Shank Or Butt Ham: Which One Rules?

Shank or Butt Ham? The debate rages on. Should you serve up a shank or a butt ham? There are pros and cons to both but which One Should Wear the Crown?

You might not have even heard of these types of ham before now, and if this is the case, you have come to the right place. Food terminology can be extremely confusing.

Shank Or Butt Ham: Which One Rules?

For instance, Pork butt and Boston butt are identical cuts of meat, both being taken from the shoulder of the pig. Single steak types often have multiple different names too — it’s all very convoluted.

Fortunately, with ham, there are two distinct classifications that we can use to make our meal time decision: shank and butt.

But before we dive into if one is better than the other, you might be wondering what each cut means. In this article,

we go through what shank and butt ham are and how the decision of which one is better comes down to the occasion with a few other deciding factors. Let’s jump in.

What Is Shank And Butt Ham?

Shank ham comes from the lower part of the leg, while butt ham comes from the upper part of the leg. Shank ham is fattier than butt ham. Shank ham is more visually appealing, but butt ham is much leaner. 

However, butt ham is not as flavorsome as the shank, but shank ham can be more expensive. Though similar,

this means shank and butt ham do have some distinguishable differences and as a BBQ enthusiast or meat chef, you must take note of these.

Fresh Pork Or Ham?

When buying pork for your next barbecue, make sure that you buy fresh pork. This will ensure that you get the best quality meat possible. Frozen pork is usually cheaper but it won’t taste nearly as good as fresh meat.

If you’re looking at purchasing fresh pork, make sure that it has been stored properly. Make sure that you keep it refrigerated until you need it.

You don’t want to end up with an unappetizing piece of meat because it was left out too long.

But when it comes to butt and shank ham, is this referring to just ham, or the fresh pork we suggest you keep for BBQs? The answer is, we are referring to both.

Both terms are used to refer to fresh pork as well as ham, and when you hear these terms, the shank refers to the lower end of the front leg of the animal, while the butt is almost the shoulder.


Hams are a popular meat served on roasts, at BBQs, at picnics, and more. Ham usually is made into sandwiches, but it’s also served as an entrée. Ham is often used in gourmet cooking because it’s very lean.

When you purchase a whole ham, you will end up with both the shank and the butt. You get the shank part, which is the lower half of the leg.

The butt ends are the upper half of the leg. Both however are cut from the hind leg, which is split up into two sections.

The lower section of the ankle is labeled the hock and this contains a huge amount of fat and gristle. For this reason, it’s often sold separately.

When the ham is prepared for cooking, the hock is the first section to be removed. The remainder of the leg is cured in a wet or dry brine solution and smoked until the ham is cooked through. 

Whole hams are very large and this means they are often separated into the shank and butt, which we will be exploring in this article.

It would be tricky to sell them otherwise, as they contain too much meat for just one family or household.

Shank Or Butt Ham: Which One Rules?

Differences Between Shank Ham And Butt Ham

Shanks come from the pig’s lower legs and contain a single bone running along the length of the leg. The meat is fatty and simple to carve because of the bone’s position.

Shanks have a nice appearance overall. However, if you prefer leaner meats, then butt ham wins.

Butt ham comes from the top portion, and because it is so much leaner, it often can serve a lot more people. Despite this,

the shank often carves much nicer and has a much nicer appearance and so for these reasons, wins when it comes to deciding on which meat to serve up at a dinner party. Just bear in mind there will be more fat to cut off.

Identifying Shank Or Butt Ham

The shank section of the ham has a kind of funnel shape, and this is because the cut contains a section of the femur as well as the shank bone.

As a result, the meat has a lot more flavor but can be tougher to chew than the butt section of the ham.

Butt hams are usually smaller than shank hams. The butt ham has a rounded edge that makes it easier to identify and differentiate from the shank.

The meat is a lot leaner on this cut of the ham, but the shape makes carving more difficult.

This means there are advantages and disadvantages to both cuts of ham and it can be hard to pick which one works best for your BBQ.

Does A Pig Have Two Butts?

A pig does indeed have two butts. There is a small one and a larger one. The small butt is located closer to the head and the larger butt is located further down towards the rear.

If you look closely at a pig you’ll see that the backside of the animal is divided into two halves. 

Having two butts can make it extremely difficult for chefs when they learn the cuts of pork.

As we’ve established in this article, the terms butt and shank refer to fresh pork, meaning they are more than just ham.

It’s easy to remember that the shank is the lower section of the leg, and the butt is the upper portion, and this is the case of the front and hind legs.

However, when the shoulder is smoked and cured, it is more commonly referred to as a smoked shoulder or a picnic ham.

This can be confusing yet again as most chefs believe ham only comes from the hind legs of the pig. Raw ‘pork butt’ is therefore the top part of the shoulder.

Shank Vs Shoulder

Picnic shoulders are often served as part of a meal, but they’re also delicious when used as appetizers and since both the shoulder and the shank come from the upper portion of the pig’s leg, they have a lot in common.

Shank Or Butt Ham: Which One Rules?

Picnic shoulder ham yields meat that is dense and slightly tougher than the butt section of your average ham, but it is also packed with flavor.

If you looked at the slices side by side, you would struggle to tell the difference between the shank and the picnic shoulder.

When it comes to texture, it is also pretty similar. However, the shoulder has a lot more muscle, and the muscles run in alternate directions, making it a lot harder to carve.

Picnic shoulder is also much cheaper to buy than normal ham, so is perfect for those on a budget.

Which One Is Healthier?

Ham overall is a fatty cut of pork. It’s low in calories but high in salt. It’s not the healthiest dish in the world, but in moderation,

it can be enjoyed by everyone. Ham is a good source of protein and this applies to both the butt and shank cut.

Butt ham is better than shank ham in a lot of ways however because it’s leaner. As the butt meat is leaner, it tends to have fewer calories and saturated fats.

If that’s a concern, then always opt for butt ham if you are stuck between the two.

As we have mentioned, however, whichever cut you buy, you need to be mindful of the salt. Cured meats have a high sodium content,

and just one serving makes up nearly the whole recommended sodium intake for adults in one day. So keep it only for special occasions!

Spiral Ham

The spiral ham is a type of salami made from pork loin. Spiral ham is usually sliced thinly and eaten raw. It is an excellent choice for sandwiches.

It’s important to note that spiral hams are not processed like other types of salamis. They have simply cured ham slices with spices such as garlic and black pepper. The meat however is often divided into butt and shank portions.

Spiral ham is carved before reaching the store, and it is carved using a slicer that moves in a spiral motion down the length of the pig’s bone.

The slices you would yield on the butt end are much bigger, but the shank slices will be much denser and have a lot more flavor, yet these are a lot smaller.

If you buy a ham that is not already sliced and you would like some spiral ham, you can carve the meat up into spirals at home, and it is great if you like thicker slices. This process is hard however and takes a lot of practice.

Cooking Spiral Ham

Spiral ham is usually sold fully cooked. To make sure your ham is ready to eat, check the label. Precooked spiral ham should be heated to a low temperature (300°F) for about 10 minutes per 1 lb.

Fully cooked spiral ham should be heated until warmed throughout, but not hot enough to burn the skin.

Spiral hams should be cooked without any kind of sauce or glaze. Covering them with foil prevents them from drying out when you pop them in the oven to warm,

and you can add a glaze after removing the foil. Pop this back in the oven after doing so to finish heating.

Serving Sizes

You should plan on one pound (454 grams) of cooked meat per person. If 10 people are attending your party, you should buy a ten-pound bone-in pork shoulder or five pounds of boneless pork loin.

These numbers are flexible, depending on how many guests are coming to your party. For example, if you have a lot of children, you will not need as much meat.

This applies also when you are serving another protein source and plenty of sides.

Final Thoughts

We hope after reading this article you have learned all you need to know about shank and butt ham and have decided which one should wear the crown.

Although shank ham is usually the most popular cut, it does come down to what you value more, appearance or a leaner ham? Try them both and see what you think! Happy grilling from us!

John Rinder
Latest posts by John Rinder (see all)