, CA. Good luck with your harvest. I can taste it now!
Steven M. May 31, 2019
Some of us, have limited space, in the fridge. My suggestion is to use a plastic bag, to let the meat marinate.

I have Sous Vide a lamb roast and used a flavor injections, of the marinade, into the roast.

Awesome taste and outcome!!!
Eric K. May 31, 2019
I hear ya on the fridge-space issue.
Eric K. May 31, 2019
Would be great to reduce single-use plastic, though.
Steven M. June 21, 2019
Eric, I hear you. I have switched over to sandwich containers and larger Pyrex or Glad re-usable plastic containers. Compared to 10 years ago, my single use plastic is at least 90% less than what is was, in the 90's and 00's. Heck, I even try to get my milk, in glass bottles, now!

On the other side of the coin, scientists have developed a bacteria that eats plastic and converts it back into raw petroleum, for recycling. My guess, this will end up in other plastics, gasoline, diesel, oil and other like lubricants.
Ana May 31, 2019
I marinate my chops in pomegranate juice, evoo, fresh minced garlic, fresh rosemary, salt & pepper. They always come out flavorful & tender. Served with horseradish & mint jelly. Yum!
Eric K. May 31, 2019
Oh dang, that sounds so good.

May I ask, are you British?
Valerie June 6, 2019
Ana June 6, 2019
No, I’m Filipino-American.
CycloRista January 14, 2022
This was an excellent idea!

While chops were marinating in pomegranate juice, I prepared ~1/2 lb batonette carrots (double the size cut of julienne ¼” x 3” or 6 mm x 8 cm).

Sizzled them in the pan & set aside prior to cooking the chops then placed on top before serving.
Cherie R. May 31, 2019
My favorite lamb marinade is the one from it takes a minute to prepare, but the flavors are so great with the lamb
Eric K. May 31, 2019
Looks delicious!
Erin A. May 31, 2019
I am so making this tonight!
Eric K. May 31, 2019
You won't be sorry!