So, a while back I went to Quebec and fell in love with beef cheek meat and thought the only way to eat it was slowly braised and on top of some sort of starchy puree. I was wrong. As with almost every type of meat, it’s better in a taco. Specifically, barbacoa tacos which usually use the entire head of a cow, but because full beef heads are a bit tough to come by, AND I’m not digging up a pit in my backyard, we went with a part of the head that is often overlooked by so many people – the beef cheek. We’re honored to be partnering with Scholze Family Farms on this post, and this recipe was written from the awesome cuts of meat they sent to me this quarter. Let’s talk about Beef Cheek Barbacoa Tacos, shall we?
You’ll notice that I love using the cuts of meat that most people tend to think of as too tough to deal with. Often people of humble means could only afford these cuts, as the more admirable cuts were reserved and priced for affluent folks to buy. Once discovered that the secret to making the best of these cuts was cooking them low and slow, then, of course, the price increased, and well, you know that story. Beef cheeks still haven’t gotten to a price point where I find them ridiculous (I’m looking at you oxtails) but they are becoming more loved by mainstream places, but they’ve always been loved by tacos. Always.
Where does beef cheek meat come from?
Beef cheek meat comes from exactly where it says. The cut is from the head of the cow and because of the workout this muscle gets from chewing cud, it’s quite a ‘tough’ piece of meat loaded with sinew which is a piece of tough fibrous tissue uniting muscle to bone or bone to bone. You’ll find sinews in your own body, but most often use the term ligament or tendon. Any time a muscle has extra blood flow – from exercise essentially – the muscle turns into something that will produce so much flavor when prepared properly. And like similar types of meat like shank, shortribs, and oxtail, they need to be cooked low and slow. Whether you use your oven, slow cooker, grill, or smoker, you’ll win! The sinews
What is barbacoa?
Barbacoa is a form of cooking meat that originated in the Arawak-speaking Caribbean with the Taíno people, from which the term barbecue derives. In Mexico, it generally refers to meats such as goat, beef, or lamb slow-cooked over an open fire or, more traditionally, in a hole dug in the ground covered with agave leaves. This meat is known for its high-fat content and strong flavor often accompanied with onions and cilantro.
How do you prepare beef cheek meat?
With choosing ways to season the meat for my tacos, I thought about the ways that I was going to cook it. We did both grilling and slow cooking, and those are both forgiving to a little heavier seasoning since we’d end up putting the meat in a bit of liquid to complete the cooking.
When you first buy beef cheek meet, you’ll notice that it may be surrounded by a LOT of fat. You’ll want to remove the majority of this along with the silver skin – the thin membrane of connective tissue found on various meats – because this piece of tissue doesn’t break down like collagen. Leaving the silver skin on results in a chewy piece of meat that may even curl up after cooking. It just ruins everything.
If you still can’t picture it, think about a rack of ribs. That piece of opaque skin you usually pull off before grilling (you DO pull it off, right?) that’s the silver skin. Most large cuts of meat have it, and it doesn’t take a lot to pull it off. If you’re not sure about cutting it off, your local buture can do it with purchase usually.
You can insert a paring knife under the silver skin and make a little pocket to get your finger into. You can then slide your finger or the knife along the cut of meat and remove the skin yourself. If you’re like me, you will have a great sense of satisfaction from removing in one piece.
Prepping the barbacoa to grill
Since we don’t have a smoker, I know – bummer – we decided to do the next best thing and indirectly grill our beef cheeks. While smoking would have been ideal, grilling was the next best thing to get the We also included smoking wood chips to give it a better flavor.
Now, let’s talk about the crust on these cheeks, otherwise known as the bark. Bark is the combination of spices and smoke from a grill. If you’re grilling as we are and not smoking, you’ll get this if you grill indirectly. That is, you put your meat over the part of the grill that doesn’t have coals underneath it. You can then manually rig the grill to pull the smoke over the meat while also cooking it fully.
We decided to use seasonings that were more savory than the typical barbecue rub. Salt, pepper, cumin, chili powder, chipotle peppers, paprika, Mexican oregano, onions, and garlic. I seasoned them liberally and let them marinate in the refrigerator overnight.
Remember grilling takes a lot less time than smoking, so be sure to watch your grills properly. Smoking allows you to leave the beef cheek meat on the grill for much longer than charcoal grilling does. It’s just the difference in heat and cooking methods.
If you do everything properly and all align well, you’ll get the most tender meat for tacos. There will be meat that you can pull apart with your hands or two forks, and just the right amount of gelatinous flavor. It was incredibly hard to grab the photos for these since the houseful kept sampling the shredded beef cheek meat before I could get it plated properly.
Now, alone, this meat is enough to make you wanna slap the cook, but when paired with freshly grilled corn tortillas, minced onion, cilantro, and cojita cheese? *chefs kiss*
Beef Cheek Barbacoa Tacos
Tacos made from tender bits of beef cheek meat - grilled to perfection - simplicity is key.
- 6 lbs beef cheek meat
- 1 cup beef stock
- 1.5 tbs kosher flake salt
- 1 tbs pepper
- 1 tsp cumin
- 1 tsp smoked paprika
- 1 tsp chili powder
- 1/2 tsp ground cloves
- 1/2 tsp smoked chipotle peppers
- 1/2 tsp Mexican oregano
- 1 bunch of cilantro rinsed and chopped
- 3 bulbs of garlic
- 2 large onions
- cojiata cheese
- Rinse your beef cheeks and pat dry before placing on cutting board
- Remove the silver skin and any extra fat. Don't remove it all, because you need those extra bits for flavor. A butcher can do this for you if you're uncomfortable.
- Cut your onions into large chunks and put into a tray you will use for seasoning and marinating
- Peel and smash your garlic cloves and place in the tray
- Mix all seasoning together
- Lay your beef cheeks on top of the onions and garlic to prepare for seasoning.
- Liberally coat all sides of the beef cheeks with the seasoning and place in the refrigerator for 4 hours or overnight.
- Remove your beef cheeks from the refrigerator at least one hour before you're ready to grill them. Do NOT discard your onions and garlic.
- Presoak your wood chips to prepare them for smoking.
- Prepare your grill by placing heated charcoal (use a charcoal chimney) on one side with the presoaked wood chips on top of them.
- Place your beef cheeks on the opposite side of the charcoal and grill them for 2.5 hours or until fork tender. A bark should be present, and when pulled apart, a smoke ring should accompany the meat.
- While the beef cheeks are grilling, use a pressure cooker to heat up one cup of beef stock and the onions and garlic left over from your marinating tray.
- After the beef cheeks are grilled to your liking place them in the pressure cooker for 15 minutes to create a proper sauce for your tacos to be dressed with.
- Shred the beef cheeks after they are done being infused with extra flavor.
- Prepare your tortillas according to the package instructions
- Load your tacos and dress them with cilantro, onion, cojita cheese and a lime wedge.
Amount Per Serving: Calories: 284Total Fat: 19gSaturated Fat: 7gTrans Fat: 0gUnsaturated Fat: 9gCholesterol: 83mgSodium: 403mgCarbohydrates: 2gFiber: 0gSugar: 1gProtein: 26g
We are not dietitians or nutritionists. Please consult your doctor to make sure that you are using the best diet for your health