100% Foolproof Slow Cooked Lamb Shoulder
Ever since my first gyro experience in college, lamb has been one of my favorite proteins. 😋😍 I adore it for its richness & flavor, despite the fact that 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. It is so, so easy & so, so delicious.
Naturally rich & flavorful lamb shoulder slowly cooks with fresh rosemary, garlic, aged balsamic vinegar, & pure maple syrup. The balsamic & maple syrup work together to add just the right amount of slightly sweet tanginess. This helps mellow out any gaminess in the lamb, which I know is a reason why some people aren’t too crazy about lamb in general.
After cooking low & slow for a few hours, the crockpot lamb is completely succulent & fall-apart tender. Seriously – the slow cooker does ALL the work here – so, so easy! (If you prefer braising with your Dutch oven or the quick cook time of an Instant Pot, you can put them to use here, too – we have directions for all 3 methods in the Recipe Card, below!)
The best part is slow cooked lamb is versatile enough for any occasion. Serve it at a dinner party, for date night, during the holidays, or even as sandwiches for an elevated game day spread.
Slow Cooked Lamb Shoulder Recipe Highlights
You’re going to love making this slow cooked lamb because it’s…
- RICH & FLAVORFUL. Lamb shoulder is a beautifully rich & tender cut of meat. When infused with garlic, fresh rosemary, aged balsamic vinegar, & pure maple syrup, it transforms into something even more amazing.
- EASY. This crockpot lamb is completely hands-off. Add all the ingredients to the slow cooker & let it do all the work! (It’s Dutch oven & Instant Pot-friendly, too – directions for all 3 methods are provided below!)
- VERSATILE. Shredded slow cooked lamb shoulder is perfect on a sandwich with feta & arugula or over a pile of mashed potatoes with a fresh green salad…whatever you’re craving!
Slowly braised, sweet-savory goodness! ♡ Read on to learn more about how to make Balsamic Slow Cooked Lamb Shoulder with Garlic & Rosemary, or jump straight to the recipe & get cooking!
Note: Full ingredients list & measurements provided in the Recipe Card, below.
It’s kind of magical how just a few ingredients & several hours of low & slow cooking can result in the most amazingly tender, rich, flavorful lamb. With such a short ingredients list, it’s best to opt for the highest-quality options whenever possible for the absolute best flavor.
- Lamb shoulder – This tougher cut of lamb is beautiful for a slow braise in a crockpot or slow cooker. Its marbling is full of rich flavor & ensures that the lamb shoulder is juicy & tender despite cooking for hours. Learn more about lamb shoulder below! Easy Swaps ⇢ Lamb shank is also works beautifully for braising, & the flavors of this recipe work well with beef if you prefer not to use lamb.
- Sweet onion – Vidalia & Walla Walla are the two most common varieties of sweet onion. They’ll add a more mild, slightly sweet flavor to the lamb as it braises.
- Aromatics – Finely chopped or grated garlic, a sprig of fresh rosemary, & a bay leaf perfume the lamb with wonderfully herbaceous, aromatic flavor.
- 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 & smooth finish. I like to use DeLallo Aged Modena Balsamic Vinegar.
- Pure maple syrup – for a touch of sweetness!
- Beef stock – to provide a flavorful base for our braising liquid.
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, the best cut of lamb for slow cooking is definitely lamb shoulder. It benefits from low, slow cooks 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.
Love lamb shoulder? ⇢ Be sure to try my Best-Ever Slowly Braised Lamb Ragu!
How to Cook Lamb Shoulder in a Slow Cooker or Crockpot
There is no need to feel intimidated by this crockpot lamb recipe – it really couldn’t be easier! Most of the cook time is 100% hands-off, so relax & let the slow cooker do all the work.
Full Recipe Directions, including step-by-step photos, are included in the Recipe Card, below.
Arrange the lamb shoulder roast in the slow cooker. Place the lamb shoulder in a slow cooker & arrange the sliced onion around the roast, then top with garlic, rosemary, bay leaf, salt, & pepper. Pour in the aged balsamic vinegar, beef stock, & 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 & flow down through the meat.
Slow cook the lamb shoulder. Low & 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 (& 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 & then all the work is already done for dinner!
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 & spoon off excess fat on top of the liquid. Add the shredded lamb shoulder & cooking juices back into the slow cooker with the cover off & the heat on high. This gives the lamb a few minutes to simmer in the juices & absorb extra flavor from the liquid. Absolutely delicious!
Alternate Cooking Methods
Braised Dutch Oven Lamb Shoulder
Rather than assembling & cooking the balsamic lamb shoulder in a Crockpot or slow cooker, assemble in a Dutch oven (or similar heavy-bottomed pot with a tight-fitting lid). For best results, start by browning the lamb shoulder, which creates better texture & richer flavor in a Dutch oven braise. Simmer on the stovetop or braise in the oven – both methods yield great results. Refer to the Recipe Notes, below, for full Dutch Oven lamb shoulder instructions.
Instant Pot Lamb Shoulder
While it’s not my favorite – I find the accelerated cooking time of pressure cooking compromises flavor – this is the best method if you’re in a pinch for time. Check the Recipe Notes, below, for full Instant Pot lamb shoulder instructions.
How to Serve Slow Cooked Lamb
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, & 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!
You can also serve 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 & you have one spectacular meal! Date night, holiday dinners, or a dinner party with friends are all great occasions for serving slow cooked lamb shoulder.
Leftover Pulled Lamb Shoulder
This recipe results in plenty of slow cooked lamb, so it’s also perfect for leftovers! Feel free to treat it as meal prep & repurpose your leftovers throughout the week – if you enjoy a lamb sandwich one night, try serving the leftover lamb over mashed potatoes the next night. Leftover slow cooked lamb is also very freezer-friendly – see the Recipe Notes for full storage & freezing instructions!
I can’t wait for you to try this Slow Cooked Lamb Shoulder. It’s such a flavor bomb, 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 & tag @playswellwithbutter on Instagram. I LOVE hearing about & seeing your PWWB creations!
Love Cooking Low & Slow? Same here! 🙌🏼 Sit back & relax while you make these Seriously Good Red Wine Braised Short Ribs, Must-Have BBQ Pulled Pork, or my favorite Extra-Veggies Pot Roast. ♡ Happy cooking!Print
Slow Cooked Lamb Shoulder with Balsamic, Garlic, & Rosemary
- 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
There are few things more cozy & comforting than Slow Cooked Lamb Shoulder with Balsamic, Rosemary, & Garlic! This is a longtime PWWB favorite, loved equally for its flavor & its ease.
Naturally hearty & rich lamb shoulder makes for the perfect pair against the punchy brightness of aged balsamic & full-flavored aromatic quality of garlic & fresh rosemary, while the littlest bit of pure maple syrup adds natural sweetness to help counterbalance any gaminess in the lamb. If the flavor of lamb is new-to-you, this recipe is a great starting point for cooking with lamb at home.
Simply layer everything together in your slow cooker or Crockpot & let it slowly cook for a few hours until the lamb shoulder is succulent, full-flavored, & fall-apart tender. From there, it’s ready to serve piled atop cozy carbs with roasted veggies or stuffed into a bun for the ultimate pulled lamb sandwich. (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 – check the Recipe Notes, below, for full instructions.)
This recipe yields a lot of shredded lamb shoulder, so be sure to refer to the Recipe Notes, below, for Storage & Freezing instructions!
- 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 & ground black pepper, to season
- 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, & bay leaf, seasoning with 1 ½ teaspoons kosher salt & ½ teaspoon ground black pepper. Pour the aged balsamic vinegar, beef stock, & pure maple syrup over top.
- Slow cook the lamb on low for 6-8 hours, tossing every so often, until the lamb shreds easily with a fork.
- 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 & 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.
- Serve, as desired. This balsamic lamb makes excellent sandwiches & sliders (with peppery arugula, crumbled feta, & balsamic glaze), & it’s also great on its own, with mashed potatoes, roasted veggies or a fresh green salad. Enjoy!
- 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 & 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.
- Make-Ahead, Storage, & Freezing:
- Storage & Reheating: Leftover shredded balsamic lamb shoulder stores very well – it’ll get even better as it sits & its flavors have the chance to meld together! Transfer cooled pulled lamb shoulder to an airtight container & 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 & 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 & 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 & 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 & simmer 3-4 hours, until the lamb shoulder is very tender. Alternatively, you could transfer the Dutch oven to a 325 degree F oven & oven-braise for the same amount of time. Shred & 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 & 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 & cook 3-4 minutes per side, including the ends & narrow sides, until nicely browned. Once browned, assemble the lamb shoulder according to Step 1 of Recipe Directions, above. Cover & 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 & serve according to Steps 3-4 of Recipe Directions, above.
Keywords: lamb, slow cooker lamb, lamb shoulder recipe, slow cooked lamb
Recipe by Jess Larson, Plays Well With Butter | Photography by Eat Love Eat
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This looks wonderful. Will this work with boneless leg of lamb? I couldn’t find shoulder at my local grocery store.
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.
Thank you! I’m going to try it this week.
Wow! From so few ingredients give an amazing dinner. Thank you so much. This will definitely be our favourite. Love love love.
Thank you & couldn’t agree more! So glad you loved the flavors & thanks so much for dropping a comment!
What can I substitute the maple syrup with?
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!
Can I use regular balsamic instead of dry ?
Hi Eric – Yes, any good balsamic vinegar will work for this recipe!
Can you use regular balsamic instead of aged balsamic is what I meant ?
Yes, you can – it will work just fine.
Do you have a red wine you recommend with these sandwiches?
Hey Allison! You can’t go wrong with lamb & your fave Pinot Noir – hope you enjoy!
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?
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!