RECIPE: Smoked Lamb Shoulder
What if we took lamb shoulder, but cooked it like Texas brisket?
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Week 11, vol. 2
Welcome new readers! Spring is here, marking the beginning of barbecue season. This week’s recipe is inspired by Simon Rogan’s smoked lamb shoulder, as well as my obsession with Texas-style smoked BBQ brisket1.
Beef brisket and lamb shoulder are both large primal cuts characterised by tough (but very flavourful) meat and a sizeable fat cap that needs to be rendered out. So in theory, the same cooking techniques *should* be applicable, and I had to test it out. The end result was magnificent - perfect melt-in-the-mouth slices of tender lamb, packed with sweet smoke and spices.
I appreciate not everyone has a barbecue, so you can make the whole recipe in the oven. You won’t get the smoky flavours or the pink smoke ring around the edges, but it’s still gonna be really great lamb.
A few things I hope you’ll take away from this recipe:
Lamb Shoulder Deserves More Attention - Leg of lamb is great and all, but shoulder is the ultimate cut of lamb for low and slow cooking. It’s packed with more fat (fat = flavour) and connective tissue, which when cooked for long enough, breaks down into gelatine, keeping the meat tender and moist.
The Texas Crutch - A highly effective (but sometimes controversial!) technique for cooking brisket and other barbecued meats, which involves wrapping the meat in aluminium foil midway through the cook.
The core concept of cooking a tough cut of meat is to bring it up to high temperatures (we’re talking in the region of 190-205°F / 88-96°C) so the tough collagen breaks down into gooey gelatine. It’s a totally different mindset from traditional oven roasting where we’re trying to get the meat to medium-rare and avoid overcooking.
One challenge of hitting those high temperatures is that meat contains lots of moisture, and as it evaporates, it cools the meat, just like sweating. This results in the ‘stall’, where the evaporative cooling offsets the heat source, such that the internal temperature of the meat stops rising - for a large cut, the stall can last for hours, resulting in dry, tough meat if the cook doesn’t know exactly what they’re doing.
Wrapping tightly with foil eliminates the problem of surface evaporation, effectively braising the meat in its own moisture and preventing it from drying out. It does slightly ruin the ‘bark’ on the exterior, but it’s a worthwhile trade versus the risk of cooking all day and ending up with slices of dry cardboard (speaking from the experience of my first brisket cook several years ago).
If you do try the recipe, I’d love to hear about it in the comments, or you can hit me up via email. Happy cooking!
Smoked Lamb Shoulder
Total time: 6-7 hours
Cooking times can vary significantly depending on the size of your cut of meat, the quality of the meat, weather conditions, and your equipment. If in doubt, don’t stress out. Just cook to the target temperatures and things will be fine.
Lamb shoulder is very forgiving with this method, and even if you overcook it, you will still have moist, juicy meat - it’ll be more of a shredded texture instead of being sliceable, and that’s totally fine!
This lamb shoulder is very versatile in terms of pairings - I really like it as a Sunday roast, but you could also pair it with classic barbecue sides like mash / slaw / beans, or go down a more Mediterranean route with flatbreads, tzatziki, and some baba ghanoush.
In the event you have leftovers, they reheat very well - just wrap in foil and stick in the oven for 10-15 minutes around 150°C / 300°F.
Baking tray or roasting tin
Spice grinder or small blender
A large bath towel (preferably one you don’t mind getting dirty), or an insulated cooler box
If smoking the lamb before roasting:
BBQ with cover (Or if you’re lucky enough to own one, a wood smoker)
Smoker box - this is just a little insert you fill with wood chips and stick inside the BBQ to create smoke
Wood chips, soaked in water for 30 minutes before using
Small spray bottle (to spritz the apple cider vinegar)
Small mesh sieve or flour dredger
Large bone-in lamb shoulder, around 2kg
For the spice rub:
3 tbsp black pepper
2 tbsp fine sea salt
1 tbsp paprika
1 tbsp cumin
1 tbsp coriander seeds
1 tbsp juniper berries (optional)
3 star anise (optional)
Apple cider vinegar
Mix all the spice rub ingredients in a spice grinder and grind to a fine powder.
Using paper towels, pat off any excess moisture on the lamb shoulder. Season evenly on all sides with the spice mix. I find a flour dredger or small mesh sieve is useful for coating in an even layer.
Heat the barbecue (with smoker box of wood chips) to around 88°C / 190°F. Place lamb shoulder on a rack and smoke for 2 hours. Spritz every 30 minutes with the apple cider vinegar. The internal temperature of the lamb should be at least 71°C / 160°F (it’s ok if it overshoots; if it’s below the target temperature, then keep cooking).
Oven alternative: do exactly the same thing, but in the oven at 85°C / 185°F (fan).
After the 2 hours of smoking, take the lamb off, spritz again with the apple cider vinegar, and wrap very tightly in 2 layers of heavy duty aluminium foil (3 layers if your foil seems flimsy).
Roast the foil-wrapped lamb in the oven at 90°C / 195°F (fan) for 2.5 hours, or until the lamb’s internal temperature is also at 90°C / 195°F.
Remove the foil-wrapped lamb from the oven. Wrap an additional two layers of foil, sealing all the edges to avoid any leaks. Then wrap in the bath towel, and leave in a warm place (or in an insulated cooler box) to rest for 45 minutes.
Unwrap the towel and all the foil, and carve the lamb. Make a cut following the length of the shoulder blade, then cut around the shoulder joint. You should be able to lift out the bone fairly easily. Cut away any excess cartilage, slice the lamb shoulder into thin slices, and serve!
Equipment and Ingredients
Thermapen thermometer - Just trust me, bite the bullet, and pay the extra it costs over the cheap knockoff thermometers. This is one of those ‘Buy Nice or Buy Twice’ situations.
Slicer knife - Forget the fancy (and usually overpriced) carving fork and knife sets. Using a slicer knife is by far the better way to carve a boneless roast - the length of the blade means you’ll be cutting clean slices with a single stroke like a professional sushi chef, instead of tearing the meat to shreds with a carving knife.
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