Butt vs Shank Ham – Choosing the Right Cut

September 4, 2023
Written by Kristy J. Norton

The shank ham is the portion at the lower part of the pig’s leg, closer to the hoof. Meanwhile, the butt end is the part just above the shank ham, that is, above the lower portion of the leg. Both are good protein sources, but the butt end, for me, is the better cut. It’s tender, healthier, and has a rich flavor

You heard your butcher referring to the piece of ham he is holding as a pork butt end. Then again, he’s holding another ham and says it’s shank meat. Confused at the mixed-up, you begin to wonder, “but this is a ham.”

Sure, you’re right. It’s a ham. But I don’t blame you. Until I got professionally involved with hams for my cooking preparations, I used to get confused as I didn’t understand the differences. In today’s article, I will tell you the differences and what exactly a ham is. 

Butt vs shank ham

Comparing Butt Ham and Shank Ham: Side-by-side Comparison 

I’ll start by quickly comparing the major differences between the butt and shank ham. 


Shank Ham

Butt Ham

Where It's Taken

Lower Part of the Leg

Above the Shank Ham

Total Fat Content (for 1 Serving of 3 Oz)

10.8 grams

6 grams

Cholesterol (for 1 Serving of 3 Oz)

61.9 mg

35 mg


13.9 grams

12 grams

Next, I will explain how you can identify them, how easy they are to present, how healthy they are, and some serving suggestions.

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Identifying Shank Portion and Butt Portion Ham

The butt ham has a rounded edge, while the shank portion ham has a funnel shape.

Their shapes result from where they come from. The upper hind of a pig has an oval shape, hence the roundedness of the butt ham. 

More so, a part of the femur usually comes with the shank cut. So, the femur gives the shank its funnel shape.

In addition, the shank is noticeably bent inward towards the end of the funnel. This is because of the shape of the hind leg of a pig. It bends inward just before the beginning of the hock. 

And in size, the butt ham is smaller. So, the butt ham and the shank can be easily differentiated by their shape and size. 

Identifying Cooked Ham

But what if you are served a portion at an event? How do you know it’s a shank or butt ham? 

How I differentiate a butt ham from a shank when eating ham is by the fat content and toughness

The butt ham is leaner because of the lower fat content, as seen from the table. Meanwhile, the shank contains more fat and is tougher on the shank end. 

So I suggest you pay attention to the serving. If it appears tougher to chew, I know I’m eating the shank end. 

However, if it contains more fat than meat, I know I’m eating the upper end of the shank. And if it contains less fat and more meat, I’m eating the butt end ham.

Although the shank is tough towards the end of the funnel, it packs more flavor towards this end. So you are sure to enjoy your shank ham recipes. 


Given that it’s easier to carve, the shank is more presentable than the butt ham.

The round edges of the butt ham make carving more tedious, so extra care is needed to make a more presentable carving. 

Conversely, the funnel shape of the shaft means it has a bone proportionately running through it – also known as the shank bone. This makes carving easier, and I can slice the meat to suit my needs.

So, I’ve always had to trade more meat (which the butt ham contains) for presentability. However, if presentability is not very important, I will always go for the butt portion, as it has less fat, which in some way makes it healthier.

Healthier Choice

Due to its lesser fat content when compared to the shank. The butt ham is the healthier choice.

While ham contains unhealthy or saturated fat, the effect of this becomes obvious if you consume it in large quantities. 

Since I am watchful of my calorie intake, I only take hams occasionally, preferring the butt ham to the shank. A serving of it has fewer calories when compared to similar quantities of the shank.

Apart from the presence of high calories, hams also contain high content of sodium as a result of the curing process. I never take more than two servings of ham on any occasion, as this includes a considerable amount of sodium exceeding the recommended daily intake

Ham is also high in phosphorus. While this is good for the formation of bone and teeth, a 3.5 oz serving of ham contains 247 mg of phosphorous, which is already over a third of the daily intake recommended by the NIH. So you should pay more attention to this information to avoid taking it beyond the daily recommended amount.

Honey Glazed Baked Ham

Serving Sizes

According to the USDA, recommended ham serving is one-fourth of a boneless ham serving or a one-third or half pound of the bone-in ham version. If the diners include children, a lesser quantity of ham is ideal.

Whenever I need to serve a large audience at the table, I understand that I can’t serve too much given the unhealthy effect. You can’t serve too little, or the diners will be unsatisfied. So, to prevent waste or unhealthy food, I shop for the right quantity by considering the number of adults and children to be served.

Adults get approximately a pound of bone-in ham per serving to make up for the bone content and half a pound if it’s boneless meat.

Children get two-thirds of a pound, and if I’m serving shank ham, I reduce the size by a third for both adults and children. This is because shanks contain more sodium and have high cholesterol, as previously analyzed.

All About Ham

Ham is basically the hind part of a pig without the hock.

The hock is the lower portion of the pig leg. When preparing a pig, the hind is separated – also known as a whole ham. 

By the way, butchers don’t sell the complete hind of a pig. The lower leg is sold separately, and what anyone can get as the complete ham are the upper portion and the femur region.

A complete ham is more than most households can consume, and you will rarely see anyone demanding whole hams from a grocery store – I’ve never, except when I’m throwing a party.

So, to make the ham sellable, it is usually divided into two parts – the pork butt end and the ham shank cut.

The ham butt is the upper cut, which comprises the pelvis region. At the same time, the ham shank portion is the lower cut which includes the femur region. In any case, these portions still need curing, or you can’t call them hams.

Two curing options are available – the dry brine and the wet brine. I prefer the wet brine solution when I’m working with large quantities of ham. You can learn more about curing ham here

After the curing process, I use Cherry wood to smoke it on low heat. It preserves the delicate flavor of the ham and allows it to be fully cooked. 

As the pork butt end contains less fat, it requires a steady low heat to be fully cooked. Because I don’t want a badly smoked ham, I take great care with this process.

Glazed Ham with Fruits and Leaves

Pork Shoulder Vs. Shank and Butt Ham

We can’t talk about ham without considering its counterpart, which equally has the privilege to be divided into shank and butt portions – the fore part of a pig. 

You will often hear this portion of fresh pork referred to as shank or butt, but you shouldn’t confuse this with regular ham.

The lower portion of the fore region of fresh pork is also referred to as the shank portion. Likewise, the upper region of the shank, which is the shoulder of the pig, is known as the butt. 

A notable difference between the two portions is that the shoulder is usually tougher than the shank ham. The shoulder also contains extra flavor in comparison to the butt ham. But given the excessive muscle in the shoulder, it is more difficult to carve into attractive slices, so you may have difficulty presenting it.

You will also get the picnic shoulder ham at a lower price. So, it is my preferred choice whenever I’m on a tight budget. However, it needs extra care in preparing it. 

Aside from this, they are similar in look and texture. You might have a hard time telling them apart with an untrained eye. However, if I’m not sure, I can always ask the sales representative for clarification when shopping.

In summary, most hams are made from the hind portion of a pig. While raw pork from the fore portion is equally referred to as shank or butt ham, depending on the region, it’s taken from. When a shoulder is cured and smoked, it’s also called a picnic ham or smoked shoulder.


How Do the Shoulder and Shank Differ?

Both shanks differ by toughness, where they come from, and the name they are called once prepared.

As I’ve explained above, the common shank used in preparing ham is obtained from a pig’s hind legs. Meanwhile, the shoulder is from the fore of a pig, just below the butt ham and above the hock. 

Because the front leg supports most of the pig’s weight it contains more muscle. So the meat here is generally tougher. 

Also, once a shoulder is cured and prepared, it is called “the picnic shoulder” or “picnic ham.” However, a shank ham is a shank ham.

What Are Spiral Sliced Hams?

A spiral ham is a type of ham that has been pre-sliced spirally.

Simple right? But confusing? Don’t be. In simpler terms, a spiral ham goes under the knife immediately after processing. The butcher simply uses a knife to cut the ham spirally while preserving its wholeness and flavor. I enjoy eating this type of ham because it saves me an extra step in cutting the meat.

Another thing to note is that a spiral ham can either be boneless ham or in-bone ham. In-bone spiral hams are easier to make when the ham is the shank. It’s tricky to make spiral ham with butt ham. 

Generally, the top of the shank has more cuts than the lower part due to the different sizes of this region.

A spiral ham can also be made from a full ham, or from either the shank or butt ham.

Do You Need to Cook Shank or Butt Ham?

Generally, no!

Except that when you are preparing ham from raw pork yourself, ham products from a supermarket usually come pre-cooked and ready to eat. So there is no need to cook them after purchase. 

I discovered that heating hams before eating improves their taste and flavor. So I usually allow my ham to spend some minutes in a microwave oven before consuming it. 

Eating warm food is also healthier. The human digestive system is more suited to handling warm food as it doesn’t need extra effort to digest it. As for me, I like taking my food warm, but this boils down to the choice of the eater.

How Can I Store My Ham?

To store it without drying out, wrap in a tea towel, put in the fridge and consume within a week. 

You can also store your butt ham by warming it. However, it would be best if you prevented overcooking the recipe by baking it at least twice a week. 

It is advisable to cook hams before the use by date. As with other types of meat, the longer it stands without being cooked, the higher the chances it will become bad for consumption.

This is a simple guide to the storage of the tin.

  • Temperatures: Do not expose it to extreme temperatures. Butt ham tends to dry up easily in the tropics.
  • Smells: The ham must be kept away from smells such as garlic, onion, or spices. It helps protect its original flavor and reduces the chances of the product getting spoiled too early.

What’s the Difference Between Ham and Fresh Pork?

In simple terms, hams are cured, but pork isn’t. So raw ham remains raw pork.

You’re probably wondering that since ham and pork have similar origins, why they don’t have similar names? 

It’s a lot simpler. Pork is typically sliced for sausages or bacon. In addition, pork has more calories and less fat compared with ham.

I know some people call pork “ham.” Nevertheless, ham and pork have different flavors. 

Pork is raw meat with no preservatives like nitrites or brine water. Hams, however, are cured in a brine of salt and are prepared with salt.

Pork Ham Steak


Differentiating shank and butt ham can be confusing, especially with all the nuances. However, I believe I helped you clarify any confusion you might have about hams being called different names.

In addition to explaining the differences between the butt ham and the shank ham, I have also presented what you need to know about ham, what to consider when serving your guests, and addressed some frequently asked questions.

By Kristy J. Norton
I'm Kristy – a chef and connoisseur of all things BBQ! You can find me either in my kitchen (or someone else's) or at a big outdoor barbecue surrounded by friends and family. In both my professional and personal life I’ve picked up more than a few tips and tricks for turning out delicious food. I consider it a privilege to share it with others!
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