Slow Roast Lamb

This slow roasted lamb shoulder coaxes the meat to fall-apart tenderness in the oven while infusing it with the pervasive aroma and flavor of chile, orange, and honey.

A slow roasted lamb shoulder in an oval cast iron dish with orange wedges.

This slow roasted lamb shoulder cooks low and slow, gently intensifying the flavors and coaxing the lamb to fall-apart-tenderness. And it couldn’t be any easier. Just toss some ingredients together, let them mingle in the fridge overnight, then toss it in the oven and forget about it for a few hours. Even better, notes author Annie Rigg, there’s no need to fuss with making gravy since the onions and oranges create such beautiful pan juices.

Renee Schettler

Why do I need to let my lamb rest?

Essentially, by letting the meat rest before slicing, you’re letting the protein fibers relax and the juices redistribute within the meat instead of all over your cutting board. Not resting your roast lamb, or any meat for that matter, is a common mistake that really does hinder taste and texture. If you’ve avoided doing it because you think you’re just gonna end up with cold lamb, then you’re in for a pleasant surprise. We’re not telling you to leave it on the counter for hours—a 10 to 20 minute rest is all you need—loosely tent it with foil and get the rest of dinner ready. You can even put it on a pre-warmed platter if you’re really worried about heat loss.

Slow Roasted Lamb

  • Quick Glance
  • (1)
  • 30 M
  • 11 H
  • Serves 4 to 6
5/5 - 1 reviews
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In a small, dry skillet over low to medium heat, toast the cumin seeds, fennel seeds, and dried chiles until they start to become aromatic, shaking the pan almost constantly so that they toast evenly, about 1 minute. 

Lightly grind the toasted spices using a mortar and pestle but be careful not to reduce them to a powder. In a small bowl, combine the ground spices and chiles with the chile powder or smoked paprika, olive oil, honey, and salt and black pepper to taste.

Using a sharp knife, cut 5 to 6 slashes into the lamb shoulder. Place the lamb in either a 2-gallon resealable plastic bag or a roasting pan and rub the spice mixture into the meat. Add the onions, oranges, garlic, and cinnamon stick. Massage everything together so that the meat is really well covered and then either seal the bag or cover the meat. 

Stash the lamb in the fridge for at least 8 hours or overnight. (Ideally, you’d flip the lamb occasionally to keep it evenly coated with the marinade, but this isn’t going to make or break your roast.)

The next day, preheat the oven to 375ºF (191ºC). lace the lamb on the counter. P

If using a plastic bag, dump the lamb and the rest of the contents of the bag into the roasting pan. Make sure the lamb is skin-side up and that there is an even distribution of onions, oranges, and garlic around the meat, doing your best to keep the onions in intact wedges if possible. Roast the lamb, uncovered, for 20 minutes. Then cover the roasting pan tightly with foil, reduce the heat to 300ºF (149ºC), and cook until the lamb is tender and registers 160°F (71ºC) if you prefer medium doneness or 175°F (79°C) for fall-apart tenderness, which ought to take anywhere from 2 to 2 1/2 hours. When the lamb reaches the desired temperature, take it out of the oven and crank the oven back up to 375ºF (191ºC). Be aware that leg of lamb will take less time than lamb shoulder.

Uncover the lamb, spoon the pomegranate molasses over the top, and then spoon the pan juices over the lamb while you wait for the oven to reach 375°F (191ºC). When the oven reaches temperature, slide the lamb and roasting pan back in the oven and cook, uncovered, until it’s nicely browned and sticky, 10 to 20 minutes. 

Loosely cover the lamb with foil and let it rest in the pan on the counter for a good 20 minutes.

Meanwhile, using a slotted spoon or tongs, gently move the oranges, onions, and garlic to a plate. Strain the juices from the roasting pan into a fat separator or a bowl and set them aside until the fat rises to the surface. While the juices rest, squeeze some or all of the garlic cloves into the strained juices or reserve the roasted garlic for another use. If you used a Seville orange, you can finely chop it and scatter it atop the lamb for modest bursts of sweetly sour loveliness.

When the lamb has rested, carve it as thickly or thinly as you please or grab a couple forks and use them to pull the meat from the bone into shreds. Pile the lamb on a platter. Serve it with the pan juices poured over the lamb or passed on the side. Originally published December 05, 2016. 

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Recipe Testers' Reviews

Well, this slow roasted lamb is a lovely dish and a subtly addictive mix of flavors.This was a big hit with my family of lamb lovers. I was a little concerned that there wasn't a lot of marinade, but it turned out to be just the right amount when mingled with the lamb juices. Not overpowering, just lovely flavors.

I loved the warm smells from the toasting spices. The molasses caramelizes on the lamb and adds a bit of sweetness to the pan juices. There was a lot of fat, so I degreased the pan juices and added the roasted garlic to them. I used smoked paprika rather than ancho chile, and I think that was the better choice. The dish ends up with a slight smokiness, but not the chile heat. I couldn't find Seville oranges, so I used one Cara Cara navel and one lime.

The timing worked perfectly for me. This piece of meat, at $15 per pound, was pretty expensive for a simple dish, and also a lot of meat for my small family. I know we'll eat it all up, but I could see trying this recipe, timings adjusted, with lamb shanks, which have the bonus of being less fatty.

Lamb is just about my favorite meat, so I jumped at the opportunity to make this slow roasted lamb for a special Sunday dinner with friends. Said friends had access to Seville oranges and brought me some since I couldn’t find any in my area stores. Score! Pomegranate molasses was no problem to come by and I was off marinating.

I used a boneless, rolled-and-tied, grass-fed lamb shoulder that weighed 3 1/2 pounds. We all enjoyed the lamb, it seemed quite special and exotic, and it got me out of my usual garlic and rosemary routine. A roasting time of 2 1/2 hours total (I removed the lamb from the oven when it registered 160°F (71°C)) produced a tender, but not falling apart, lamb shoulder. I poured my pan juices into a measuring cup. I had 1/2 cup juice and 1/4 cup grease. I discarded the grease and then deglazed the pan with a little white wine and added that to my pan juices.

A minor detail that I took issue with was the instruction to cut the garlic heads in half horizontally. If you do this, the smaller ends of the garlic cloves just fall right out of the papers, and then you have messy papers floating around the pan. I think a much better instruction (and this is what I did with my second garlic head) is to cut just the bottom third off, most of the garlic stays intact this way.

Also, some of the orange wedges ended up fully soft from roasting in the pan juices, and some still remained a little firm. I used the soft oranges, the pulp pretty much dissolved, and sliced them into julienne and scattered over the lamb. It really added a bright note.



  1. This recipe looks great. I’ve got a couple of guys coming over for our monthly food, wine (cigars after) soirée and it’s my turn to cook. Couple of questions on this recipe if I may: I notice that there is no liquid in the recipe-unusual for a lamb shoulder. Any issue with either drying out or toughness? Second, i’m trying to match a wine, but given the fruit, spices, honey etc I’m thinking about big Grenache or Zin, or jammy can. Any recommendations or experience with wine and this recipe.

    1. Great questions, neal. As the lamb cooks, the fat from the lamb will melt and combine with the juices from the oranges, creating some wonderful pan juices and the moist air trapped under the foil with the lamb will keep it from drying out and being tough. As for the wine, we don’t have any experience pairing this particular recipe with wine, but I think you’re on the right track. A nicely balanced Cabernet Sauvignon will work well, or even a Cab-forward blend will pair well with the roast lamb. Do let us know how it turns out!

  2. This looks terrific. I will be making this with a 1.5 lb. boneless half leg. I’m looking for that wonderful, fall apart texture. You mentioned an approximate cooking time of 2 to 2.5 hours; but, what temperature should the internal thermometer read?

    1. Lee, if you’re looking for that fall apart tenderness, aim for an internal temperature of 175°F (80°C). Do let us know how it turns out.

    1. Patricia, you certainly can, but I think these flavor combinations are better suited to roast lamb. If you choose to use this preparation, I would follow a roast beef recipe for roasting time, though, as it will be different from this.

  3. PLEASE USE CAUTION WHEN SUBSTITUTING LEG OF LAMB! I infrequently cook red meat, didn’t give enough thought to the different properties of shoulder and leg, and wound up with nine pounds of badly overcooked lamb to serve at my dinner for 16. In retrospect, I should have known that “fall-apart tenderness” probably wasn’t a possibility for leg of lamb and wish I had cooked it the bare minimum prior to reheating. As it was, I made the dish sort of acceptable by soaking it all day in the marinade (including all the garlic, pureed) and adding orange and tangerine slices, plus chopped and whole dates. The final product was at least palatable, though far short of my “company” standard.

  4. Could this be adapted for a slow cooker? Wouldn’t be able to get the crust, but it sounds like it might make a good shreddable version.

    1. Suzanne, yes, that should work fine! I checked with my colleague, Beth Price, who has far more slow cooker expertise than I, and she suggests it would probably take 6 to 8 hours on high. She also noted that she’d be inclined to add about 1/2 cup stock or water to the slow cooker. She cautions it might be a little too tender to come out of the slow cooker in a manageable piece but if you’re looking for a shreddable version, then that’s not an issue. Kindly let us know how it goes!

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