Lamb shoulder is another underrated cut of meat that I highly recommend adding to your BBQ rotation. Sure, lamb is often quite expensive compared to other meats, but its flavour is really something else and works so well on the BBQ. Lamb shoulder is also generally on the cheaper end of the various cuts of lamb on account of it being a fairly tough and usually fatty piece of meat.
It can be used as a center piece for a traditional roast dinner, but it’s not the easiest to carve and it also tends to have large bits of fat in it, which can result in one or two of your diners getting a chunk of fat for their protein.
Thankfully has a ready-made solution to this problem - pulling/shredding it. Just like pulled pork, if we shred the lamb and mix it up, those lumps of (delicious) fat are broken down and mixed through the meat - meaning no one just gets the fatty part and all the meat benefits from that flavour.
Flavour wise, I really love the Moroccan/Lebanese kebab type flavours with lamb - cumin, cardamon, fennel etc - and Angus & Oink have a great Shawarma rub that always works. I will start posting some of my rub recipes this summer as I have a couple I use as go-to for lamb.
You can see a couple of my BBQ lamb shoulder cooks over on my instagram, if you want to check out how good they look!
As usual, all my BBQ recipes will work equally well on a ceramic grill such as a Big Green Egg or Kamado Joe, a bullet smoker such as the Weber Smokey Mountain or a pellet grill such as Traeger or Broil King - no adaptation of the recipe or technique needs to change.
1. How to buy lamb shoulder
Lamb shoulder is pretty easy to pick up in the UK - most large supermarkets will have it pre-packaged in their fridge sections. As usual, you will likely get better results going to your local butcher (assuming you have a good local butcher), but you can still cook a great BBQ pulled lamb shoulder using supermarket meat, so don’t be put off.
Do make sure you buy a whole/half shoulder of lamb though - supermarkets have often sold pre-package diced shoulder of lamb, and of course, we want to smoke a single piece of meat (that said you can smoke-and-braise diced lamb shoulder brilliantly too, so if you have diced lamb shoulder that can also turn out great).
2. Preparing lamb shoulder for cooking
2.1 Trimming the fat [OPTIONAL]
When you get you shoulder of lamb, there may be a layer of fat on the top that we will probably want to trim back a bit. You don’t want to take too much fat off, as its a fatty cut and you might end up trimming of quite a bit. So just take back so its maybe 1/4 inch thick at the most. If you end up trimming it back to the meat that is absolutely fine.
With lamb shoulder I really don’t worry about being too precise. With something like beef short ribs I will take more care to trib the fat right back to the meat, but lamb shoulder its generally a quick job.
2.2 Apply dry rub
This is just the usual step, if you have read any of my other BBQ write ups. Normally, before applying dry rub, I will apply a layer of yellow mustard (French’s or Heinz) - this will just help the rub stick to the meat a bit better, the mustard flavour won’t be noticeable after cooking so you don’t need to worry about people not liking that taste. Really this step is optional, it doesn’t make too much difference and the rub will still work fine without it to be honest.
Once the mustard has been lightly applied (or not), next apply a liberal dusting of the dry rub. This really should be quite a decent covering, so don’t be shy here. If you want to make your own rubs then there are lots of recipes and options you can do, but if you want to play it safe for the first cook then a pre-bought rub is probably a good option. Angus & Oink here in the UK make lots of great rubs, and for lamb I’d highly recommend Shawarma
3. How to smoke lamb shoulder
By now, if you have read my other BBQ recipe write ups, then you probably already know what is coming - there are a few tools in our belt for low-and-slow smoking meat, each with different benefits:
- Smoking - just stick the meat in the smoker running at a nice gentle temp and let the smoke do its work. Great way to start any (every) cook and is essential in delivering that deep smokey flavour we are after (also the smoke ring, if you are interested in that). Sometimes this might be the only technique we use when cooking. Essential.
- Wrapping - wrap the meat in foil or butchers paper so that no liquid or steam can easily escape and continue to cook gently. This increases the energy in the cook, so speeds up cooking time and is a great way to get the cook over the line. The moisture and humidity trapped in the wrap cooks the meat faster, and is great for meat we really want to take to fall apart tender.
These are the exact same tools and techniques that we are going to use here too - as we are looking for fall apart soft lamb that easily pulls at the end, the wrap is a no-brainer. We will smoke the lamb to get the cook started and smoke flavour developed and then finish if off with the humid environment to make it super tender, simple as that (BBQ is simple, really)
4. How to check for “doneness”
As usual, internal temperature will likely be hitting around the 96C/205F mark, but it’s texture we are going for, as we need to be able to shred that lamb easily, so the easiest test is to gently probe it with a fork and see how easily the meat shreds. Cooking to these timelines (about 5 hours) you are very unlikely to overcook the lamb (if its cooked to long it can get mushy - which is still edible and delicious but not quite the desired texture).
- 1 decent shoulder of lamb should easily feed a family, and if being used as pulled lamb in tacos or similar can stretch further
- 10 minutes
- 5-6 hours
- A shoulder of lamb (you can cook more than one at a time, of course)
- Yellow mustard (French's/Heinz)
- BBQ Rub (see notes for recommendations)
- If your shoulder of lamb has a large amount of fat on the top, trim some of it off. We don't need to be as aggressive as we would be on some other cuts, so just trim off any really big fatty parts.
- Apply your yellow mustard all over the lamb (as always, this just helps the rub stick) and then liberally apply your rub of choice. I personally strongly recommend Angus & Oink's Shawarma rub, its a great combo with all lamb cooks, but a simple salt & pepper rub would work too.
- Set up the BBQ for indirect cooking at around 110C/225F and add a few (three or so) pieces of wood. Lamb has a strong, robust flavour so it can stand up to stronger smoking if thats what you prefer.
- Put the shoulder on the BBQ and smoke for three hours
- After three hours take the lamb off the BBQ and wrap tightly in foil (or butchers paper if you prefer), return the BBQ and cook for another two hours - at this point it's fine to let the temperature creep up to around 135C/275F, the foil and moisture trapped within the package will insulate the meat well and will continue to cook gently.
- After two hours wrapped, remove from the BBQ and unwrap carefully (hot steam may escape so be careful) and probe the lamb. At this point it will probably already be pretty soft - if it shreds easily with a fork its done, if not then return to the BBQ to finish off, checking in 30 minute intervals until it is done.
- Once it is done, remove (being carefully to keep the liquid that has gathered in the foil wrapping), shred the lamb and mix with the liquid. Serve with tacos or soft white rolls
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