Smoked lamb shoulder, leg, or rack is severely underrated in the world of barbecue. Although not as traditional, lamb has a slightly higher fat content to beef and pork, and a robust flavor. Lamb can handle strong smokey woods, but also goes great with sweeter and fruiter options. It does mostly come down to personal preference, but there are some woods that just work better. From roughly the most popular these are the best woods for smoking lamb.
Which Wood Is Best For Smoking Lamb?
Flavors: Strong, Savoury, & Bacon-like.
Why Hickory Wood?
Hickory is truly a traditional and strong smoking wood. It’s known for its strong, well-rounded smokiness, and it’s versatility. Lamb has a similar savoury richness to beef, and it’s got a strong enough flavor to compliment with an oomph of smokiness.
You generally smoke lamb over an extended period of time, such as with leg, shoulder, or rack. Naturally this gives you more time to impart the smokiness, which although you can do it with a mild smoky, fruit wood, when you use hickory you really do taste all of that traditional barbecue goodness.
Hickory is a classic for smoking a lamb shoulder, and the end result is an amazing pulled lamb. Hickory smoked lamb is raved about constantly over the globe, and is also my first go-to for smoking lamb.
Flavors: Very Strong Smokiness
Why Mesquite Wood?
Mesquite is hailed as king of the strongest smoking woods. Delivering an intense smokey aroma and flavor. If you’re from Texas I bet you’d even have this as number one. Although mesquite does have a reputation for over smoking meat more easily, lamb absorbs the smokiness well so long as you don’t go overboard.
If you love a strong smokiness mesquite will not fail you. The mesquite smoke of smoked lamb stands out, but is complimented well when paired with sweet or herbaceous condiments. For example with mint jelly, or with rosemary.
If you absolutely love smokiness and are confident in smoking lamb then mesquite will deliver that extra solid smoky punch. You can also blend mesquite with more mild smoking woods to mellow it out, such as apple, maple, or pecan.
Flavors: Subtle, Sweet, & Fruity
Why Apple Wood?
If you prefer sweeter and more subtle smokes apple is the go-to. The natural sweetness of the apple wood smoke pleasantly compliments the richness of the lamb. For this same reason it’s also often remarked as one of the best woods for smoking pork butt.
Indeed, apple is a very popular mild smoking wood, and its really hard to go wrong when smoking with it. Although it’s not known for being a strong smoking wood, it’s one of the finest sweet and fruity picks. It’s also commonly used to compliment, add sweetness, and mellow out stronger smoking woods like hickory, mesquite, or oak.
Apple wood burns hot and produces a good amount of smoke. You will visually notice a denser smoke, and this is normal. This is just apple smoke working it’s magic to develop the bark and that sweeter, more subtle flavor on the lamb.
Flavors: Mildly Sweet & Nutty
Why Pecan Wood?
Pecan is the most popular smoking wood that provides a distinct nuttiness in it’s smokey flavor. It’s definitely on the more mild side, and it is more naturally sweet. I’ve had amazing pecan & hickory smoked lamb, it’s definitely worth a try for those that enjoy a milder smoke, either on it’s own, or blended with stronger smoking woods.
Pecan is a classic, and it’s well worth putting into your rotation of smoking woods, particularly if you smoke all types of meats. It’s also one of the best woods for smoking brisket. However, if you love strong flavors, it’s recommended to pair it with a spicy rub or sauce, or something herby, to avoid things being too sweet or mellow.
How To Smoke Lamb (Leg, Shoulder, Chops)
First, start by trimming off excess fat around the shoulder or leg, leaving between 1/4 and 1/8 of an inch thickness. Use your best trimming knife and treat it in the same way you would treat a brisket.
Depending on your preference, you can either apply a binder, such as a light coating of yellow mustard or tomato ketchup, or keep it bare.
Then generously apply your favourite rub to all sides and surfaces of the lamb. For a killer lamb rub use:
- 1 cup of brown sugar
- 6 minced sprigs of rosemary
- 1/4 cup of kosher salt
- 1 tablespoon black pepper
- 1 tablespoon of cayenne pepper (more or less depending on how spicy you like it)
- 1 tablespoon cumin
- 1 tablespoon parika
After half an hour of resting with the rub applied get the smoker up to temperature.
One bone-in lamb shoulder or leg tends to take between 5-6 hours at a constant 250°F. After 3-4 hours, begin by monitoring the internal temperature every 30 minutes until it reaches 195°F in the deepest part of the meat near the bone.
Just like with pork butt or brisket, applying patience and resting the meat in tinfoil works wonders on creating beautifully flavorful, juicy meat.
Wrap the lamb in 2-3 layers of foil and let it sit for at least 30 minutes, and up to an hour if you have the patience.
When it’s finished resting, carefully unravel the foil, remove the meat and begin to shred it. Remove any large chunks of fat and connective tissues holding the meat together. These are often easy to find if you just gently pull the meat apart.
Douse the shredded lamb with some apple juice, your favorite barbecue sauce, or serve with mint jelly. Smoked lamb is incredible when served in sliders, on top of potato mash, in tacos, or with anything that is worthy of a smoked lamb centrepiece.