What Is Beef Shank?

Angela Farrer

Beef shank is a cut of meat that has been butchered from the leg of a cow or bull. This type of meat is known for its tough texture and low fat content compared to other cuts of beef. Since the leg muscles of cattle are weight-bearing, they become thick and sinewy throughout the animals' lives. The resulting shank is normally used only in a few specific beef dishes that allow it to be sufficiently softened and tenderized. Shank meat is also a popular option for making extra lean ground hamburger meat.

Many cooks prefer to braise beef shank in a slow cooker.
Many cooks prefer to braise beef shank in a slow cooker.

The meat in beef shank is normally found above the cattle's knees because this area is where the muscle has been thickened the most from daily use. Many grocery stores sell meat that is still attached to the bone, and many cooks prefer this option because it yields a relatively large amount of beef for an economical price. Common methods of cutting shank from the bone entail slicing the meat horizontally and removing it in sections. This step is usually done when preparing beef shank for soups and stews.

A beef shank comes from the cow's leg.
A beef shank comes from the cow's leg.

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Some of the most popular methods for cooking shank include braising it in a generous amount of flavoring liquid. Many cooks find that braising works best in a slow cooker, although they first need to be sure that a larger section of shank will fit into the cooker. Favorite flavoring ingredients for braised shank in include beef stock, tomato sauce, diced onions, and minced garlic. Since beef shank contains much more collagen than fat, the braising liquid works to give the meat a tenderized texture closer to that of other cuts of meat with higher fat content.

Beef burgundy is an another favorite dish made with braised shank. Making this classic dish generally involves cooking cubed pieces of beef shank in a mixture of red wine, condensed mushroom soup, and various seasonings. Once the shank pieces have absorbed enough of the cooking liquid, they are then served over rice or pasta, depending on individual preferences.

This particular cut of beef is also available from calf legs and is known as veal shank. Calf meat is generally not as thick as the beef shank from grown cattle. A popular recipe that includes veal shank is called osso bucco, and it can be cooked in either a Dutch oven or a slow cooker. Common ingredients added to osso bucco include stewed tomatoes, white wine, ground parsley, and diced carrots.

Braised beef is often added to stew, along with onions, tomatoes and other vegetables.
Braised beef is often added to stew, along with onions, tomatoes and other vegetables.

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