Learn how to make smoked lamb shanks at home on ANY grill or smoker!
This inexpensive cut of meat is one of the BEST dishes you can serve up after cooking low and slow for only a couple hours on your smoker.
Whether you're cooking on a pellet grill like a Traeger or Pit Boss, in an electric smoker like a Masterbuilt, or using a regular old Weber grill, we've got you covered.
Let's get started!
Especially when you are in the mood for something different.
But we admit, lamb can get a little expensive, and if you overcook a beautiful rack of lamb, even slightly, well, there's no going back and you probably just wasted a good chunk of change on some (now) dry and tough meat.
That's what makes smoking lamb shanks so attractive: They are both less expensive than most other cuts of lamb, AND harder to screw up!
Because lamb shanks are a tougher, more sinewy piece of meat to begin with, much like beef short ribs, they benefit from long, low and slow cooking like braising and smoking in order to break down all that connective tissue.
But once they ARE cooked correctly, you are left with delicious, fall-off-the-bone, tender meat that is delicious and worth the effort!
- What are Lamb Shanks?
- Considerations When Purchasing Lamb Shanks
- Best Smoking Wood Choices
- Top Seasonings and Marinades for Lamb
- Applying the Rub to your Lamb Shanks
- Cooking Temperature
- Target Internal Temperature
- Cook Time
- Setting up your Smoker
- Should you Wrap Smoked Lamb Shanks in Foil?
- Serving Suggestions
- 📖 Recipe
What are Lamb Shanks?
Lamb shanks, according to Spruce Eats, are cut from the shin, or lower leg of the lamb, and are one of the most flavorful cuts of meat on the lamb.
Lamb shanks have lots of connective tissue, requiring them to be slow cooked, such as on a smoker, in order for them to become tender and juicy.
Like many other "tough" pieces of meat that benefit from smoking (brisket, pork butt, pork spareribs, beef short ribs), lamb shanks benefit from low and slow cooking in order to slowly break down and melt the connective tissue, collagen, and fat interwoven throughout and allow the meat to properly tenderize like it never could if cooked in a pan over high heat like a steak.
Unlike a prime steak or burgers with no connective tissue that can be cooked quickly with high heat and still come out tender, smoked lamb shanks must be given extra time in order to come out delicious.
Considerations When Purchasing Lamb Shanks
Lamb shanks are generally sold individually and will weigh between 1-3 lbs each, including the bone.
Lamb shanks do vary considerably in size, especially American (larger) vs Australian (smaller) lamb shanks.
A good rule of thumb is to buy 1 lb of uncooked, bone-in lamb per person you are serving. So plan on 1 smoked lamb shank feeding about 1-2 people depending on its size.
**Pro Tip: Try to buy similarly sized shanks so that they all take roughly the same amount of time to cook on the smoker.
Best Smoking Wood Choices
Despite their smaller size, these shanks are still going to take a little while to cook on the smoker, so avoid any REALLY strong smoking woods like Mesquite that you may get away with when quickly smoking a steak or a lamb chop.
For lamb shanks its best to go with a milder fruitwood like apple, peach, or cherry.
Top Seasonings and Marinades for Lamb
Lamb shanks, just like lamb chops or a rack of lamb, pair well with classic lamb seasonings like garlic and rosemary.
A Mediterranean marinade works great on lamb.
However, because they are a little more flavorful and less delicate, you can also get away with using more intense, spicier rubs or even classic BBQ rubs you might use on ribs.
These rubs generally contain a lot of sugar that forms a nice bark on the exterior surface when smoking low and slow for longer periods of time like we will with the lamb shanks.
With a rack of lamb or lamb chop that we smoked them first and then reverse seared, so we therefore stayed AWAY from sugar based rubs so that the rub wouldn't burn and carbonize.
With the lamb shanks however, we are going to be cooking them more like ribs and never searing them, so use any rub you wish in this case!
Applying the Rub to your Lamb Shanks
It's usually best to apply your rub or marinade 24 hours before you throw the lamb shanks on the smoker.
Remove any thick membrane, sometimes known as "silver-skin" or extra fat that may be present using a good quality meat knife like this great boning knife we use all the time.
Coat the lamb shanks in a good quality cooking oil, and after generously applying your seasoning, wrap them in plastic wrap and place them in the refrigerator overnight.
Our goal with smoking these lamb shanks is to cook them low and slow, so ther will be no high heat or searing going on today.
225°F is our target cooking temperature, and try not to let it get much higher than that. 250°F tops.
Anything higher and the meat may begin to seize up and get too tough during the cooking process. You also run the risk of burning any sugar based rubs if you ever get up higher than 300°F.
Always use a good temperature probe when smoking meat, do not rely on the cheap temperature dial that came on the lid!
Another great thermometer option is the MEATER thermometer. It has a 165 ft Bluetooth capability to pair with your smartphone. The free app allows you to select the food you are cooking and will give you the target internal temperature, as well as monitor the progress and give you an estimated time when it will be finished cooking!
Target Internal Temperature
Our target internal temperature is about 185-190°F on the lamb shanks. This is the point where all that tough connective tissue has melted away and the meat is becoming easy to pull from the bone, but not falling off.
Always use a good quality instant read meat thermometer, like our favorite inexpensive one here that we use almost every day around here.
The lamb shanks will take roughly 4-5 hours to cook on a smoker at 225°F, depending on their size and thickness.
You can cut off the smoke around the 3 hour mark if you wish to go easy on the smoky flavor.
Most smoke flavor is absorbed while the meat is still cold anyways.
Setting up your Smoker
Vertical or Offset Charcoal Smoker
Fill your firebox or lower charcoal basin with about ⅓ 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 ¼ way with charcoal and wait about 15 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 ½ way to ¾ open until the temperature is to about 180 deg F. Then slowly close them down until you are maintaining a temperature of 225 deg F.
This will obviously take longer on a cold winter day than a hot summer one.
Add 1-2 chunks of smoking wood once the smoker is up to temperature and put your lamb shanks on.
Plug your electric smoker in and turn the temperature to 225°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 shanks on the racks 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 225°F.
When the pellet grill has come up to temperature, place your lamb shanks 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? Think again. 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 lamb shanks, 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.
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 225 deg F., place your smoker box or pellet tube smoker over the lit burners and omce smoke begins coming out, place your meat on the opposite side.
If using a charcoal grill, you can place a wood chunk right on the hot coals like in the picture above.
Also, NEVER trust the temperature gauge on the lid of your gas or charcoal kettle grill.
We also always use a good quality probe thermometer like this one to get a true accurate temperature reading, and find many times it is up to +/- 20°F from what the cheap dial on the lid reads!
Very much worth it so you don't end up overcooking and wasting your food!
Should you Wrap Smoked Lamb Shanks in Foil?
Some people recommend wrapping the shanks in foil for about the last 30-60 minutes of the cook, much like people do with pork ribs, in order to make then meat fall off the bone more.
It is really up to personal preference, but not necessary.
Wrapping in foil will increase the cooking humidity and cause the meat to be more "fall off the bone," however the tradeoff is you may lose some of that nice crispy bark on the exterior as your meat effectively steams at the end of the cook.
Also, if you wrap for TOO long, the meat can become mushy and less pleasant to eat.
Like all things in BBQ, there are trade offs and what one person swears by, another would never do in a million years.
So try out different methods if you wish, but we recommend if you ARE wrapping, do it for no more than 30 minutes towards the end of the cook unti you learn what kind of effect it has.
If cooked low and slow, and brought up to the correct temperature, the meat should be VERY tender and practically falling off the bone.
You can serve a whole smaller shank to each person, or carve larger ones and serve the meat sliced.
A spicy Australian Malbec always pairs nicely with lamb, either to drink or to reduce into a delicious buttery red wine sauce like in our recipe below.
Alternatively, a full bodied stout or porter pairs wonderfully if you are more of a beer drinker.
Perfect Smoked Lamb Shanks
- Smoker -or- a Grill with a Smoker Box or Pellet Tube
- Smoking Wood chips, chunks, or pellets
- 6 lbs raw bone-in lamb shanks roughy 4-6 shanks
- 6 tablespoon Olive Oil
- 3 tablespoon kosher salt
- 2 tablespoon dried rosemary leaves, crushed
- 1 tablespoon dried mustard powder removed from the stems and finely chopped
- 1 tablespoon ground black pepper
- 1 tablespoon paprika
- 1 teaspoon ground bay leaves
- 10 cloves fresh garlic, peeled and pressed, or minced
Prepare the Lamb Shanks
- Trim any excess fat and silver skin from the lamb shanks
- Coat the shanks in the oil, mix the remaining ingredients in a bowl and rub the mixture onto the shanks.
- Coat each lamb shank with the mixture and then wrap in plastic wrap, place 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 225° 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, remove the lamb shanks from the plastic wrap and place on the smoker, evenly spaced.
Smoke the Lamb Shanks
- Keep the smoker temperature steady at 225°F for about 4-5 hours until the internal temperature lamb shanks have about 185-190°F and then remove them from the smoker.
- Place the smoked lamb shanks on a plate, uncovered, to rest for about 20 minutes before serving.
- Add salt and pepper if needed.
- Plate the lamb shanks whole or slice into portions and serve immediately.