Schweinshaxe is the quintessential dish of the Bavarian beer halls. Learn to make a fork tender and juicy roasted pork knuckle with crispy skin like a pro.
What is Schweinshaxe anyways?
In German Schwein means pig and Haxe means leg. Schweinshaxe literally translates to pork leg/shank/hock/knuckle.
It is pronounced shvains-hakseh (ˈʃvaɪns.haksə). This is the Bavarian name. In the North, especially in the Berlin area the same specialty is called Eisbein (pronounced aisbain (ˈaɪ̯sˌbaɪ̯n) and is typically pickled, boiled and sometimes grilled.
Why all the different names though?
Some people call the knuckles ham hocks, others call them shanks. When Chris just ordered it, the line item of his meat vendor was titled ‘shanks’. It all depends on the exact cut from generally the same area of a pig’s leg.
NOTE: Sometimes you’ll get it with the skin still attached, more commonly without (in the US).
Schweinshaxe is the lower part of the shank, at its very end, essentially the joint where the foot of the pig is attached to the leg.
Where to buy Schweinshaxe?
Pork knuckles are typically sold with the bone sticking out and have plenty of fat which sizzles away during roasting (OMG does it smell good)!
In Bavaria typically the skin will be attached to the knuckles and during roasting will form a delicious crackling. In the US you must go to the butcher to find knuckles with a skin band attached.
Do not worry if you cannot find pork knuckles with the skin attached – they are just as delicious without it.
- If there is an Asian store near you, they are your best bet to have it in their meat department assortment. Asians use the exact same cut in various recipes. It is very popular in Indonesia and the Philippines for example. Such is the demand for the cut that it is frequently imported. The Czech Republic exports huge amounts of pork hocks (shanks/knuckles) to Asia.
- Your second best bet is to look for pork hocks in the pork section of the meat department of your regular grocery store. If you do not find what you are looking for, talk to the person in charge of the meat department to see if they can order it for you. It shouldn’t be difficult for them, but often times they don’t simply because few people cook pork knuckles.
- If you are lucky enough to live in a town that has an actual butcher shop – just tell them what you are planning on cooking and you will likely get the royal treatment.
Cook’s notes on how to prepare Schweinshaxe
Watch the video in our Roasted Pork Knuckle recipe card below for detailed illustration of the steps involved in preparing juicy and tender Schweinshaxe with a crispy skin.
Even though preparing a Bavarian roasted pork knuckle is pretty straight forward as you can see from the steps in the video I want to elaborate on a few of these to give you a better understanding of why they are needed and why this roasted pork knuckle recipe includes them.
- Simmering the pork knuckles before roasting them moistens and softens the meat. It is also a prime opportunity for infusing it with most agreeable flavors
- Talking about agreeable flavors we like to add Doppelbock lager to the cooking liquid used to simmer the knuckles above any other beer style. It is the perfect, most flavorful beer you can possibly use in this recipe with its luxurious maltiness and rich spice profile.
- Scoring the meat once it has simmered is an important step as it allows for the crispy skin to form as the fat is rendered. Use a sharp knife and hold the knuckle steady in upright position with tongues (just like you see me do in the video).
- 3 pork knuckles sometimes referred to as shanks, knuckles are the lower part of the shank
- 1 tbsp caraway seeds
- 3 bay leaves
- 4 cloves
- 1 yellow onion diced
- 6 cloves of garlic minced
- 1 tsp salt + 1 tsp pepper
- 1 12 oz Doppelbock substitute with Dunkel, Schwarzbier or Marzen/Oktoberfest
- 2 cups water
- 2 lbs small gold potatoes
- 1/4 cup olive oil
- 4 cloves garlic
- 1 tsp salt + 1 tsp pepper
- 1 cup water
- Optional: 2 tbsp butter 2 tbsp flour if you want to make a gravy
- Wrap the caraway seed, bay leaf and clove in cheese cloth and make a little sachet.
- In a dutch oven or a larger pot with a lid, place the pork knuckles.
- Add the onion, garlic, salt and pepper and sachet with aromatics.
- Add the beer and the water.
- Cover with the lid, bring to boil over medium high heat.
Once it starts boiling, reduce the heat to medium, the knuckles will continue to simmer. Leave for 60 minutes. Check on and move the shanks around once or twice during that time.
After one hour, remove the knuckles from the liquid and place in a roasting pan. Let cool off a little bit.
- Discard the aromatics sachet.
- Score the knuckles with a sharp knife, especially the fattiest parts.
- Optional: With a hand held blender blend the cooled off liquid from the boiled knuckles. Use part as basting liquid for the knuckles and the rest as the base for a gravy.
- Place the roasting pan in a 375°F oven and roast for 2 hrs. You may vary the time depending on the strength of your oven, but 2 hours is average.
- Optional: While roasting the knuckles, baste once or twice with the blended liquid. The skin will get caramelized and become even crispier.
- While the knuckles are roasting, prepare the gold potatoes.
- Start by placing them in a large pan, drizzle with the olive oil, add the garlic, salt and pepper and water and coat them well. Let them simmer with a lid on over medium high heat until they begin to feel tender (test with a fork).
- Once tender, remove the lid and put them in the oven until the skin begins to get slightly crispy. If you are lucky, potatoes and knuckles will be done at the same time. You will be lucky:)
- Optional: Assuming you made a basting liquid and basted the knuckles, you still have plenty of it left to make a gravy. Melt 2 tbsp butter in a sauce pan, add flour and stir until a smooth paste forms. Add the basting liquid slowly and stir as you add it until it is well incorporated. Taste and season with salt and pepper. You now have gravy.
- Serve the knuckles with the bone sticking up. Holding the bone with a napkin, use a fork to strip the meat of the bone.
- The beauty of this recipe is that the cooking liquid is loaded with flavor and it is plentiful. This is why you see me blend it with a handheld immersion blender.
- Basting liquid – when you baste pork knuckles with the blended cooking liquid the onions, spices and Doppelbock impart even more flavor to the meat and help a beautiful caramelization form.
- Gravy – any leftover blended cooking liquid is easy to convert into a true flavor bomb gravy (consult recipe card).
Traditional Sides to serve with Schweinshaxe
- braised red cabbage
- potatoes – I have eaten it served with Bratkartoffeln (roasted potatoes), mashed potatoes, German potato salad, even fries
- Kartoffelklösse (German potato dumplings) are especially good with the gravy from our recipe
- roasted apples & onions
Best beer styles to pair with Roasted Pork Knuckle
Our Love for Schweinshaxe
Both Chris and I have great respect for the magic of Schweinshaxe. Bavarian people know what they are doing, for reals.
I have eaten my fair share of Schweinshaxe over the years. With crackling and without. Maybe a little bit more than a fair share in my twenties and less so in the past few years, but on average, I have demolished many of a roasted pork knuckle. Loved it every single time!
My mom and her business partner used to travel around the South of Germany visiting customers and she brought me with several times when I was still in college. That is how I discovered the pleasures of beer halls and Schweinshaxe.
Nothing better than entering one of those imposing great halls full of long wooden tables after walking around town in the rain. Warmth, good vibes, excellent beer and fragrant, tender, juicy roasted pork knuckle. With mustard. And spätzle. And gravy made with beer. And sauerkraut.
When I first met Chris, he worked as a chef at the restaurant of a huge German owned (by a prince, His Royal Highness Prince Luitpold) brewery in Vail, Colorado called Kaltenberg. It was just a US location of the real deal, König Ludwig Schlossbrauerei in Bavaria.
It was designed as a true beer hall, beautifully decorated and housed in a large building that was connected to the base station of the Lionshead gondola. You could ski right into it or download from the gondola and enter the beer hall. For whatever reason Kaltenberg was closed down, the building demolished and the area was redeveloped with what Chris and I call ‘monstrosities’ – huge hotels with hundreds and hundreds of rooms and sub-par restaurants. Chris is still friends with the brew master of that Vail Kaltenberg, he now lives in Switzerland and brews for a local brewery there.
Looking back at the good old Kaltenberg days… I would say that even then Chris knew how to cook a wicked Schweinshaxe. I sampled on numerous occasions. He taught me how to do it and even ordered us the very knuckles in these pictures and video. Like I said, not a popular cut of meat and takes talking to your butcher to get some ordered.
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