What is Beef Cheek Meat? A Complete Guide

Beef cheek meat, also known as barbacoa meat, is a unique and flavorful cut that comes from the facial muscles of a cow. While it may not be as popular as cuts like ribeye or sirloin, beef cheek has a rich, succulent taste and tender texture when cooked properly. In this complete guide, we’ll cover everything you need to know about beef cheek meat – where it comes from, how to cook it, and some delicious recipe ideas.

An Introduction to Beef Cheeks

The beef cheek comes from the muscular part of a cow’s cheek, just below the eye and next to the jawbone. This area sees a lot of use as the cow chews and masticates food throughout its life. As a result, the beef cheek contains a high amount of collagen which makes it a tough cut of meat. When cooked low and slow, however, that collagen breaks down into gelatin which leaves the beef wonderfully tender. It also imparts a rich, beefy flavor that is perfect for stews, braises, tacos and more!

Beef cheek is sometimes sold interchangeably as barbacoa since it’s commonly used in Mexican barbacoa recipes. It’s also referred to as beef chuck flap meat. Whatever you call it, beef cheek has long been prized for its flavor and versatility. Many butchers sell it as a cheap, tough cut but home cooks know that with the right cooking method, beef cheek can be meltingly tender with unbeatable flavor.

Where Beef Cheeks Come From on the Cow

Beef cheek meat comes from the cow’s head region. More specifically, it is cut from the rounded facial muscles of the cow, between the eye and jowl area. This region sees a lot of use from the cow chewing, masticating and moving its mouth which works the connective tissues. There are two separate muscles that make up the beef cheeks – the larger superficial masseter and the smaller deep masseter. The superficial masseter tends to be leaner while the deep masseter contains more intramuscular fat, both of which contribute to the rich flavor.

Typical Characteristics of Beef Cheek Meat

  • Tough and fibrous – Beef cheek contains a lot of connective tissue which makes it a very tough cut when raw. If not prepared properly, it can be unpalatable.

  • High in collagen – All that connective tissue means beef cheek is very high in collagen. This gives it a rich mouthfeel when cooked slowly.

  • Intense beef flavor – Thanks to the high workout it gets during the cow’s lifetime, beef cheek has a deep beefy flavor.

  • Moist and tender when braised – With slow, moist cooking, beef cheek becomes extremely tender with a succulent texture.

  • More affordable – Since it is a tougher cut, beef cheek tends to cost less per pound than premium steaks and roasts.

  • Versatile – Braised beef cheek makes excellent tacos, chili, stew and more!

How to Cook Beef Cheek for Maximum Tenderness

The most important thing when cooking beef cheek is using a slow, moist cooking method. This allows the tough collagen to break down into luscious gelatin over time. There are two main techniques for preparing beef cheek:

Braising: Brown the beef cheek first in a skillet, then cook covered in a flavorful liquid like broth, wine or tomatoes for 2-3 hours until fall-apart tender. The meat stays moist while the connective tissues soften.

Slow cooker: Combine beef cheek with cooking liquid and aromatics in a slow cooker. Cook on low heat for 8-10 hours. The extended cooking time guarantees a melt-in-your-mouth texture.

For both methods, keep the following tips in mind:

  • Cut beef cheek into 1-2 inch pieces to maximize tenderness
  • Cook low and slow – aim for 300°F oven or lower
  • Make sure the meat is completely submerged in liquid while cooking
  • Cook times can vary from 2-10 hours depending on size; aim for fork tender
  • Use a flavorful cooking liquid like broth, salsa or wine
  • Try a finishing sauce made from the braising liquid for serving

Different Ways to Enjoy Tender Braised Beef Cheeks

Once you’ve transformed tough beef cheek into fall-apart, succulent meat, the possibilities are endless for how to enjoy it! Here are some of the most popular ways to serve braised beef cheeks:

  • Tacos – Shredded beef cheek is right at home in soft corn tortillas. Top with onion, cilantro and your favorite taco fixings.

  • Nachos – Pile beef cheek onto tortilla chips and add cheese, jalapeños, beans, etc.

  • Burritos – Fill a flour tortilla with steaming hot beef cheek, rice, cheese, etc. and wrap it up.

  • Stew – Beef cheek makes a rich, hearty beef stew when cooked in broth with veggies.

  • Chili – Use shredded beef cheek in place of ground beef for a chili with deeper flavor.

  • Sandwiches – Pile tender shredded beef cheek onto rolls for scrumptious sandwiches or sliders.

  • Ragu – Substitute beef cheek for ground beef in a rich, pasta ragu sauce.

  • Dumplings – Make pillowy dumplings and spoon stewed beef cheek into them.

The rich, gelatinous texture of braised beef cheek also makes a fantastic filling for empanadas, pot pies, tacos and beyond!

Popular International Beef Cheek Dishes

While beef cheek is enjoyed worldwide, it plays a special role in various international cuisines where it is prized for its flavor. Here are a few iconic beef cheek dishes from around the globe:

  • Mexico – Birria and Barbacoa: Beef cheek is used to make the classic Mexican dishes birria and barbacoa which feature heavily in tacos and burritos.

  • Italy – Guanciale: Pork or beef jowl/cheek cured in the style of bacon for pasta dishes like spaghetti carbonara.

  • Korea – Galbi Jjim: A popular Korean braised beef short rib and cheek stew.

  • Jamaica – Mannish Water: A goat head soup made with the cheek and other head parts slow cooked into a hearty broth.

  • Philippines – Beef Pares: A Filipino beef stew often made with oxtails and beef cheeks.

Purchasing and Preparing Beef Cheek

When shopping for beef cheek, look for pieces with good marbling and a thick layer of fat on one side. Well-marbled cheek meat will have the best flavor. Depending on the size, beef cheek may need to be portioned into smaller pieces for cooking. Here are some tips:

  • Look for beef cheek at specialty butchers, Latin markets or online
  • Plan on approximately 1 pound per person
  • Choose cheeks with white fat marbling rather than yellow
  • Trim off any dried, leathery outer membrane
  • Cut into 1-2 inch chunks across the grain before cooking
  • Marinate overnight in a flavorful marinade (optional)

Due to its extensive connective tissues, beef cheek does shrink considerably when cooking – about 60%. Keep this in mind when portioning out meat.

Nutrition Information of Beef Cheek

While specific nutrition will vary between cuts, beef cheek is one of the more nutritious beef cuts. In a typical 4 ounce serving, it provides:

  • 300 calories
  • 25g fat (38% DV)
  • 300mg cholesterol (27% DV)
  • 18g protein (33% DV)
  • 10% DV iron
  • 49% DV vitamin B12
  • 33% DV zinc

Beef cheek is high in protein, vitamins and minerals. It has a higher fat content than typical lean cuts, which contributes to its rich flavor and tenderness when braised.

In Conclusion

While underutilized and often overlooked, beef cheek has a stellar flavor and texture when braised or stewed properly. Taking advantage of this affordable cut rewards cooks with meat that is fall-apart tender with unbeatable beefy richness. With minimal preparation, beef cheek transforms into a totally new cut that excels in tacos, sandwiches, nachos and stews. Seek it out at your local butcher and add this amazing ingredient into your cooking repertoire. With the proper technique, beef cheek never disappoints!

The BEST Beef Cheek Recipe! | Chuds BBQ


Is beef cheek meat good?

Beef cheeks frequently feature on restaurant menus and are prized for their rich and full flavour and meltingly tender texture but they’re not a cut that home cooks often use. If you would like to add something new to your cooking repertoire then they are definitely worth trying.

What are beef cheeks called in USA?

Also known as barbacoa meat, beef cheek meat is great in tacos, quesadillas, burritos and other delicious dishes. What is beef cheek meat? Beef cheeks come from the face of the cow, next to the jaw muscle. Our cheek meat produces a wonderful, melt-in-your-mouth bite packed with traditional flavor.

Are beef cheeks a cheap cut?

Are beef cheeks an affordable cut? “They’re very affordable! They usually go for around $15 per kilo, which is a very good price for a cut like that.

What is beef cheek meat also known as?

Beef Cheeks are also known as Ox Cheeks. Come from the facial Cheek muscles of cattle. Average Weight is 12 to 14 oz per Cheek. Must be braised / slow cooked for the very best results.

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