The Tough Cut Of Beef You Likely Won't Find At The Store

In the meat section of a standard grocery store, you're bound to see a familiar selection of beef like ribeye steaks, filet mignon, chuck roasts, and flank steak. However, one that you are not likely ever going to see are beef shanks. Perhaps one of the most affordable cuts of beef available, the shank doesn't sell well as other cuts for one simple reason: It's very tough.

The shank is sourced from the forearm of the cow, just between the brisket and the short plate. Shanks are a lean cut of meat with many sinews and cartilage and often come with a central bone, making the meat difficult to cut and eat, especially when it is not cooked properly.

If you are looking for beef shanks, you'll like find them at butcher shops, specialty meat markets, and local farms. They're also available online from vendors such as Porter Road and Prosper Meats. Regardless of sourcing, knowing how to cook with beef shanks is the key to getting the most out of this uncommon cut. Unlike steaks, direct exposure to high heat is a detriment to beef shanks. Instead, low and slow cooking methods utilizing moist heat are best when it comes to beef shanks. 

The best ways to use beef shanks

When cooked over direct high heat, the sinews and cartilage in the beef shank will tense up and become dry, rubbery, and nearly impossible to chew. In spite of this, there are plenty of other ways to put beef shanks to use — one of the best is for bone broth. The central bone of the shank is filled with marrow, which helps store flavor, collagen proteins, gelatin, and fat along with the cartilage and sinews. These will break down when cooked in liquid for long periods of time, making for a richly flavored, thick broth.

Another thing you could do, provided you have the equipment or a local butcher service, is make lean ground meat out of the shanks. The grinding will loosen the sinews and cartilage, making the meat easier to chew and cook. Braising is also an excellent way to cook them, especially for classic dishes, like Osso Buco, where the cuts of meat are stewed for long periods of time on low heat. Like with bone broth, the gentle, moist heat of the liquid works to break down the sinews and make the meat juicy and tender. So while it may not be the most popular cut of beef, the affordability and adaptability make seeking out beef shanks worth the effort.