We’re all familiar with the dinner mainstays of chicken and steak but what happens when you want to branch out a little bit? Smoked lamb shoulder can seem a bit intimidating at first but once you get to know how to properly cook it, it’s actually not too hard.
Lamb shoulder might not be the most obvious choice for a cut of meat but it is packed full of flavor. Then, when you add in the extra element of smoking it, the result will be a true culinary masterpiece. Let’s dive into what makes smoked lamb shoulder so unique and how to best prepare. We’ll also wrap up with a few of our favorite recipes.
If you have never tried lamb shoulder, it’s best to start with a comparison. Pulled pork, which is delicious in tacos or sliders, is a cut of meat from the shoulder of a pig. Lamb should is a similar cut, only it comes from a lamb and not a pig.
Lamb should be cooked slowly because it has a lot of tendons in it that are too tough to eat on their own. Instead, slowly cooking lamb shoulder, either in an oven or in a best charcoal smoker, will allow the tendons to break down. The result is a juicy, tender meal that will fall apart either from a knife or a fork.
Choosing the best lamb shoulder comes down to size. You want enough food to feed your guests and hopefully have some leftovers. While everyone will be able to eat a different amount of food, if you are cooking for six to eight people, you should purchase between 4.5 and 5 pounds of lamb shoulder.
While lamb shoulder isn’t a rare cut of meat, it is hard to find at a grocery store. In fact, lamb in general is hard to come by. Your best bet is to head to a local butcher. Not only will they be knowledgeable but you’ll also be able to purchase the exact quantity you need.
The only caveat is that in some areas, even local butchers don’t carry a lot of lamb. And if they do, their prices can be rather steep. Take a bit to really look around. Your best option may be an international butcher that caters to other cultures. Lamb is incredibly popular in the Middle East and easier to find in areas with higher immigration populations. Don’t let the novelty of the places put you off. Once inside you’ll find helpful, friendly people that might even be willing to share their local recipes with you.
One last consideration is that you want to select a lamb shoulder roast. This will ensure you get the whole cut. If you order lamb shoulder chops or steaks, you will get pre-sliced pieces. While these are good, they won’t lend themselves to actually smoking the meat.
Fat is key for a juicy lamb shoulder but you want to be strategic about it. Even though you will be smoking your lamb shoulder for quite a while, large pieces of fat won’t render down. If there is a large piece of fat on your cut of meat, usually called the fat cap, you should remove it. Likewise with other fatty areas.
Just don’t worry about the inner part of the meat. That fat will render down and as it does, it will soak the surrounding meat with juicy goodness.
Apart from the meat itself, you should invest some time and money in the proper smoker set up. First, decide if you will be using a charcoal smoker or an electric smoker. If you decide on a charcoal smoker, you will also want a charcoal starter. Made from metal, it holds your charcoal in place and is a convenient way to ignite your fuel.
Other handy accessories include a meat thermometer, such as the ThermoPro TP27. The best way to tell when your lamb is finished is by measuring the internal temperature. For medium-rare, look for a temperature of 145 degrees Fahrenheit, and for medium, look for 160 degrees Fahrenheit.
Finally, you will either shred or slice your lamb shoulder, depending on your uses. To create super-thin cuts, try a knife like the Victorinox Swiss Army. It has a series of thin bevels on the edge which allows the meat to fall right off the blade so you can continue slicing.
As you slow cook your lamb shoulder and smoke it full of flavor, you will want to properly prepare your meat. A rub is a good place to start as it will infuse your meat with flavor that penetrates deep into the fibers as you cook.
While meat rubs can be quite personal, there are a few well-known ingredients that you can’t go wrong with.
Garlic – A true staple in any kitchen, garlic is a must-have for a pork shoulder rub. There are a few ways you can go about using garlic. You can go the simple route and use garlic powder. It is a bit milder in flavor and goes on very easily.
However, if you are a purist, you will want to crush up whole garlic cloves. Just watch out for the inner, green part of garlic. This is where the scape of the garlic grows and provides a very pungent taste that might be too overpowering for some people.
Rosemary – This aromatic herb pairs beautifully with all types of pork so it’s no surprise it should be used in a rub. Simply take a few sprigs of rosemary and chop them finely.
Salt and Pepper – Use both ingredients to taste but remember that with a large chunk of meat it’s ok to use a lot of both.
5 Spice – made of a blend of traditional Chinese spices including cinnamon, star anise, cloves, peppercorns, and fennel, this spice blend has a bold, sweet, and licorice-taste to it. While you may want a more traditional flavoring, this is a nice option if you are into experimenting.
After you have decided what types of spices to use in your rub, mix them all together in a bowl. You may want start by rubbing some oil into the lamb shoulder, both for taste and so the spices can stick better. Use a high heat oil like avocado or canola. While olive oil tastes good, it will smoke at a much lower temperature. This might not be a concern if you are using a smoker, but if you end up using your oven, it will cause a lot of unnecessary smoke.
Then, grab your spice mix and start rubbing. Cover the entire lamb shoulder, including the underside. Let it sit for up to an hour so the spices can really penetrate the meat.
Let’s get into some mouthwatering lamb shoulder recipes.
For the rub, try a blend of rosemary, pepper, sea salt mustard seeds, garlic cloves, and sweet paprika. Aim for about 2 tablespoons of each ingredient but feel free to add more or less, depending on your tastes.
Thoroughly rub your lamb shoulder and let it rest at room temperature for 30 minutes.
Prepare your smoker. If using wood, try cherry or apple pellets for a sweat taste.
Place your lamb shoulder in your smoker at 250 degrees Fahrenheit. Cook over indirect heat for eight to nine hours. The internal temperature of your lamb should reach between 145 and 160 degrees Fahrenheit.
Once it has reached your desired temperature, remove the lamb and let it rest. Cover it in tin foil to keep the heat in. By this point your lamb shoulder should be so tender you can actually shred it just by using two forks.
If you want an International spin on your lamb shoulder, start with a spice blend from the Middle East. Lamb is incredibly popular in this region, and the unique tastes are incredible to enjoy.
For your spice blend, combine 1 teaspoon of each, garlic powder, pepper, and sea salt. Then add 2 tablespoons of paprika and 1 teaspoon of ground cumin seeds and ground cloves. Finally, take 2 tablespoons of mint and chop it finely.
Rub everything together on the lamb shoulder. The mint should especially be evenly distributed for a fresh flavor. You can add the spice rub the night before, or a few hours before cooking.
If you want sliced lamb, cook at 280 degrees Fahrenheit for four hours. If you want shredded lamb, cook at 240 degrees Fahrenheit for eight hours. Either way, you should use a meat thermometer to ensure the internal temperature is between 145 and 160 degree Fahrenheit.
Remove from your smoker. Then, wrap the lamb in tin foil and let it rest for 30 minutes. Finally, serve with fresh mint.
If you prefer to spend less time on smoking lamb shoulders, the chops are a great alternative:
When you have a lot of people over for dinner, it is both economical and easier to start with a large cut of meat. While not as popular as pork or beef, lamb is tasty and there are plenty of cuts that work well with large groups. And, if you can make use of your smoker, the result will be even better. Smoked lamb shoulder should be rubbed down with an aromatic blend of herbs and spices. Then, it should be placed in your smoker for a nice, long roast. This will help break down the fat and muscle. As if my magic, your tough cut of meat will become a tender, juicy meal.