How to roast a tender lamb shoulder with potatoes, Greek style.
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The Greek Lamb Roast Tradition
Roast lamb is a staple of Greek family feasts as well as the culinary traditions of neighboring countries. At my grandmother’s house it always made an appearance on holidays, especially Easter. Greeks tend to cook lamb until it is fall apart tender and this is especially true of the shoulder cut.
This authentic recipe for lamb roast is a perfect example of how a few simple ingredients, low heat and time create big, comforting flavors and a truly festive dish. The goal is to roast the lamb slowly and allow the melting fat to gradually moisten the meat and infuse it with flavor until it becomes rich and succulent.
Lamb shoulder is traditionally prepared with Greek lemon potatoes (in the same pan) or with separately cooked orzo or roasted vegetables in tomato sauce (giouvetzi). When potatoes are simultaneously cooked with it they absorb all the juices dripping from the meat. The liquid in which the potatoes cook contributes moist heat and perfects the juicy tenderness of the roast. The lemon acidity cuts through the richness and brightens every bite.
Boneless or Bone-in Lamb Shoulder + Other Ingredients
Lamb shoulder tends to be even more flavorful than lamb leg and in true Greek fashion can be roasted in the oven or on the grill. The same principles apply.
- Lamb shoulder. You can use boneless or bone-in – it depends on your personal preference. We like to slow roast a rolled, boneless lamb shoulder in the oven, with potatoes and cook a bone-in piece on the grill in a cast iron skillet to catch all the juices. To help you make a decision consider that:
- A boneless lamb shoulder cooks a bit faster and is much easier to carve.
- A bone-in lamb shoulder takes a bit longer to cook and is better suited for being shredded/pulled apart with a fork, family style.
- Garlic & shallots. For a savory flavor base. Leave the shallots out if you do not have any on hand or simply substitute with red onion.
- Fresh herbs. Rosemary and oregano are most common, but also thyme and mint.
- Lemon juice & zest. While most roasts do not call for lemon, it does wonders for rich lamb meat and is integral to Greek lamb cooking. Budget for extra lemon juice if also roasting the Greek lemon potatoes. We also like to hide lemon slices in between the potatoes to amplify flavors or use preserved lemons.
- Potatoes. Traditionally large, all-purpose potatoes are cut by hand into thick slices, similarly to lemon wedges. We prefer to use baby potatoes as they take less work and their skins become wonderfully blistered. Yukon gold, Dutch yellow potatoes and red potatoes all work great in this recipe.
- Olive oil. Use this staple in Greek cooking generously and without fear with the potatoes even though there will be plenty of lamb drippings. A small amount is needed for the lamb shoulder rub.
- Stock. Add chicken stock or vegetable stock to the potatoes. You can substitute with water without a significant loss of flavor when you are roasting them with lamb.
- Oregano, salt & pepper. Oregano, the most Greek herb of them all, is traditional for Greek potatoes and the dried form is typically used.
How to Cook Lamb Shoulder Roast in Oven
Low and slow roasting is the traditional method for roasting a Greek Lamb shoulder and yields far better results than a short stint in high temperature oven (better suited for boneless lamb leg).
Be sure to bring the lamb to room temperature before cooking.
NOTE: In order to brown the surface of the lamb shoulder before you begin cooking it you can either sear it in a hot pan or simply place it in a very hot oven for the first 10-15 minutes. We prefer the second option.
- Prep the potatoes. Preheat oven to 450 F. In an appropriately sized roasting pan toss the potatoes with olive oil, lemon juice, dried oregano and salt and pepper.
- Prep the lamb shoulder. Puree the garlic, shallots, rosemary leaves, lemon zest & juice, salt, pepper and olive oil. Alternatively mince the garlic, shallots and rosemary leaves and mix with the other ingredients. Rub the mixture all over the lamb shoulder, getting into the crevices of a rolled boneless cut if this is what you’re using. Place the meat on top of the potatoes and add enough stock to cover the potatoes about half way.
- Roast. Place in the hot oven for up to 15 minutes, then take out and lower the temperature to 300 F. Loosely tent the lamb with foil and place back in the oven for 1 hour. After one hour remove the foil. Baste the lamb with some of the juices in the pan. Continue to slow roast until the meat gets to your desired tenderness.
How to Cook Lamb Shoulder Roast on the Grill
Roasting a lamb shoulder on the grill, especially if a charcoal grill, imparts more authentic, rustic Greek flavor closer to what a spit fire roasted lamb would taste like. Use a large cast iron skillet or roasting pan suitable for the grill, especially if also making Greek lemon potatoes. You want to capture all the delicious liquids that will ooze from the meat and use the them to baste it occasionally.
Otherwise the steps are very similar to oven roasting.
- Prep the lamb shoulder and potatoes. Heat the grill to 450 F and prepare the potatoes and lamb shoulder as described above. Place the lamb over thick round onion slices or on top of the potatoes if using and add the stock. Place the roasting pan or large skillet on the grill and cover.
- Grill. After about 15 minutes open the grill and loosely tent the lamb with foil. Lower the temperature to 300 F. After one hour remove the foil and continue to cook the lamb, low and slow, basting it occasionally until the meat is as tender as you’d like it.
Lamb Shoulder Roast Cooking Time
Even though lamb is food safe and medium-rare at 140 F internal temperature, a Greek lamb roast is about fork tender meat, not a pink center. You may disregard the temperature.
The total cooking time required to slow roast a lamb shoulder depends on:
- Size of lamb shoulder. Bigger takes longer.
- Boneless or bone-in cut. The boneless will cook faster.
- Oven strength/calibration. If you know your oven to be strong use 275 F. Overall, adjust oven temperature as needed.
- Desired doneness. This is really a personal decision, but generally we like to see the fat cap melted away, a nice crust and fork tender meat.
Overall budget about 50 – 60 minutes per pound of lamb and consider adjustments as per the above criteria.
If you go with slow roasting potatoes all you really need for the perfect Greek meal is a salad and some sour cream, yogurt sauce or tzatziki as sides. A simple salad I like to serve is thinly sliced romaine, red onions, pitted kalamata olives (dried if you find them) and feta crumbled on top.
If you go the route of roasting the lamb shoulder only consider an orzo salad with fresh or roasted vegetables or Greek roasted veggies in tomato sauce.
Where to Buy Lamb Shoulder
Lamb shoulder, whether bone-in or boneless is not as widely available at the meat departments of most grocery stores as lamb leg is. If this is the case where you live ask your local butcher to get exactly what you need or shop online – we recommend D’Artagnan (affiliate links below).
Other Recipes You Might Like
- 2.5 lbs lamb shoulder (boneless or bone-in)*
- 1/4 cup olive oil
- 2 lemons, medium sized, juice of + 1 tsp zest**
- 2 shallots (halved)
- 4-6 cloves garlic
- 3-4 sprigs rosemary, leaves removed
- 1 tbsp coarse salt + pinch or two more for the potatoes
- 1 tsp pepper + pinch or two more for the potatoes
- 3 lbs baby potatoes***
- 1 tbsp dried oregano
- 2 cups stock (chicken or vegetable) or water, might use less
FOR OVEN LAMB SHOULDER ROAST
1. Bring the lamb shoulder to room temperature. Trim any excess fat, but leave a good amount of fat cap on top. Preheat the oven to 450 F.
2. In a suitably sized roasting pan toss the potatoes with olive oil, half the lemon juice, oregano and a bit of salt and pepper.
3. Combine 2 tbsp olive oil, remaining lemon juice, 1 tsp lemon zest, rosemary leaves, salt, pepper, garlic and shallots. Puree using a handheld or counter top blender. (Alternatively mince garlic, shallots and rosemary leaves and combine with the rest of the ingredients). Spread all over the lamb shoulder and place it over the potatoes.
4. Add enough stock or water to cover the potatoes just over halfway. Place in the oven for 10-15 minutes.
5. After 10-15 minutes lower the heat to 300 F and loosely tent the roasting pan with foil. Place back in the oven for 60 minutes. After 60 minutes remove the foil and continue roasting low and slow for another 90 minutes or until desired tenderness is reached. You may baste the lamb shoulder occasionally with the drippings from the pan.
FOR GRILLED LAMB SHOULDER ROAST
1. Preheat the grill to 450 F.
2. Prepare the potatoes and lamb shoulder as described above and place in a suitable roasting pan. Roast for 10-15 minutes (grill lid down).
3. Lower the grill temperature to 300 F. Loosely cover the roasting pan with foil. Slow roast for 60 minutes then remove the foil. Continue roasting for about 90 more minutes or as needed, occasionally lifting the lid to baste the lamb shoulder.
Greek lamb roast is all about fork tender meat, not a pink center. Disregard internal temperature and slow roast until desired tenderness is achieved. A rule of thumb is about 60 minutes per pound of lamb shoulder, but this varies based on the size of the meat and whether boneless or bone-in.
*a bone-in shoulder of the same weight will have less meat so perhaps purchase one closer to 3 lbs for the same number of servings.
** Adjust quantity of lemon juice per taste preferences. While the paste rubbed over the lamb can take on extra lemon juice, the potatoes can occasionally taste too lemony for some people. Feel free to reduce the lemon juice you toss the potatoes in or eliminate it altogether. Lemon tartness can vary greatly so taste the lemon juice before you use it and make adjustments accordingly.
***use quantity as a guideline, you want to have as many as needed to fill the roasting pan - do not overcrowd it.
Nutrition Information:Yield: 6 Serving Size: 1
Amount Per Serving: Calories: 590Total Fat: 19gSaturated Fat: 5gTrans Fat: 0gUnsaturated Fat: 13gCholesterol: 121mgSodium: 1347mgCarbohydrates: 60gFiber: 7gSugar: 9gProtein: 45g