Wish I Tried This Venison Shank Recipe Sooner
I have a terrible confession. While growing up hunting, our family never used the venison shanks (essentially the lower leg if you’re unfamiliar). They were simply discarded with the bones. When I asked why we did it, the answer was, “there’s just no meat on them.”
As I got older, it really started to bother me. So I started trimming the meat off of the silver skin and sinew to get a measly handful of meat to add to the burger/sausage pile. Honestly, it did seem silly, but I didn’t want to just toss it out either.
You probably already know, but I try to utilize more of the deer each year I take one. Mostly I do that by continuing to try new venison recipes.
- I’ve always loved cooking the heart with onions.
- I made my first batch of venison bone broth one year ago, which actually did use some shank meat.
- This year, I also saved the caul fat (from around the stomach and intestines) to wrap meatballs and meatloaf with.
Well, I finally also set my mind to making an awesome venison shank recipe. And it seriously changed my approach forever.
Why Are Venison Shanks Tough?
First, why are the deer shanks such a tough part of the animal to prepare? The deer shank is a powerful muscle that they use constantly to get around. Located on the bottom section of their front and hind legs (think forearm and calf muscles on us), it is a workhorse of a muscle. To be so strong, there are several thin sheets of muscle sandwiched between layers of connective tissue (sinew and silver skin).
In cross section, it looks like you could easily trim them clean. But it’s a losing battle that takes forever for minimal return. And we hate adding all those tough membranes to our sausage/burger simply because it binds up the grinder. So where do you go from there?
Obviously, the Internet
Luckily, I actually found a lot of venison shank recipes in short order. In fact, I felt embarrassed I hadn’t tried one sooner.
I’ve mentioned it before, but I love watching MeatEater (i.e., I binge watch it on Netflix). I was inspired by a clip of Steven Rinella talking about preparing venison shank adobada. The recipe is covered in his brand new cookbook, The MeatEater Fish and Game Cookbook. He also discusses venison shank osso bucco in several videos.
Similarly, Hank Shaw has a ton of great wild game recipes, including several ways to cook venison shank. I looked through a few to get a general feel for the preparation and process. Unfortunately, I was almost paralyzed about which venison shank recipe to use, since they all sounded amazing!
The common consensus is that the best way to produce a great venison shank recipe is to braise it slowly in liquid. So, I got the crock pot/slow cooker out and got busy. In the end, I think I kind of averaged a bunch of recipes out, using the principles from several to create my own simple dish. But it was anything but simple tasting – it was phenomenal!
Slow Cooker Venison Shank Recipe
First, let’s talk about how to cut venison shanks. I simply separated the shanks at the joints (from a deer I killed this fall) and froze them whole. As they unthawed, I realized it was far too large to fit into my slow cooker. So I used a hatchet to chop them in half – it’s what I had on-hand, but a saw would produce a much nicer-looking cut. I also took my time to look for bone fragments just so it wouldn’t end up in the stew.
I then heated some butter and oil in a Dutch oven on the stove top and browned the venison shank pieces on all sides. After browning, I moved them into the crock pot/slow cooker, and turned it on the high setting. Into the still-hot Dutch oven, I cooked my onions and carrots for about 8 minutes, adding chopped garlic, fresh rosemary, and salt and pepper for the last minute. I added a heavy pour of red wine (I used a Cabernet Sauvignon) and turned the heat off.
After adding some small red potatoes on top of the shank pieces, I dumped the Dutch oven concoction into the slow cooker. To this, I added two jars of my homemade venison bone broth and one can of beef broth so that the shanks were covered in liquid (necessary for braised venison shanks). Oh, I also tossed in some bay leaves, more salt and pepper, and a little Worcestershire sauce.
Seven hours later (all on the “high” setting), I took a section of the shank out to inspect it…
And…How Did It Turn Out?!
Here’s what you’re really wondering, right? Let me just say, braised venison shank is literally fall-off-the-bone tender. I would have never expected that from such a tough cut. The weirdest part for me was that all the sinew and membranes turned into a gelatinous and mellow substance, still sandwiched between the layers of tender meat. I picked it all apart and added the meat back into the stew. Literally, it made pulled pork look tough. Did I say it was tender?
While I was really happy with the end result of this venison shank crock pot recipe, it also made me feel a little ashamed. All my life, I’d ignored this cut or spent a ridiculous amount of time cleaning it for a fraction of the total meat present. And yet, it made some of the best venison stew I’ve ever had. I can honestly say, this venison shank recipe will become a mainstay in my wild game cooking, and I look forward to all the additional meals I will get from each deer in the future.
So if you’re in a similar situation as I was and looking for some easy venison slow cooker recipes, this is a fantastic one to try with a cut that often is ignored or mistreated. Enjoy!
John McDonough says
how do you think this would turn out with boned venison shank and no venison broth?
Hey John – honestly, simmering the bone-in shank would likely impart some of the same bone broth qualities to it. Give it a go!
ALAN BRYANT says
Love this article and while I’m reading it i am cooking two large portions of bones from the three we just harvested. I have another recipe that I now use for shank meat and it turns out amazing,
start by browning your shanks on the BBQ until they are sealed then keep them on low heat for approx two hour on tin foil, when this is finished cut off all the meat you can place it in large pot and add a pre-cooked gravy and stock simmer until the meat is tender and serve with mash potatoes and choice of veg.
The guys in our camp save a couple of whole shanks every year and cook this a camp meal…cheap and easy.
Ah that sounds good – I really like the idea of gravy and potatoes with it. I seem to like shanks more and more each year.
Do you think this would work with frozen shanks as well? Or would you recommend thawing them first?
I think it would be preferable to thaw them first, but since you’re cooking them over such a long time period, it might work frozen? Haven’t tried it myself. Good luck and let me know if you do.
So, I did it frozen! I had two 1.5/2lb roasts that I put in my Instapot together with the carrots and onions. I set it on high for 6 hours–this is my first time making a roast with venison, so I don’t have a ton of background info to compare with what I made. However, I thought it was pretty good. I *do* think it would have gotten even more tender and been even better if I’d let it sit on high for 7-8 hours instead. It was definitely beyond edible though–It was delicious in terms of flavor, just a bit on the tougher side–which I’m sure would have been mitigated by more time in the “low and slow” process.
stan poth says
Felt bad for all the years I didn’t save the turkey legs just like these shanks, same cooking and same results. Thanks for info.
For sure – I tried smoking some turkey legs one time, which obviously made them even tougher. But then I added them to a soup and slowly simmered it – it had a similar effect of breaking it down into a silky and tender cut.
Excellent recipe! In the past, I too have delegated shanks to the grind pile but this year I kept them whole. I used your recipe as a guide and heartily agree! This is the best stew, venison or otherwise, that I’ve ever eaten. Thanks for sharing.