Learn how to smoke a lamb shoulder on ANY grill or smoker in order to make perfectly pulled lamb.
Plus a step-by-step “Can’t Fail Recipe” for smoked lamb shoulder including a delicious turkish spice rub!
Why Smoke a Lamb Shoulder?
Most Americans are familiar with pulled pork, which is meat smoked and then pulled from the shoulder of a hog.
Pulled Lamb is the same concept, but rather with the meat being pulled from a smoked lamb shoulder.
If you’ve ever smoked a pork shoulder, or pork butt as it is known in parts of the country, then you will quickly see some major similarities in how they are prepared, cooked, and served.
Pulled Lamb is very popular in many parts of the world where lamb is prevalent such as the middle east and New Zealand.
Becase it is a larger, tougher peice of meat that benefits from slow cooking methods such as braising and smoking, it is less expensive than a rack of lamb, lamb chops, or even leg of lamb.
Thsi makes i t a popular dish to serve families and large gatherings of people, and prefect dish to add to our repitore of great smoked meat ideas.
You get the presentation of smoked pulled pork, but, many would argue, with more complex flavors and textures from the lamb vs the pork.
And its likely most of yur Aercian guests have nevre had it befor, so its one more thing to et yourself apart at your next cooout or family gatehring!
What to Look for When Buying a Lamb Shoulder
You will likely have a hard time finding a whole lamb shoulder at your local chain grocery store. You may even have a rough time at the typical butcher shop.
Because lamb is not as commonly sold and consumed in the United States as other meats, it is common to see WIDE variations in price from store to store, depending on how much and how often they sell lamb.
Your best bet for the lowest price is go to an international market that carries a lot of lamb and serves middle eastern populations of people who buy lamb on a regular basis.
Hopefully when you find the right place, there will be multiple lamb shoulders to choose from.
They typically range in size from 3-6 lbs, so smaller than your 6-10 lb pork shoulders you may be used to.
You want to find a whole lamb shoulder, sometimes referred to as a lamb shoulder roast. Not lamb shoulder chops or steaks, which will already be sliced.
Typically, the shoulder blade bone will still be present in the roast, just like a pork butt, and sometimes you can even find a larger form of a lamb shoulder roast that still includes 4 ribs AND the whole shoulder blade.
For our purposes, stick with a simple whole lamb shoulder roast for smoking.
Similar to a pork shoulder, take a look at the fat content and striations visible in the meat when comparing.
Usually the more fat, the more moisture it will retain during the long cook, and the juicier the meat will be.
Size: How Many People Does a Smoked Lamb Shoulder Feed?
A whole smoked lamb shoulder weighing 5 lbs when raw will serve about 6-8 people.
Keep in mind it is smaller than a pork shoulder, and part of that pre-cooked weight includes the bone.
You will likely lose 25-30% of the lamb shoulder’s pre-cooked weight during smoking, so that 5 lb shoulder will leave you with about 3.5 lbs of meat, (or 1/2 a lb per person if serving 7 people).
If you are serving more than 7 or 8 people, plan on buying at least 2 shoulders.
Before we dive in, here’s a great video from Smithsonian Folklife demonstrating how to smoke a spiced lamb shoulder for pulled lamb:
How to Prepare the Lamb Shoulder for Smoking
Like a raw pork shoulder, you are going to want to trim off any excess fat on the exterior of the almb shoulder before smoking it.
You don’t need to perfectly remove every little piece, but you also dont want to leave a thick fat cap that will never render or allow the seasoning to penetrate the meat.
The best compromise is to try and leave about 1/8 of an inch thickness of exterior fat remaining on the lamb shoulder when trimming.
This will help keep the meat underneath moist during the long smoking process yet be thin enough to eventually render off.
Our favorite knife for trimming fat from of meat, along with a host of other meat and fish cutting tasks is the imarku Boning Knife.
It is also the #1 rated Boning Knife on Amazon and we think with good reason.
Check out the COMPLETE List of our FAVORITE Knives for Cutting Meat HERE.
Top Seasonings and Marinades for Smoked Lamb Shoulder
However, with a smoked lamb shoulder that we plan to pull, we would recommend going with with some heavier flavors.
Lamb shoulder is a fattier piece of meat compared to say, a delicate lamb chop.
You’re going to want some flavors and seasonings that will not only cut through the fat but also hold up in the smoker, creating a nice bark on the exterior similar to a pork butt or beef brisket.
There is nothing wrong with using conventional BBQ rubs, which usually consist of mainly paprika, sugar, and salt, howbere, lamb tends to pair better with some more exotic spice choices.
We recommend trying some middle eastern flavors such as this Turkish Spice Blend inspired by a recipe from Eating Well:
You can play with the ingredients, such as losing the mint if you don’t care for that flavor, or adding more of other ingredients.
Pro Tip: Remember you are going to be pulling the meat after smoking, so you can always ADD MORE SALT to the tray of pulled lamb at the end if needed .
Having some salt in the rub helps keep the meat moist during cooking though as well and flavors the crust you are trying to form on the outside.
Applying the Rub to your Lamb Shoulder
After trimming the fat, rub the outside with a high smoke point cooking oil like grapeseed or avocado oil first to help the spice mixture stick to the meat.
Then combine all your spices first in a bowl and mix thoroughly before applying to the lamb.
Coat the entire outside of the lamb with the spice mixture, wrap in plastic wrap and place back in the refrigerator for at least 2 hours before smoking, preferably overnight.
Should you Inject a Lamb Shoulder Before Smoking It?
Of course you CAN inject a lamb shoulder before smoking it, like we do with our fresh hams before smoking them.
But it is not really necessary.
We prefer to inject meat we plan to slice, such as ham, leg of lamb, or brisket so that you can get seasoning, particularly salt, deep into the meat so that the center of each slice does not taste bland.
Since we are pulling the lamb like pork shoulder in a big tray at the end, we can always add some more slat and mix it into the meat if it tastes underseasoned.
The downside to injecting when you don’t need to is that it adds a lot of water weight ot your meat and makes it take much longer to cook.
Some BBQ afficianods argue it keeps the meat from drying out while cooking, however, since you end up smoking it for LONGER due to the added water weight, wearen;t so sure that that argument holds up.
But, if you really want to use your new fancy meat injector, have at it and see how it goes! Just prepare for it to take longer to cook than what we outline below.
Best Smoking Wood Choices for Pulled Lamb Shoulder
I the past we have paired lamb with everything from milder fruitwoods such as apple and cherry, but also recommended stronger flavors like mesquite and hickory if you want to go for a bolder flavor.
In the case of a smoked lamb shoulder, we would err on the side of milder smokewoods due to the longer smoking time required.
While strong flavored woods like mesquite do quite nicely when “quick-smoking” some ribeye steaks or lamb chops, for a larger piece of meat like a lamb shoulder you risk overdoing it with too strong a flavor.
If you really want to incorporate some stronger flavored smoke wood like mesquite or hickory, it’s best to blend a combination of stronger and milder flavored chips, chunks, or pellets together so as not to overdo it.
Best Times and Temperatures for Smoking a Lamb Shoulder
For our lamb shoulder, we are going to target a cooking temperature in our smoker between 225°F and 275°F.
Any higher than that and you risk drying out the outer part of your lamb before the inside is all the way up to temperature.
Target Internal Temperature – When is a Smoked Leg of Lamb Done?
Like pork shoulder, we are going to to target a final internal temperature of 197-203°F using an internal meat probe thermometer in the thickest part of the shoulder, making sure not to touch the bone.
This is the temperature where the last of the inner striations of fat will melt away, the lamb will separate nicely from the bone, and be a breeze to pull.
There is something about that 197-203°F range where all the tenderizing magic happens with many large cuts of meat you intend to pull, so don’t rush it!
If you don’t have a good wireless dual temperature probe, stop what you are doing and order one now. You can’t expect to ever smoke large cuts of meat and make great BBQ without precisely knowing the temperature of both your smoker AND your meat.
Our current favorite is this one form ThermoPro.
How Long Does it Take to Smoke a Lamb Shoulder?
A 5 lb lamb shoulder will take approximately 5-6 hours to cook in a 275°F smoker.
It may “stall out” around the 150-160°F mark like other large cuts of meat like pork butt and beef brisket.
This is the point where the evaporating water content in the meat counteracts the rising internal temperature and it will not continue to rise in temperature until a certain amount of water evaporates.
One way to counteract this and BLOCK the evaporation is by tightly wrapping the roast in foil when it hits this temperature range.
Then insert your temperature probe back into the lamb and leave it wrapped until it hits its final internal temperature target.
This is known in BBQ circles as “The Texas Crutch.”
We have seen some monster briskets stall for HOURS in this range when not wrapped in foil.
However, being that a lamb shoulder is a smaller cut of meat, it is not necessarily a “must-do” to wrap it in foil. Thanks to the laws of thermodynamics, it WILL eventually get to its target temperature.
If you want to save some time, and possibly a little moisture though, it can’t hurt to wrap it.
The only downside to wrapping is softening up that nice bark you created during the initial segment of the cook.
Put the lamb shoulder back on the smoker for 20 minutes after removing from the foil to firm it back up if needed.
Pro Tip: Save the drippings from the foil you wrapped it in to add back to the tray of pulled lamb at the end.
Setting up your Smoker for a Lamb Shoulder
New to smoking?
Vertical or Offset Charcoal Smoker
Fill your firebox or lower charcoal basin with about 1/3 a bag of unlit charcoal and create a small hollowed out depression in the center where you can add your lit briquets.
If your smoker comes with a water pan, like the Weber Smokey Mountain, fill the water pan as well to help stabilize the temperature and add moisture to the cooking chamber.
Light a charcoal chimney about 1/3 way with charcoal and wait about 20 minutes for it to fully ignite. You don’t want TOO many lit briquests initially or the temperature will get too high too fast and be unmanageable.
Fill your water pan first, then add the lit briquets to the center depression you created.
Keep the dampers about 1/2 way to 3/4 open until the temperature is to about 200 deg F. Then slowly close them down until you are maintaining a temperature of 225-275 deg F.
Add 1-2 chunks of smoking wood once the smoker is up to temperature and put your lamb shoulder on.
Plug your electric smoker in and turn the temperature to anywhere between 225-275 deg F.
While it comes up to temperature, add smoking wood chips, not pellets, to the smoking wood tray.
Fill the water tray if there is one.
Place your lamb shoulder on the rack and close the door.
Fill the pellet hopper with your choice of smoking wood pellets.
Plug in the pellet grill and turn the temperature to between 225-275 deg F.
When the pellet grill has come up to temperature, place your leg of lamb on the grill grates
Never used a pellet grill before? Read our Ultimate Guide to Pellet Grills to learn why they are so easy and how to set one up for success every time.
Gas or Charcoal Grill
On a gas or charcoal grill you will likely need to use a smoker box filled with wood chips, or a pellet tube smoker filled with wood pellets.
Think you need a fancy smoker to smoke food at home?
Great smoked food can be made right on your current gas or charcoal grill.
If you are unfamiliar with these gas grill smoking devices mentioned above, no worries, we have you covered!
In the case of a lamb shoulder, we would opt for the pellet tube smoker since it will provide you with a much longer smoking time without needing to refill over and over again like a smoker box full of wood chips.
Set up your gas or charcoal grill for indirect cooking with the burners or a small amount of lit briquets on one side and plan for your meat to be on the other side.
Once the temperature of your grill is between 225-275 deg F., place your smoker box or pellet tube smoker over the lit burners and once smoke begins coming out, place your meat on the opposite side.
How to Pull a Smoked Lamb Shoulder
Once your lamb shoulder has reached its target internal temperature range, take it off the smoker and let it rest for at least 30 minutes in a large aluminum foil pan.
Like any large piece of meat you just finished cooking, it needs to rest to allow the internal temperature to even out and the rumbling internal juices to settle down and absorb back into the meat.
Once it has rested 30 minutes, it should be fairly easy to remove the bone and pull the meat apart. You can use two forks and move through the meat from one end to the other in opposing directions, yes “pulling”, the meat apart from itself.
OR, you can make life easier with a pair of Bear Claws like we like to use and have the whole shoulder pulled apart in less than a minute. They work great for pulled pork too and really save you time when feeding a large crowd.
Best Ways to Serve Smoked and Pulled Lamb Shoulder
Check for Seasoning
Once you’ve pulled your lamb shoulder, incorprate your drippings form the foil if you wrapped, ad also check it for seasoning.
If you need to add more salt and pepper before serving, do so now.
Pulled lamb can be served in any variety of ways.
Pulled lamb can be served on small buns with a homemade sauce to make pulled slider sandwiches, or on pita bread with tomato, onions, and tzatziki sauce for amazing smoked gyros.
Alternatively you could serve the pulled smoked lamb over a pasta or just starght up with a mint jelly sauce if you are a ore traditionalist.
Just make sure to serve it alongside a good spicy Australian Malbec or a full bodied Pale Ale if thats more your thing.
Thanks for joining us on our Smoked Lamb Shoulder journey and let us know how your turns out in the comments below!
What Other Food Can I Smoke?
Looking for some more smoky inspiration?
So glad you asked.
Check out some of our other great recipes of smoked and grilled food to try out at your next outdoor BBQ!
- Smoked Fresh Ham with Dark Rum Citrus Glaze
- Smoked Leg of Lamb with Guinness Marinade
- Smoked Lamb Chops with a Balsamic Butter Sauce
- Smoked Rack of Lamb with Garlic and Rosemary or Smoker
- Smoked Oysters in a Garlic White Wine Sauce
- Smoked Bratwurst with Beer Braised Onions
- Grilled Bratwurst
- Smoked Gouda Cheese
- Perfect Grilled Hamburgers
- Pellet Grilled Steak
- Pellet Grill Turkey
Trash Can Turkey – OK, technically not made on a grill but one of the most fun ways there is to cook a Turkey…at over 700 degrees in only 2 hours! You’ve got to check it out!
Smoked Lamb Shoulder with Turkish Spice Rub
- Smoker -or- a Grill with a Smoker Box or Pellet Tube
- Smoking Wood chips, chunks, or pellets
- Boning Knife
- Temperature Probe or Instant Read Meat Thermometer
- 1 5 lb Bone-In Lamb Shoulder
- 2 Tbsp Paprika
- 1 Tbsp Dried Mint
- 1 Tbsp Kosher Salt
- ½ Tbsp Cinnamon
- ½ Tbsp Dried Garlic Powder
- ½ Tbsp Coarsely Ground Cumin Seed
- ½ Tsp Ground Black Pepper
- ⅓ Tsp Ground Clove
- 3 Tbsp Avocado or Grapeseed oil
Prepare the Rack of Lamb
- Trim off any excess fat on the exterior of the lamb shoulder to about ⅛ " thickness using a good boning knife.
- Score the remaining fat into 1 inch squares to allow the rub to better penetrate the meat and let the fat render easier during the cook.
- Coat the lamb in the cooking oil.
- Mix all the spice together in a bowl and rub generously around the entire exterior of the lamb.
- Wrap in plastic wrap, place in an aluminum pan and let sit in the refrigerator for at least 2 hours, preferably overnight.
Set up the Grill or Smoker
- Light the smoker or set up the grill for indirect cooking with a smoker box and preheat to 250° F.
- Add wood chips to the smoker tray, smoker box, or add a chunks to the firebox/charcoal.
- Once the smoker/grill is up to temperature and smoke is being produced, place the lamb on the smoker.
- Insert a temperature probe into the thickest part to monitor the internal temperature. Make sure the thermometer is not touching bone.
Wrap the Lamb
- After about 3-4 hours, once the lamb has reached an internal temperature of about 150-160°F, remove the lamb from the smoker and wrap tightly in 3 layers of heavy duty aluminum foil.
- Insert the temperature probe back into the lamb, piercing the aluminum foil, and place it back on the grill or smoker.
- Once the internal temperature of the lamb has reached 197-203°F, remove it from the smoker.
Resting, Pulling, and Serving
- Place the wrapped lamb in a large aluminum pan and then unwrap the lamb from the foil, letting the juices inside the wrap to spill into the pan.
- Let the lamb shoulder rest fully intact for 30 minutes.
- Pull the lamb apart using bear claws or two forks, removing the bone and any excessively fatty pieces as you pull.
- Mix to incorporate the juices from the wrap and check for saltiness before serving, adding more kosher salt as necessary.
- Serve warm on buns, pita bread, or just by itself!