Slow-cooking is perfect for beef cheeks. It turns the tough meat into a wonderfully melt-in-your-mouth, rich and tender delicacy.
It's a truly effortless dish, where your slow cooker does all the work. And as is usually the case with slow-cooked meats, leftovers are absolutely wonderful.
I've been making this slow-cooker recipe often this winter. It is rich, tasty and comforting, and it's truly easy - a classic hands-off recipe. I think it's even better than a pot roast. Which says a lot, because I LOVE pot roast. But this meat comes out even more tender and flavorful.
Beef cheeks are a tough cut of meat. This is not the cut you'd want to quickly sear. But when properly cooked, which means slow-cooked, they are incredible. The meat becomes incredibly rich, and it's so tender, you could literally eat it with a spoon. It's a super-satisfying entree that my entire family loves.
The list of ingredients needed to make this recipe is delightfully short. The exact measurements are included in the recipe card below. Here's an overview of what you'll need:
Beef cheeks: I usually order them online at grasslandbeef.com. Sometimes I ask the butcher at Whole Foods to special order them for me.
Kosher salt and black pepper: If using fine salt, you should reduce the amount you use, or the dish could turn out too salty.
Spices: I like to use onion powder, garlic powder, smoked paprika, and ground cumin.
The challenge when cooking cheeks is that they are wonderfully flavorful, but they are also fairly lean and very tough. All that chewing the cow does develops some tough muscle tissue!
The only way to make them edible - and delicious - is to cook them low and slow and use moist heat.
You can't, for example, simply roast them or pan-fry them. But the process of slow cooking turns their tough meat into a wonderfully melt-in-your-mouth, rich and flavorful dish.
The detailed instructions for making this recipe are listed in the recipe card below. Here are the basic steps:
Mix the salt and spices in a small bowl.
Layer the meat in your slow cooker, sprinkling each layer with part of the spices.
Cover and cook on LOW for 8 hours.
Thicken the cooking liquids. Mix a cornstarch slurry into the liquids, then cook for 30 more minutes on HIGH.
Serve the wonderfully tender meat topped with the tasty pan sauce. Perfection!
As you can see, I don't add any liquid to the slow cooker pan before cooking. The meat releases plenty of liquid as it cooks. Adding liquid before cooking would result in the meat basically boiling inside the slow cooker. That's not what you want. You want it to braise.
Having said that, if you're worried about sticking, there's no harm in adding a small amount of beef broth to the slow cooker pan - no more than ½ cup.
Frequently asked questions
Also called ox cheeks, they are literally the cheek muscle of the cow. This meat is very tough - after all, this is a muscle that the cow uses continually to chew. The only proper way to cook it is low and slow, and then it becomes wonderfully rich and tender.
Perhaps you didn't cook them long enough, or perhaps you tried to use a dry cooking method such as roasting.
The only way to make them reliably tender is to cook them low and slow using a moist cooking method such as braising. The slow cooker is perfect for that.
Recommended side dishes
Leftovers keep well in the fridge, in an airtight container, for 3-4 days. I reheat them, covered, in the microwave on 50% power.
Sometimes I shred the leftover meat and use it to top my lunch salad the next day. Or I add it to a sandwich wrap.
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Tender Slow-Cooked Beef Cheeks
- 2 teaspoons Diamond Crystal kosher salt or 1 teaspoon fine salt
- ½ teaspoon black pepper
- 1 teaspoon onion powder
- 1 teaspoon garlic powder
- 1 teaspoon smoked paprika
- ½ teaspoon ground cumin
- 4 lb. beef cheeks (6-8 cheeks)
- 1 tablespoon cornstarch mixed with 1 tablespoon of cold water
- In a small bowl, mix together the kosher salt, black pepper, onion powder, garlic powder, smoked paprika, and ground cumin.
- Layer the cheeks in the slow cooker pan as shown in the video below, sprinkling each layer with part of the spice mixture. There’s no need to add liquids. The meat will release liquid as it cooks.
- Cover and cook on LOW for 8 hours, until the meat becomes very tender (the smell will be amazing!).
- Mix the cornstarch and water to create a cornstarch slurry. Gently mix the slurry into the cooking liquids at the bottom of the slow cooker pan. Cover again and cook on HIGH for 30 minutes.
- Divide the meat between plates, spoon the pan juices on top, and serve.