I don’t even remember the last time I bought a package of beef at the store.
We usually butcher a steer every 12-18 months, which keeps our freezers filled to overflowing.
But even though we’ve been doing this for years, the same thing happens every. single. time.
The hamburger and steaks fly out of the freezer first, and I’m left with the same lingering packages of cuts I’m not entirely sure how to use.
Ever had that happen?
Well, I’m tired of it. And it’s kinda embarrassing. And I’m ready to get rid of this problem once and for all.
Therefore, may I present to you…
The Cooking Through the Cow Series.
The goal of this blog series is to help you (and yes, me too) figure out how to best utilize the cuts of beef that might not be as popular in our modern American diets; the cuts with all sorts of wonderful attributes that tend to stay buried at the bottom of the freezer due to hesitation on what the heck to do with them.
But they won’t be lingering at the bottom of the deep freeze anymore. Because we’re gonna turn them into something delicious.
First up on the proverbial cutting board? The beautiful, yet often overlooked, beef shank.
What is Beef Shank?
The shank is found on the leg of a cow, just above the knee or hock. This cut of meat is cut in horizontal cuts (often in 1-inch slices), which is why beef shank looks like a steak with a circle of the leg bone in each piece. (It is also sometimes sold boneless.) Inside the bone there is piece of marrow that is edible as well.
This bone-surrounded-by-meat cut is either unknown by most people or has a reputation for being tough and dry. However, with some simple tips, beef shank can not only save you money, but also provide a nutritious and very flavorful meal.
Other Names for Beef Shank
There are two shank parts in a cow (the front and back legs), and they can be sold under the different names: the Fore Shank and the Hind (or Rear) Shank.
Beef shank can also be sold as “soup bones” at the store (this is how my local butcher labels them). If you go to a butcher shop for your beef shank, they often only sell the rear shank because it is longer and more uniform in shape.
Is Beef Shank Easy to Find?
It’s likely your standard neighborhood grocery store might not carry beef shanks, although it never hurts to ask behind the butcher counter. It’s not a popular cut in generic grocery stories since many people aren’t sure how to best use beef shanks and they are a cheap cut which yields minimal profit for the store.
However, since there are four beef shank cuts per cow, it can be a common and frugal item to find at local farms, local butcher shops, or better-quality grocery stores.
Are Beef Shanks Tough or Tender?
Since beef shank is the leg parts of the cow, it is a very tough, dry, sinewy piece of meat. Naturally, the legs of cows are hard-working, and so it it full of muscles, connective tissues, bones, and joints.
However, beef shanks can become extremely tender, as in: eat-it-with-a-spoon-tender if it is cooked for a long time in moist heat (like simmering it all day in your crockpot). Therefore, braising or slow cooking beef shank is ideal.
Are Beef Shanks Expensive?
Because beef shanks are incredibly overlooked, they are generally very affordable. As a bonus, they are also very nutrient-dense (more on that below), which gives them a ton of bang for just a few bucks.
Versatility of Beef Shank
How to Cook Beef Shank
The most important thing you need to know about cooking with beef shanks is that it requires time. Plan on cooking your beef shanks for at least 4 to 6 hours to transform it from tough and chewy to tender and flavorful. (Or try using a pressure cooker to reduce the time.)
However, as beef shanks are cooked slowly at a low temperature, the nutritional value of this cut really comes out. Bone and cartilage are rich sources for important nutritional minerals, and as the beef shanks simmer/cook, the minerals are seep out and give the beef shanks a deep and rich flavor.
(Some people claim this cut can be “gamey” or especially strong flavored. I would agree that it has more flavor than a basic burger, but I don’t find it offensive.)
After a long day of simmering, beef shanks actually give you THREE edible parts: the meat, bone marrow (yes, bone marrow is edible AND good for you!), and gelatin from the bones.
Once you’ve made your meal from the beef shank (recipe ideas below), save the bones and make a rich, nutrious bone broth from them. Here are my best tips for making beef bone broth.
Or, if you’d like to make stock first, sear the shanks, let them simmer in the broth for at least 12 hours, then remove the meat from the bone, shred it, and use in other dishes.
Beef Shank Recipes:
- Slow Cooked Beef Shanks with Onions and Mushrooms
- Ossobuco Beef Shanks
- Braised Beef Shanks with Gremolata
- Rich Beef Barley Soup
- Pot Au Feu (Beef Stew)
- Slow Cooked Beef Shanks with Garlic, Veggies, and Herbs
- Caldo de Res (Mexican Beef Soup)
Don’t forget to save the bones to make a rich and hearty beef bone broth!
Beef Shank Quick Rankings:
- Sourcing Difficulty: 5 (1= available everywhere, 10= very difficult to find)
- Versatility: 7 (1= very versatile, 10= very limited uses)
- Price: 2 (1= cheap as it gets, 10= special occasions only!)
- Toughness: 8 (1= spoon tender, 10= shoe leather)
Alrighty readers! It’s your turn– what are your favorite tips and recipes for cooking beef shanks?