Slow Cooked Lamb Shoulder with Balsamic, Rosemary, and Garlic

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There are few things more cozy & comforting than Slow Cooked Lamb Shoulder with Balsamic, Rosemary, & Garlic. Let the slow cooker do all the work with this crockpot lamb recipe, infusing rich lamb shoulder with the punchy aromatic flavor of aged balsamic vinegar, garlic, & fresh rosemary. Once the slow cooked lamb is perfectly succulent & fall-apart tender, shred it to serve as a sandwich or atop a pile of cozy carbs & roasted veggies – whatever you prefer!

Slow cooker/Crockpot, Dutch oven, & Instant Pot directions provided.

Two servings of slow cooked lamb are served over mashed potatoes in white ceramic bowls with broccolini and extra braising liquid over top. The bowls sit atop a gray textured surface with loose sprigs of rosemary, a silver fork, a striped linen napkin and a glass of white wine surrounds the bowls.

100% Foolproof Slow Cooked Lamb Shoulder

Ever since my first gyro experience in college, lamb has been one of my favorite proteins.

Whether it’s browned or slowly braised then tossed in pasta, rolled into meatballs or grilled – I adore it for its richness and flavor, even though it’s a relatively lean meat.

If cooking with lamb at home is new to you, this Slow Cooked Lamb recipe is the perfect place to start!

The slow cooker does almost all of the work in cooking this lamb shoulder to fall-apart perfection.

It’s a longtime PWWB favorite, loved equally for its flavor and its ease. Naturally rich and flavorful lamb shoulder cooks low and slow in a slow cooker along with fresh rosemary, garlic, aged balsamic vinegar, and pure maple syrup for a mostly hands-off process.

The balsamic and maple syrup add just the right amount of slightly sweet tanginess to mellow out the somewhat natural gamey flavor of the lamb, while the trusted slow cooker method results in completely succulent and fall-apart tender meat every time!

Shred and serve with your favorite sides at a dinner party, for date night, during the holidays, or even as sandwiches for an elevated game day spread. It’s a versatile favorite that’s cozy and comforting all at once!

An overhead and close up shot of finished balsamic lamb shoulder served over mashed potatoes in a white ceramic bowl with broccolini and extra braising liquid over top. The bowl sits atop a gray textured surface with a striped linen napkin tucked alongside the bowl and a silver fork resting inside of the bowl.
Slow-cooked lamb shoulder is fall-apart tender and absolutely delicious served on a bed of mashed potatoes.
Ingredient Spotlight

Lamb Shoulder

Lamb shoulder is a bit more humble than other popular cuts like leg of lamb or lamb chops. It’s a hard-working tough protein, but that also means it’s FULL of flavor.

In my opinion, it’s definitely the best cut of lamb for slow-cooking and benefits from low, slow cooking methods like stewing or braising because it takes a long time to turn the shoulder’s rich, beautiful marbling into tender meat.

You can typically find lamb shoulder in the butcher case at conventional grocery stores, either sold as a roast or individual steaks. Either will work here! Boneless lamb shoulder is more budget-friendly, but you can also use a bone-in roast for even more flavor.

An overhead shot of ingredients arranged on a grey textured surface: lamb shoulder, sweet onion, garlic, fresh rosemary, bay leaf, aged balsamic vinegar, low-sodium beef stock, and pure maple syrup.
This lamb recipe comes together easily with just a few key aromatics and a long, slow cook time.

Easy Swaps

Lamb shank also works beautifully for braising, and the flavors of this recipe work well with beef if you prefer not to use lamb.

How to Cook Lamb Shoulder in a Slow Cooker or Crockpot

Seriously – the slow cooker does ALL the work here – so, so easy! Simply layer everything together in your slow cooker or Crockpot and let it slowly cook for a few hours until the lamb shoulder is succulent, full-flavored, and fall-apart tender.

Lamb shoulder, sliced onion, garlic, rosemary, bay leaf, kosher salt, and ground black pepper are placed inside a slow cooker.
Place the lamb shoulder in a slow cooker with sliced onions, then top with flavorful aromatics.
Lamb shoulder, sliced onion, garlic, rosemary, bay leaf, kosher salt, and ground black pepper are placed inside a slow cooker. A woman's hand holds a glass measuring cup and pours in a braising liquid made with aged balsamic vinegar, beef stock, and pure maple syrup over the prepared lamb.
Pour in the aged balsamic vinegar, beef stock, and pure maple syrup so the lamb soaks up all the beautiful flavor as it cooks.
1

Arrange the lamb shoulder roast in the slow cooker. Place the lamb shoulder in a slow cooker and arrange the sliced onion around the roast, then top with garlic, rosemary, bay leaf, salt, and pepper. Pour in the aged balsamic vinegar, beef stock, and pure maple syrup so the crockpot lamb soaks up all the beautiful flavor as it slowly cooks. Pro Tip! ⇢If your lamb shoulder has a fat cap, position it facing up. As the crockpot lamb slowly cooks, all the fatty, flavorful juices will melt and flow down through the meat.

Lamb shoulder, sliced onion, garlic, rosemary, bay leaf, kosher salt, and ground black pepper are placed inside a slow cooker with a braising liquid poured over.
Slow-cooking helps break down the tough lamb shoulder into a fall-apart-tender piece of meat.
After several hours in the slow cooker, the lamb shoulder is fall-apart tender.
2

Slow cook the lamb shoulder. Low and slow is the key to this lamb recipe. A gentle, long heat helps break down the tough lamb shoulder into a fall-apart-tender piece of meat. The way the meat transforms is simply magical (and it all takes very minimal effort). Slow cooked lamb shoulder takes about 6 – 8 hours to cook in a crockpot. It’s a great thing to prepare in the slow cooker just before lunch and then all the work is already done for dinner!

Shredded lamb fills an aluminum baking sheet. A woman's hands hold two forks and uses them to shred the lamb. The baking sheet sits atop a grey textured surface.
Easily shred the lamb using two forks or a pair of tongs.
Shredded lamb fills a slow cooker in braising liquid. The slow cooker sits atop a grey textured surface.
For extra flavor, add the shredded lamb back into the crockpot to simmer with the cooking juices.
3

Shred the lamb shoulder. At this point the slow cooked lamb shoulder will be fall-apart tender, making it very easy to shred. Use two forks or a pair of tongs to pull the meat into bite-sized pieces. Flavor Boosting Tip! ⇢ Pour the juices from the slow cooker into a measuring cup and spoon off excess fat on top of the liquid. Add the shredded lamb shoulder and cooking juices back into the slow cooker with the cover off and the heat on high. This gives the lamb a few minutes to simmer in the juices and absorb extra flavor from the liquid. Absolutely delicious!

Alternate Cooking Methods

I love cooking this lamb shoulder low and slow in the slow cooker or Crockpot, but you can also prepare this recipe the oven or in an electric pressure cooker like the Instant Pot. Check the Recipe Notes, below, for step-by-step guidance!

Serving Suggestions

One of my favorite ways to serve balsamic slow cooked lamb shoulder is as a pulled lamb sandwich. Think of it as a slightly different take on classic pulled pork!

Pulled Lamb Sandwiches ⇢ Serve a lamb sandwich on a buttery brioche bun with peppery arugula, crumbled feta, and an extra drizzle of balsamic glaze to take everything over the top. Lamb sandwiches are awesome for weeknight dinners or to easily elevate a game day spread!

Two servings of slow cooked lamb are served over mashed potatoes in white ceramic bowls with broccolini and extra braising liquid over top. The bowls sit atop a gray textured surface with loose sprigs of rosemary, a silver fork, a striped linen napkin and a glass of white wine surrounds the bowls.
Serve slow-cooked lamb over a bed of mashed potatoes, in a sandwich, or with pasta – the possibilities are endless!

For a special occasion, like date night, holiday dinners, or a dinner party with friends, I love to serve the pulled slow-cooked lamb over a cozy carb like mashed potatoes (pictured), polenta, or pasta. Add roasted veggies or a fresh green salad to balance all the richness and you have one spectacular meal!

Leftovers

This recipe results in plenty of lamb, so it’s also perfect for leftovers! Feel free to treat it as meal prep and repurpose your leftovers throughout the week. Leftover slow cooked lamb is also very freezer-friendly – see the Recipe Notes for full storage and freezing instructions!

A side angle shot of two servings of shredded balsamic lamb served over mashed potatoes in white ceramic bowls with broccolini and extra braising liquid over top. The bowls sit atop a gray textured surface with loose sprigs of rosemary, a striped linen napkin, and a glass of white wine surrounding the bowls. A silver fork rests inside the bowl at center.
Slow-cooked lamb shoulder is cozy, comforting, and so easy to make. Perfect for a Sunday supper or your next special occasion dinner.

I can’t wait for you to try this Slow Cooked Lamb Shoulder. It’s so flavorful, but it’s so easy to make – you will be absolutely obsessed!

If you do give it a try, be sure to let me know! Leave a comment with a star rating below. You can also snap a photo and tag @playswellwithbutter on Instagram. We LOVE seeing your PWWB creations! ♡ Happy cooking!

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Slow Cooked Lamb Shoulder with Balsamic, Garlic, and Rosemary

5 Stars 4 Stars 3 Stars 2 Stars 1 Star 4.4 from 8 reviews
  • Author: Jess Larson
  • Prep Time: 15 minutes
  • Cook Time: 8 hours 15 minutes
  • Total Time: 8 hours 30 minutes
  • Yield: Serves 6-8 1x
  • Category: Main Dishes
  • Method: Slow Cooker
  • Cuisine: Greek, Mediterranean
  • Diet: Gluten Free

Description

There are few things more cozy and comforting than Slow Cooked Lamb Shoulder with Balsamic, Rosemary, and Garlic!

Let the slow cooker do all the work with this crockpot lamb recipe, infusing rich lamb shoulder with the punchy aromatic flavor of aged balsamic vinegar, garlic, and fresh rosemary. Once the slow cooked lamb is perfectly succulent and fall-apart tender, shred it to serve as a sandwich or atop a pile of cozy carbs & roasted veggies – whatever you prefer!

While I love using a slow cooker/Crockpot for ease, you can also prep this recipe on the stovetop or in the oven with a Dutch oven or make it in your Instant Pot.

It also yields a lot of shredded lamb shoulder and is perfect for meal prep, so be sure to refer to the Recipe Notes, below, for full guidance on alternative cooking methods, storage, and freezing instructions! ♡ Happy cooking!


Ingredients

Scale
  • 3 pounds lamb shoulder roast, excess fat trimmed
  • 1 sweet onion, thinly sliced
  • 6 cloves garlic, finely chopped or grated
  • 1 sprig fresh rosemary
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 cup aged balsamic vinegar
  • ½ cup low-sodium beef stock
  • 2 tablespoons pure maple syrup
  • kosher salt and ground black pepper, to season

Instructions

  1. Assemble the lamb: Place the lamb shoulder in a slow cooker. If your roast has a fat cap, make sure the fat cap is at the top, facing you, so all the juices melt and flow down through the meat as the lamb slowly cooks. Arrange the sliced onion around the lamb roast. Top with the garlic, rosemary, and bay leaf, seasoning with 1 ½ teaspoons kosher salt and ½ teaspoon ground black pepper. Pour the aged balsamic vinegar, beef stock, and pure maple syrup over top.

    How to make Slow cooked lamb shoulder with balsamic, rosemary, and garlic, step 1: Assemble the lamb. Lamb shoulder, sliced onion, garlic, rosemary, bay leaf, kosher salt, and ground black pepper are placed inside a slow cooker with a braising liquid poured over.

  2. Slow cook the lamb on low for 6-8 hours, tossing every so often, until the lamb shreds easily with a fork. How to make Slow cooked lamb shoulder with balsamic, rosemary, and garlic, step 2: Slow cook the lamb. Lamb slow cooked in a braising liquid until fall-apart tender rests inside a slow cooker. The slow cooker sits atop a grey textured surface.
  3. Shred the lamb: Transfer the lamb to a cutting board or plate. Use 2 forks or a pair of tongs to shred the lamb into bite-sized pieces (as chunky or fine as you’d like). Set aside. Drain off excess fat from the juices in the slow cooker, as desired – I find this is most easily done by pouring the juices into a liquid measure and spooning off excess fat into a bowl or jar to discard later. Add the lamb, and the cooking juices, back into the slow cooker. Stir to combine. Turn the slow cooker on its high setting, with the cover removed. Let everything simmer and combine for 5-10 minutes, allowing the lamb to absorb some of the excess liquid.
  4. Serve, as desired. This balsamic lamb makes excellent sandwiches and sliders (with peppery arugula, crumbled feta, and balsamic glaze), and it’s also great on its own, with mashed potatoes, roasted veggies or a fresh green salad. Enjoy! Two servings of shredded balsamic lamb are served over mashed potatoes in white ceramic bowls with broccolini and extra braising liquid over top. The bowls sit atop a gray textured surface with loose sprigs of rosemary, a silver fork, a striped linen napkin and a glass of white wine surrounds the bowls.

Notes

  • Lamb shoulder: You can typically find lamb shoulder in the butcher case at conventional grocery stores, sold as a roast or individual steaks. Either work in this slow cooked lamb shoulder recipe! Using boneless (pictured) or bone-in lamb shoulder is a matter of choice and availability. Bone-in is great for the added flavor, however lamb shoulder tends to be a more expensive cut so buying boneless is a little more budget friendly. Since this is a slow cooked recipe, other tough cuts will work well (such as lamb shanks). If you cannot find lamb shoulder, the flavors of this recipe are great with beef, too.
  • Balsamic vinegar: You don’t need to go too fancy here, but do make sure you choose an aged balsamic vinegar for a more intense sweetness and smooth finish. I like to use DeLallo Aged Modena Balsamic Vinegar.
  • Make-Ahead, Storage, and Freezing:
    • Storage and Reheating: Leftover shredded balsamic lamb shoulder stores very well – it’ll get even better as it sits and its flavors have the chance to meld together! Transfer cooled pulled lamb shoulder to an airtight container and store in the refrigerator for 4-5 days. Reheat on the stovetop or in the microwave until warmed through.
    • Freezing Instructions: Slow cooked lamb shoulder is also incredibly freezer-friendly. To freeze, transfer the cooled pulled lamb shoulder to a freezer container (or divide it up between multiple freezer containers for smaller portions). Freeze up to 3 months. To thaw, place the frozen pulled lamb shoulder in the refrigerator overnight or submerge the freezer container in room temperature water for a quicker thaw. Reheat on the stovetop or in the microwave until warmed through and serve as desired.
  • Alternate Cooking Methods: 
    • Slowly Braised Dutch Oven lamb shoulder: Add 2 tablespoons olive oil to large, heavy-bottomed oven-safe pot with a tight-fitting lid over medium-high heat (such as a 5-qt Dutch oven). Use paper towel to pat the lamb shoulder completely dry, then season with kosher salt and ground black pepper according to Step 1 of Recipe Directions. Once the oil in the pot is shimmering hot, carefully add in the seasoned lamb shoulder roast. Cook 3-4 minutes per side, including the ends and narrow sides, until nicely browned. Once browned, assemble the lamb shoulder according to Step 1 of Recipe Directions, above. Bring the Dutch oven to a boil, then reduce heat to maintain a gentle simmer. Cover and simmer 3-4 hours, until the lamb shoulder is very tender. Alternatively, you could transfer the Dutch oven to a 325 degree F oven and oven-braise for the same amount of time. Shred and serve according to Steps 3-4 of Recipe Directions, above. 
    • Electric Pressure Cooker / Instant Pot lamb shoulder: If desired, start by using your Instant Pot’s “Sauté” setting to brown the lamb shoulder. Use paper towel to completely dry the lamb shoulder, then season with kosher salt and ground black pepper according to Step 1 of Recipe Directions. Heat 2 tablespoons olive oil in the Instant Pot, then add the seasoned lamb shoulder and cook 3-4 minutes per side, including the ends and narrow sides, until nicely browned. Once browned, assemble the lamb shoulder according to Step 1 of Recipe Directions, above. Cover and seal the pressure cooker and cook on manual high pressure for 70 minutes. Allow the pressure cooker to naturally release pressure for 10 minutes before carefully flicking the valve to its “venting” position to vent out any residual pressure. Shred and serve according to Steps 3-4 of Recipe Directions, above. 

Recipe by Jess Larson, Plays Well With Butter | Photography by Eat Love Eat

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Hi there, I'm Jess!

If there’s 1 thing to know about me, it’s this: I am head-over-heels in love with food. I’m on a mission to make weeknight cooking flavorful, fast, & fun for other foodies, & PWWB is where I share foolproof recipes that deliver major flavor with minimal effort. Other true loves: pretty shoes, puppies, Grey’s Anatomy, & my cozy kitchen in Minneapolis, MN.

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Comments

  1. 5.27.24
    Lena said:

    Thank you so much for the great recipe!!!
    I used it for the lamb tacos this past weekend. I bought lamb leg with the bone in at Publix. I used vegetable stock since I didn’t have any beef stock on hand. Everything else exactly by the recipe. It turned out really tender and flavorful.

    • 5.28.24
      Emma @ Plays Well With Butter said:

      Lamb tacos sound INCREDIBLE, Lena!! Thanks so much for the comment!

  2. 4.25.24
    SuzeKK said:

    Made this tonight and we loved it! However, just a little too sweet for our tastes so will halve the maple syrup next time and play from there. Highly recommend this recipe! Thank you!






    • 4.25.24
      Emma @ Plays Well With Butter said:

      Hi Suze, so glad you loved this recipe! We definitely recommend adjusting sweetness to suit your taste. Thanks for the review!

  3. 4.8.24
    Katherine L. said:

    Made this today. I didn’t have aged balsamic vinegar, just the regular type, and no bay leaf, just bay leaf powder. I used a boneless, netted lamb oyster shoulder. I took off the net and just put it in whole. It came out delicious!😋

    We ate it plain, including the broth, no sides, and despite all the fat, it wasn’t cloying; the balsamic vinegar-maple syrup combination balanced the fat perfectly. I’ll definitely make this again.






    • 4.8.24
      Emma @ Plays Well With Butter said:

      Hi Katherine, so glad. to hear this recipe turned out great for you! Thanks for the review!

  4. 4.5.24
    Laura said:

    I couldn’t find a whole shoulder but did find shoulder chops so will give it a go with that! Recipe looks delicious!

    • 4.8.24
      Emma @ Plays Well With Butter said:

      Make sure to let us know what you think!! 🙂

  5. 2.11.24
    Lisa D said:

    A friend who raises lambs gave us a bone in shoulder, my husband was excited but not me, I don’t like lamb. I searched for recipes and came across yours and made it today. My husband loves it, I didn’t think I would like it at all but it is very delicious and would definitely make it again.






    • 2.12.24
      Emma @ Plays Well With Butter said:

      Hi Lisa, so glad to hear that this recipe was a win for you, even though you aren’t a lamb lover!! 🙂 Thanks for the review!

  6. 9.11.23
    Claudia said:

    Made this last night and it was superb! The only thing I substituted was wine in lieu of the balsamic vinegar. I had everything but the vinegar, so I just went with red wine…still came out fabulous. I used the dutch oven method, per your instructions. Thank you for offering an alternative cooking method aside from a crockpot (don’t have one).






    • 9.11.23
      Emma @ Plays Well With Butter said:

      So happy to hear this turned out great for you, Claudia! Red wine is a great sub for the vinegar. Thank you for the kind review!

  7. 5.7.23
    Trudy Samuelson said:

    5-7-2023. Made this yesterday exactly as stated (only sub was yellow onion – didn’t have Vadalia). My lamb shoulder was recently butchered by friends who raise lambs – so it had the bone in. Cooked exactly as recommended in my crock pot. Lamb was perfectly cooked, broth was delicious & it was beautiful. As stated will make great sandwiches tomorrow. I served with green salad and mushroom risotto. Here’s what my 52 yr old daughter & her hubby said “lamb is melt in your mouth tender & delicious – dinnner is beautiful”. As the re pie says, it’s easy and so tasty. Ps I only used 1/2 cup balsamic






    • 5.8.23
      Emma @ Plays Well With Butter said:

      Thank you so much for your kind review, Trudy!! We love hearing that your whole family enjoyed this recipe!

  8. 4.9.23
    Ian said:

    Prepared for Easter. Out of 9 adults and 4 kids, I was the only one who touched this. Acquired taste, to say the least. Prepare for yourself before making for company






    • 4.10.23

      Hi Ian – I’m sorry to hear that it wasn’t a hit with your crowd. Did the recipe not come out as expected? Does your family typically enjoy lamb? A one-star rating is surprising to me, as I’m confident this recipe works as promised & will be delicious for those who enjoy lamb. If there’s anything we can do to help, please let us know.

      Jess

  9. 4.2.23
    Gina Benson said:

    Hello!

    I am wondering if you have ever tried or would recommend marinating your ingredients with the lamb before cooking it?

    • 4.3.23
      Erin @ Plays Well With Butter said:

      Hi Gina! We’ve never tested marinating the ingredients beforehand and with the slow cook method, the flavors all have plenty of time to infuse & come together yielding a full-flavored & tender lamb dish. Hope you try it soon!

    • 4.3.23
      Emma @ Plays Well With Butter said:

      Hi Gina, since the lamb is slow-cooked, it has plenty of time to absorb all the delicious flavors as it’s cooking!! No marinating needed 🙂

  10. 12.12.22
    Paulette said:

    This looks wonderful. Will this work with boneless leg of lamb? I couldn’t find shoulder at my local grocery store.

    • 12.12.22
      Erin @ Plays Well With Butter said:

      Hi Paulette! Boneless leg of lamb should work too – you’ll just want to keep in mind that lamb leg typically has less fat & connective tissue as lamb shoulder so it tends to cook a bit faster & you may need to adjust the liquid amount the lamb is slow cooked in by adding more beef stock to ensure there is enough liquid so that the leg of lamb doesn’t become dry while slow-cooking.

      • 12.13.22
        Paulette said:

        Thank you! I’m going to try it this week.

  11. 8.14.22
    I kidd said:

    Wow! From so few ingredients give an amazing dinner. Thank you so much. This will definitely be our favourite. Love love love.






    • 8.15.22
      Erin @ Plays Well With Butter said:

      Thank you & couldn’t agree more! So glad you loved the flavors & thanks so much for dropping a comment!

  12. 6.24.22
    Marie Anne said:

    What can I substitute the maple syrup with?

    • 6.24.22
      Erin @ Plays Well With Butter said:

      Hi Marie Anne, thanks for reaching out! The maple syrup really pairs well with the balsamic for the perfect balance of tangy & sweet flavor. While we haven’t tested it, you could try brown sugar instead – we just can’t say if it will taste exactly as described in the blog post. Let us know if you do try an alternative & how it goes!

  13. 5.1.22
    Eric Levasseur said:

    Can I use regular balsamic instead of dry ?

    • 5.1.22

      Hi Eric – Yes, any good balsamic vinegar will work for this recipe!

    • 5.1.22
      Eric Levasseur said:

      Can you use regular balsamic instead of aged balsamic is what I meant ?

  14. 9.13.21
    Allison K Modra said:

    Do you have a red wine you recommend with these sandwiches?

    • 2.22.22
      Erin @ Plays Well With Butter said:

      Hey Allison! You can’t go wrong with lamb & your fave Pinot Noir – hope you enjoy!

  15. 3.31.20
    Rob Hoiting said:

    This was delicious! I made it in my mom’s slowcooker. I don’t have a slow cooker myself, but I do have an instant pot. Could you make this with an instant pot as well?






    • 4.2.20
      jess said:

      Hey Rob – I’m so glad you loved this Rosemary & Garlic Balsamic Lamb! I think you could definitely do it in the Instant Pot next time – I’ve not yet done this myself, but some quick Googling has me thinking that manual high pressure for 50-60 minutes with a natural pressure release should work. I would maybe take the extra couple of minutes to brown up the lamb before you begin pressure cooking. & don’t forget – the Instant Pot needs at least 1 cup of liquid to seal properly. The full recipe, as written, should work just fine, but if you halve it (or reduce by some other amount), you just want to make sure to add enough liquid to the post to pass that 1 cup threshold.

      Please let me know if you try it again!