Some supermarkets sell a whole lamb.

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The food safety rules for meat dictate defrosting in the fridge, never at room temperature.

The next-size down, a turkey, doesn't even take 24 hours to defrost. It takes either 48 or, if very large, 72 hours to defrost.

How do you reconcile these two rules? In other words, how do you defrost a whole lamb before cooking it?

  1. Is this meant for chefs who have a fridge that will fit a lamb?
  2. Are folks meant to start roasting it while it's frozen? I doubt it would cook through, no matter how gentle the fire.
  3. Do birds (turkey, ..) require special attention because they spoil particularly rapidly, and for a lamb one would get away with defrosting at room temperature? Would 24 hours do it? Would that be actually safe?

I suppose if it's October or March, then defrosting outside in some regions at +5C might work, except that the temperature outside is never constant, which doesn't help much (with either defrosting or with food safety), and that you'd have to stand guard overnight to make sure no other wild animal discovers what feast is ready for them.

  • 1
    I'm voting to close this as it has been modified to have many questions in one.
    – GdD
    Commented Aug 5, 2020 at 15:12
  • You ask: how does a pro defrost a whole lamb, how does one cut a frozen lamb to defrost part of it, and how does one cook a whole lamb. Each of those is a question @Sam.
    – GdD
    Commented Aug 5, 2020 at 15:17
  • @GdD The question is "how does a cook [any cook, so long as they can do it] defrost a whole lamb [for the purpose of cooking]?" The avenues to an answer (any answer will do) are: 1- cut it frozen, thaw, then cook 2- thaw whole, cook, then cut, or 3- cook, thaw while cooking. The OP and the accepted answer agree that there is no way for 3 to succeed. Now we're left with 1 or 2. Which one is it?
    – Sam7919
    Commented Aug 5, 2020 at 15:21
  • 2
    As the answer is already accepted, editing the scope of the question seems odd. I suggest you ask a new question referencing this one.
    – Johannes_B
    Commented Aug 6, 2020 at 2:50
  • I suspect these are sold to people who are going to have a large gathering of family/friends where the whole lamb can be eaten over a couple of days. (Otherwise leftovers would be a problem). Perhaps the supermarked doesn't care about the convenience of defrosting such a large item safely, or is catering toward a wholesale market who has large enough fridges, or maybe just has extra lambs to get rid of.
    – stanri
    Commented Aug 6, 2020 at 9:37

3 Answers 3


There is another food safe option to thaw meat quickly, and it has saved the Thanksgiving meal of many cooks: In cold water. To ensure that the meat stays in a safe temperature range, frequently changing the water is required, ideally by running the cold water tap just a bit. The meat itself will act like a huge ice cube, contributing to keeping the surrounding water cool.

Facing the task of defrosting the lamb in question, I would probably resort to my bathtub, because it is like an oversized kitchen sink, complete with faucet and drain and can be sanitized easily afterwards.

Cold water thawing is messier and needs more attention than just thawing in the refrigerator, but will on the other hand be significantly faster and needs no hacking up of a frozen slab of meat.

The rule of thumb is thirty minutes per pound of meat, but that’s really just a rough estimate, geometry, water temperature and movement and ratio of water to food will be factors.


Food safety rules are written around the ways bacteria reproduce, not around the chefs' convenience. There is no difference in the speed of getting unsafe between different types of meat (or any other type of non-shelf-stable food). Yes, the lamb is also meant to be defrosted in the fridge. And cooking from frozen is indeed not an option.

So yes, you are meant to defrost it in the fridge. You could do it whole, or you could remove parts of it while still frozen and defrost these, then cook, while the rest stays in the freezer. If you don't have the equipment to do either of that, then your kitchen is simply not ready to deal with buying a whole lamb.

I don't doubt that there are many people who buy it and defrost it outside of the fridge, they just either don't know the food safety rules or make the decision to not follow them.

  • "And cooking from frozen is indeed not an option." Why? You'd just need to make sure it cooks all the way through and has an appropriate internal temperature.
    – nick012000
    Commented Aug 5, 2020 at 11:06
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    @nick012000 OK, theoretically it is an option - in practice, pretty much any way of doing it will have you end up with parts of the lamb being hopelessly overcooked, and that's if the lamb was cleaned before selling (I have never seen these whole lambs, so I don't know if they don't still have all intestines inside). I guess you could try to get inventive and e.g. put the whole lamb onto a döner machine, but there are quite a few practical obstacles to getting it to work.
    – rumtscho
    Commented Aug 5, 2020 at 12:53
  • @rumtscho I cook whole fish from frozen, and I don't see why a whole lamb won't work, if you control the temperature. Actually I have an electric oven the size that would fit a lamb, I actually haven't tried it yet, but I imagine that putting a temperature probe inside the meat and setting the electric temperature controller of the oven for the meat temperature to stay somewhere between 60°C and 70°C (140°F to 158°F) would let it cook and not over cook. Several temperature probes in different parts of the lamb would probably be needed, I have a temperature controller which can take 3 probes.
    – lowtoxin
    Commented Aug 6, 2020 at 7:45

If the restaurant in question has a walk-in cooler (an insulated room that is cooled to fridge temperatures), the lamb could be defrosted there.

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