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  • BBQ Recipes: Smoked Spiced Lamb Shoulder & Date Barbecue Sauce

    A big hunk of blackened meat on a grill, dark with a thick spice rub

    Photo courtesy of Berj Ghazarian

    This summer, mix up your grill game with inspiration from experts in the United Arab Emirates and the United States.

    Here, Berj Ghazarian has contributed his recipe for lamb shoulder, combining the techniques of Central Texas barbecue and its characteristic “bark” exterior with flavors drawn from culinary traditions in his Armenian American family. Berj is the pitmaster behind Bark BBQ, a pop-up barbecue stand based in Baltimore, Maryland. He previously took part in the 2018 Folklife Festival’s Armenia program along with his father, Boris, whose company Tamar and Tomas provided the concessions at the Festival’s Khorovatz Grill.

    Pitmaster Hattem Mattar also shares the recipe for his signature date-based barbecue sauce. Dates, the fruit that is fundamental to the Middle Eastern foodways, bring a natural, light sweetness to the sauce, in lieu of the molasses or brown sugar often used in American versions. Try this sauce on any smoked or grilled main dish—it makes enough to feed a crowd. Hattem is the proprietor of the Mattar Farm Kitchen in Dubai, where he smokes meat and makes people happy. Following an apprenticeship in Central Texas, he became known as the first Arab pitmaster.

    To learn more about barbecue, its American origins, and ways it is taking root around the world, check out our Beyond the Mall program “Barbecue Across Cultures” on Friday, July 3, at noon Eastern. In it, Berj and Hattem talk with James Beard Award-winning soul food scholar Adrian Miller about creating community around barbecue.

    Smoked Spiced Lamb Shoulder

    By Berj Ghazarian, Bark BBQ

    Prep time: 30 minutes
    Cook time: 9–10 hours

    Tools Needed

    Boning knife
    Cutting board
    Barbecue smoker
    Baking tray
    Spray bottle


    Whole lamb shoulder, bone-in

    Spice Blend
    1 1/2 tablespoons whole black peppercorns
    1 tablespoon coarse salt
    1 teaspoon whole pink peppercorns
    1 teaspoon Aleppo pepper or crushed red peppers
    1 teaspoon chopped fresh rosemary
    1/2 teaspoon coriander seeds
    1 whole allspice
    1/4 teaspoon paprika
    Pinch of ground clove
    Pinch of cumin
    Pinch of nutmeg

    Garlic Puree
    6 whole peeled garlic cloves
    1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil

    2 cups apple juice
    1 cup water
    1/4 cup Worcestershire sauce


    Make your spice blend by first toasting the black peppercorns, pink peppercorns, coriander seed, and allspice on a skillet over medium-high heat until they slightly brown and begin releasing their aromatics. Keep moving spices in the pan so they do not burn.

    In a spice grinder, combine the toasted spices along with the remaining spices and grind into an even, coarse texture. Set aside.

    In a blender, combine garlic cloves with olive oil and blend for 1 minute, or until you have a smooth paste.

    Remove your lamb shoulder from the refrigerator and trim off any excess fat that is loose—you don’t want this to burn! I don’t recommend trimming the lamb shoulder too much. You want a 1/8 inch to1/4 inch of fat on the shoulder.

    Rub the garlic puree liberally on all sides of the lamb shoulder.

    Using an empty shaker, or with your hands, apply the spice blend liberally on all sides of the shoulder, making sure it is coated evenly with a heavy layer of spice.

    Let shoulder rest in the refrigerator for 2 hours or overnight.

    Make spritz by mixing apple juice, water, and Worcestershire sauce. Put in spray bottle and set aside.

    Smoke your lamb shoulder at a temperature between 250 to 270 degrees Fahrenheit, making sure you are keeping a steady temperature and clean fire. Cook the lamb shoulder for 6 to 7 hours, spritzing with apple mixture for added moisture every 2 hours.

    After 6 to 7 hours (or near an internal meat temperature of 175 degrees Fahrenheit), wrap the lamb shoulder in heavy duty aluminum foil and place back on the smoker.

    Continue cooking lamb shoulder until you reach an internal meat temperature of 200 to 205 degrees Fahrenheit.

    Remove lamb shoulder and let rest 1 hour at room temperature.

    Remove lamb from foil. It should pull apart from the bones easily.


    A dish full of barbecue sauce ingredients before they are blended: pitted dates, tomatoes, onions, and more
    Photo courtesy of Hattem Mattar

    Date Barbecue Sauce

    By Hattem Mattar


    1/2 cup butter
    2 cups red onions, sliced
    1 cup white onions, sliced
    1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
    Juice of 1 orange 
    5 whole tomatoes, roughly chopped 
    4 cups dates, pitted and roughly chopped
    1/4 cup soy sauce  
    1 cup ketchup 
    1/4 cup grated ginger 
    1 head garlic, cloves peeled and smashed
    2 tbsp garlic powder
    Salt and pepper to taste 


    In a cast iron pan over low heat, melt the butter and caramelize the onions until deep brown. Deglaze the pan with apple cider vinegar and orange juice as needed to get any stuck pieces during caramelization.

    Add tomatoes and dates, cooking until the tomatoes release their juices.

    Add soy sauce, ketchup, ginger, garlic, and garlic powder. Simmer together on low heat for 20 to 30 minutes. Your sauce should now be a thick paste.

    Using an immersion blender or food processor, blend the sauce to a uniform consistency. Strain if desired; not straining gives a more pronounced flavor. Add water to create a thinner pouring sauce, or leave as is for a basting or simmer sauce.

    Sihha w hana! (Literally “health and happiness,” the Arabic way to say “enjoy your meal!”)

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