What’s the Difference Between Lamb and Mutton?

updated May 1, 2019
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(Image credit: Leela Cyd)

While mutton is a popular meat in the Middle East and Europe, it’s not particularly common in North America. So when you stumble across it on restaurant menus and at your local butcher, do you actually know what it is? You may have heard that it’s sheep, but so is lamb. So what makes the two different?


Lamb is sheep that is less than a year old. It is typically slaughtered when it is between four and 12 months old. The color of the meat ranges from pale pink to pale red and is generally lean. Its mild flavor also makes it versatile. Ground lamb can be a great substitute for ground beef, lamb chops make an easy weeknight dinner, and a leg of lamb is a welcome change from the usual pork shoulder.

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Mutton is sheep that is older than one; it is usually harvested at about three years old. The meat has a deep red color and is much fattier than lamb. The leg and shoulder are most commonly prepared, but the meat is tough, so it’s often stewed to help tenderize it. Its flavor is strong and gamey. Because of its intense taste, it’s not particular popular in the United States. While it’s not for everyone, if you like meats that are stronger in flavor, like duck or venison, you should definitely give it a try.

Where do you fall in line? Team lamb or team mutton?