Pulled pork is a BBQ classic, and why shouldn’t it be? It’s (pretty) easy to get right, it’s infinitely customizable, and it’s as good on its own on a plate as it is in a sandwich. But if you want to throw a real twist into your pulled-meat sandwich cook, try swapping out the pork shoulder for lamb shoulder.
Here we’ll take a look at how to smoke a lamb shoulder for pulled-lamb, including the critical temps to watch for.
Lamb shoulder basics
The lamb shoulder is exactly what the name implies: the shoulder of a lamb. Smaller than that of a hog, a lamb shoulder is most often sold with more pieces attached to it. The shoulder comes with a small section of 3-4 ribs, a wee bit of the loin, a small section of belly, the upper part of the leg, and the lower part of the neck—as well as part of the spine. As with a bone-in pork shoulder, the blade bone is also present.
If that all seems like a lot, consider that the whole package weighs about 8–10 pounds, the same size as an average pork shoulder. If you took the time to separate out just the shoulder, you wouldn’t have very much meat.
Lamb shoulder temperatures
Most of the meat in a lamb shoulder is tough and rich in connective tissue, and, of course, we all know what that means: it will need time to render the collagen into tasty, jiggly gelatin. Maintaining a temperature in the range of 250°F (121°C) gives the shoulder the time/temp combination it needs to tenderize and get all shreddy, just like we want it to. Now, I did say that most of the shoulder was tough/connective, but it isn’t all that way. There is a little chunk of the loin under the ribs there, essentially a lamb chop or two. That will dry out a bit more than you want it to, but by the time you shred it and mix it in with all the juicy other bits, you’ll never notice.
As with pork shoulder, we’re shooting for a critical pull-temp of about 203°F (95°C), the sweet spot for tough-meat tenderization. Using a leave-in probe thermometer like the Smoke™ is the best way to track that temperature, and the Smoke has the advantage of two channels, so you can also watch the pit temp at the same time.
How long will it take to smoke? Far less than a pork butt! Following the method recommended by Joe Clements at SmokedBBQSource, it only takes about 4–5 hours, and you don’t even have to wrap it! The smaller size, thinness, and greater surface area account for the speed of cooking.
Because the whole of the shoulder is covered in a shroud of fat, it is important to render it fully for maximum enjoyment. Now, for pork butt that is being cooked for eight, ten, or twelve hours, the rendering of the fatcap happens slowly over time. With the faster cook time of a lamb shoulder, the rendering needs to be sped up. For the last hour of the cook, the pit temp should be increased to the neighborhood of 325°F (163°C) to speed the rendering of the fat.
Smoked Lamb Shoulder Recipe
Based on the method from SmokedBBQSource.
- 1 lamb shoulder
- 3–4 Tbsp garam masala powder (or substitute curry powder)
- 2 Tbsp neutral oil
- Apple cider vinegar or other liquid for spritzing
- Preheat your smoker to 250°F (121°C) with your choice of wood. Use the Smoke and it’s air probe to watch the temperature of the pit, with the high-temp alarm set for 275°F (135°C) and the low-temp alarm set for 225°F (107°C).
- Pat the lamb shoulder dry with some paper towels then rub it down with the oil. Salt the shoulder liberally.
- Liberally apply the garam masala or curry powder to the lamb so that it is evenly coated all over.
- Place the shoulder in the smoker with a probe set deep in the meat. Set the high-temp alarm for 180°F (82°C).
- Smoke the lamb until the high-alarm sounds, about 4 hours, spritzing occasionally.
- When the meat reaches 180°F (82°C), increase the heat in your smoker to 325°F (163°C) and continue to cook. Reset the high-temp alarm for the meat to 203°F (95°C). Change the air-temp alarms to bracket 325°F (163°C) on each side.
- When the alarm sounds again after about an hour, check the temperature and texture of the meat with your Thermapen® Mk4 instant-read thermometer.
- Allow the meat to rest either wrapped or in an insulated cooler for 20 minutes then shred it and serve it.
Conclusion: how to season lamb shoulder
This is BBQ, right? So it’s tempting to slap a rub on there and call it a day. And if you do that, it’ll be delicious. But lamb plays well in so many flavor palates that it’s kind of a shame to not use some of them. At SmokedBBQSource they give it a classic French herb rub which is just amazing, but you can also give it a rubdown in garlic, oregano, and lemon juice and serve it with some Greek-themed sides or, like we do here, rub it with warm Indian garam masala powder and serve it with a tangy/cool sauce made of thick yogurt with a little salt and some chopped fresh mint. Heck, even a Mexican flavor treatment makes sense here! Use your imagination. But no matter how you season it, monitor those critical temps to get it right the first time and every time.
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