Smoked lamb shoulder cooked over wood and low heat on your backyard smoker. This delicious barbecue meat is tender and pulls apart beautifully. Get the recipe today.
Smoked lamb shoulder is the perfect alternative to your average smoked pork butt or beef chuck. It’s unique enough for a special event but not so out there that your guests won’t want to try it. In fact, after a quick taste of this tender cut of meat, everyone will be chomping at the bit to try it.
From meat preparation to choosing the best smoking wood, here’s how to smoke lamb shoulder from scratch. Let’s get smoking.
What is Lamb Shoulder?
Lamb shoulder comes from the top of the animal’s back, behind the neck and head. It’s a beautiful cut of meat because pasture-raised lamb will have well-worked muscles, giving the meat a rich flavor that surpasses similar cuts, like lamb ribs or leg.
Lamb shoulder is generally cheaper than leg of lamb. It doesn’t cost as much per pound as the shoulder contains more fat. That’s not always a bad thing. Rather, you need to cook it longer and slower to render the fat out.
Because this fat is marbled throughout the cut, lamb shoulder can be very moist and tender with a rich flavor. In fact, this texture and meat composition extend to other meat cuts in the same region of the animal, like smoked lamb neck, which also has a juicy and tender mouthfeel and is best prepared slow smoked over low heat.
Since you need a low and slow cook for lamb shoulder, smoking is superior to conventional cooking in this case. A lamb shoulder does contain the blade bone, so you’ll need to cut that out before you dive in.
How to Buy Lamb Shoulder
Lamb shoulder is also referred to as shoulder chops, arm chops, and blades. These cuts of lamb contain a hefty amount of fat, which will render during cooking and deliver a juicy, flavorful experience.
Look for cuts that are marbled with rich fat throughout. And, like with any meat, the fresher, the better. If you can’t get yours directly from a butcher, grab a pre-packaged option with the best freshness date. Your shoulder should be rosy pink or red (not any darker). The fat should be firm and white, and it’s best if you can find a package marked with USDA Prime or Choice.
Before you smoke your lamb, it is essential that you properly prepare the cut for cooking.
First, give your lamb shoulder a good cleaning with warm water. Pat it dry and use a sharp knife to trim the fat. Don’t be too aggressive here. After all, the fat is going to provide some excellent flavor.
A good rule of thumb is to leave about a quarter-inch of fat. It will render as it cooks, leaving you with a good liquid for basting.
Before placing it on the smoker, you’ll want to rub your favorite seasoning on the cut. There are tons of options to consider, but a classic choice includes brown sugar, rosemary, salt, cayenne, pepper, and cumin.
Rub your seasoning mixture across the shoulder and press it into the meat. Let it sit for about 30 minutes. Doing so will help you get a nice crust and flavor.
Best Wood for Smoking Lamb Shoulder
The best wood for smoking lamb shoulder is hickory, by far. Using a hickory-flavored wood gives you a classic smoked lamb shoulder that’s rich, meaty, and slightly sweet. Alternatively, you can use applewood or cherrywood for a milder flavor and a gentler smoke.
Times & Temperatures
The USDA recommends cooking all lamb meat to an internal temperature of 145 degrees Fahrenheit. It’s best to use a meat thermometer to accurately gauge your cut’s temperature.
The average lamb shoulder is around five pounds, which means you will need to smoke it for about five to five and a half hours at 250-275°F.
To make lamb shoulder that we can pull or shred, we need to cook to a higher internal temperature to ensure the meat is tender enough to come apart easily. So, we’ll cook to a meat temperature of 195-205°F. To do this, we’ll wrap the lamb in foil for the final hour and ramp our smoker temperature up to 300°F to push the meat over the line.
Smoked Lamb Shoulder
- smoking wood chips
- Food-safe spritz/spray bottle
- 3 lb lamb shoulder
- 1 ½ cups brown sugar
- 4 sprigs fresh rosemary
- ⅓ cup kosher salt
- 2 tbsp cayenne pepper
- 1 tbsp ground black pepper
- 1 tbsp ground cumin
- apple juice
- Trim excess fat from the lamb shoulder, leaving about a quarter-inch of fat. Rinse under cold water and pat dry with paper towels.
- Prepare dry rub seasoning by combining all ingredients in a small bowl. Use a fork to remove or crush any small clumps that appear.
- Apply dry rub seasoning to lamb shoulder. Apply generously all over, working it into any small crevices or folds in the meat. Leave lamb shoulder to sit at room temperature for 30 minutes.
- While lamb shoulder sits, fire up smoker to 250°F (121°C). If you are using a charcoal grill, ensure it’s set up for 2-zone cooking. Add smoking wood chips to coals or your smoker’s wood chip tray.
- Place lamb shoulder on smoker grates, or on your grill’s grates in the indirect cooking zone (away from direct heat). Place lamb shoulder fat side up and bone side down.
- Close smoker lid or door and smoke for 5 hours, or until lamb internal temperature reaches 165°F (74°C). After the first 2 hours, spritz the shoulder every 30-60 minutes with apple juice filled into a spray bottle.
- Once the meat has reached 165°F, wrap the shoulder in aluminum foil and apple juice. Place back in the smoker and increase the temperature to 300°F (150°C). Smoke until internal temperature hits 195°F-205°F (90-96°C).
- Remove the lamb shoulder from the smoker and tent in aluminum foil. Rest for 30 minutes.
- Pull or slice the meat to serve.