What are beef cheeks?

A master butcher explains everything you need to know about one of the most interesting beef cuts, beef cheeks.
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What exactly are beef ‘cheeks’? If you’re looking to step away from your red-meat rut and introduce something a little new onto your at-home menu, beef cheeks are the perfect variation from the norm.

They’re melt-in-your-mouth and perfectly proportioned: ergo, slow-braised beef cheeks are your perfect winter dish. But, considering they’re hardly a regular cut, their rise to popularity has home-cooks across the country asking themselves…

What exactly are beef ‘cheeks’?

Adam Stratton, head butcher at Tender Gourmet Butchery, breaks it down: “Beef cheeks are the facial cheek of the animal. Because it’s quite a used muscle, the cow uses it to chew cud, there’s quite a bit of sinew when they come into a butcher which we then trim off to give you a clean cheek muscle.”

Braised beef cheeks in sarsaparilla.

How do you cook beef cheeks?

“The most common way to cook them is to slow cook them,” explains Stratton. “My favourite way is with a bit of red wine, with micro-herbs. They can take anywhere between 8 or 12 hours. The texture is so different from any other secondary cut.”

“The beef cheek isn’t really suited to other methods of cooking, aside from slow cooking, as it’s a very muscled and tough cut. They’re not generally suited to being cooked in the oven or in a pan, because they need to be softened in a very moist way.”

What should I know before buying beef cheeks?

“Before visiting a butcher, you should be thinking about size and your catering numbers. With each cheek around 350g to 400g, there’s going to be a little bit of shrinkage which will bring it back around 250 or 300g. You will want it completely trimmed, with every bit of sinew removed,” explains Stratton.

“For most butchers, you’ll want to give a day or two notice before buying. Butchers can definitely get them in, but generally don’t stock them in store. There are only two per animal, so they’re more of a specialty cut.”

Beef cheeks with creamed swede.

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. The outcome is similar to something worth $50 a kilo.”

Want to give this cut a try? Here are our favourite beef cheek recipes.

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