“Substitution” is a line cooks middle name. Whether you’re making dinner in your own kitchen, or getting swamped in orders as a line cook, some of the best dishes have been created by having no choice but to find a substitute. Let’s dive in!
The number one beef shank substitute, in my opinion, would be an oxtail - a bone-in cut of meat from the tail of the cow.
Understanding Beef Shank
A beef shank is a bone-in cut from the upper part of a cow's leg (their “forearm,” if you will). Beef shanks are cheap, incredibly flavorful, and when cooked right, the meat becomes very tender and can go a long way. It’s often used in a soup, stew, or a dish like Osso Buco.
Because cows spend most of their life on their feet, their leg muscles get a lot of use; this makes the meat of the beef shank extremely tough. When you have a tough cut of meat, you’ll want to cook it low and slow to tenderize it. This is usually done with braising, smoking, or in a slow cooker.
The slow-cooking process also extracts a lot of flavor from the bone, resulting in a dish with tons of umami, and an unparalleled flavor.
Now that we understand how a beef shank is used, we can find a substitute! All we need is a similar cut of meat that is bone-in. Preferably, a cross-cut of the bone so that the marrow is exposed.
Beef Shank Synonyms
Before you go too far down the rabbit hole of beef shank replacements, check to see if a beef shank might be masquerading as something else under one of these names:
Beef Fore Shank
Beef Osso Bucco
Cross Cut Shank
Top Beef Shank Replacements
#1 - Oxtail - A bone-in, lean, flavorful cut that is considered a delicacy.
Oxtail is simply a cross-cut section of the cow's tail. It contains very little fat and it is packed with flavor. Treat it exactly as you would a beef shank, first browning, then braising. Oxtail is the most similar to a beef shank in size, uses, and flavor. Because each cow only has one tail, oxtail can be fairly expensive. They can also be difficult to find so it’s a good idea to have some backup options.
#2 - Beef Arm Roast - A bone-in, lean cut. Larger than a beef shank.
A beef arm roast can go by many names: Chuck Primal, Chuck Arm Roast, Arm Pot Roast, or hilariously, a Clod Roast. Beef arm roast is very lean, and has a cross-cut bone, similar to beef shank. However, it's going to be 2-3x larger than a beef shank, meaning you’re going to have a lot more meat.
Smaller cuts like the oxtail or beef shank are typically served in a stew or over grits to make the meat stretch further.
With a beef arm roast, you’ve got 2-3x the amount of meat. So you may wish to serve it differently, perhaps with the beef making up the majority of your dish.
Once you’ve determined how you want to serve your arm roast, simply brown the meat, then braise it.
#3 - Beef Short Ribs - A flavorful, bone-in, fatty cut.
Beef short ribs are another extremely tough cut of meat with a bone attached. They can make a great substitute for beef shank, but you’ll want to note a few things with this substitution.
1. The meat is much fattier. While fat can carry flavor, it can also cloud the liquid in your finished dish. To cook them, remove visible fat, brown the ribs, then braise them low and slow.
2. Because of the fat content and where it comes from on the animal, beef short ribs will have a slightly different flavor than a beef shank. But they’re still extremely delicious and will make a fine substitute.
#4 - Pork Shank - A semi-lean, bone-in cut from a pig.
A pork shank is a fabulous thing, and is often used in split-pea soup. Treat it exactly as you would a beef shank, first browning, then braising. It will fill your dish with incredible flavor, and will yield a similar amount of meat as a beef shank.
#5 - Chuck Roast - A large, boneless, fatty roast.
Chuck roasts are cheap, easy to find, and have lots of flavor. They are very large cuts of meat, but you can certainly make a chuck roast work as a substitute for beef shank.
How to Substitute Chuck for Beef Shank
See if you can’t get your butcher to cut the chuck roast into steaks for you. Or grab your sharpest knife and give it a try yourself!
The goal is to get a more manageable piece out of the roast to use in place of a beef shank.
Once you’ve got a more reasonably-sized cut, remove any excess fat. You don't have to get every last piece, there will be webs of fat and connective tissue running throughout. Just remove any large, visible chunks and you’ll be good to go.
You know the drill by now...brown that sucker and cook it low and slow! Preferably in a bit of braising liquid. You could also try this method of Oven Baked Chuck.
Other Beef Shank Substitutes
While the above-listed cuts are going to be your best bet for a similar replacement, you could theoretically use any lean, tough cut of beef. It won’t be the same, but it will still be tasty. If you can’t find a cut with a bone, ask your butcher for a small beef bone (see if they can cross-cut it for you). If you explain to the butcher what you’re trying to do, they should be able to direct you to the best option at the counter that day.
Once you’re home with your loot, brown your beef, add the bone, and braise away! Remove the bone before serving.
Vegan Beef Shank Replacement
A beef shank provides a small bit of meat and a ton of flavor. To replicate this in a plant-based form, use a generous amount of dried shiitake mushrooms, then pick your favorite fresh mushrooms to make up the “meat.”
Portabella, shiitake, or chicken of the woods, would all be great options. Thinly slice your fresh mushroom, sauté to brown it, then braise. Add the dried mushrooms to the braising liquid and let it cook. Depending on the dish, you can bolster the umami even more with a dash of worcestershire sauce, soy sauce, or liquid smoke.
A beef shank’s primary purpose in a dish is to impart lots of flavor and umami, and to provide a small amount of meat that will be very tender if braised for a long time. Beef shank is sometimes called by other names, which is good to be aware of when you’re on the hunt at the meat counter.
There are five excellent beef shank substitutions as follows, starting with the best:
- Beef Arm Roast
- Beef Short Rib
- Pork Shank
- Beef Chuck Roast
While it won’t be the same, you could substitute most cuts of lean, tough beef (such as a piece of brisket). It will be a very different dish but still delicious.
You can also use a combination of fresh and dried mushrooms as a vegan substitute.