If you’ve never had beef cheek (or even heard of it), I can’t say I’m surprised. It’s a rare find—but it is the ultimate diamond in the rough of the meat world (is there a meat world…?).

I happened across a 4-pound frozen pack of beef cheek while stocking up on grass-fed beef from a rancher in Arvada. The rancher opened the walk-in freezer to collect my usual requests—beef heart, tongue, stew meat, etc.—and that’s when I spied the cheek. I asked if it was any good. In retrospect, I am pointing and laughing at my former self.

Was it any good.

Do people like bacon? Has David Bowie passed on (too soon)? Does it snow in Colorado?

Mr. Rancher (name changed for confidentiality) stopped rummaging through a box of sirloin and raised his eyebrows at me.

“Ohhh yes,” he said. “I make barbacoa out of it. It’s very good. Very very good.”

I bought the cheek not really thinking much of it. I had no idea how to prepare it, so I did what I do with most meat I’m unfamiliar with: I threw it in the crockpot with some spices and bone broth, then walked away for 6 hours.


Beef cheek barbacoa is what you wish Chipotle tasted like. It’s tender, fatty, and falls apart in the pot. It’s a little spicy but not too much. It melts in your mouth and makes you wonder how bad it would be if you ate all 4 pounds in one sitting.

In short, it’s the Beef to Rule All Beef.

I would have been perfectly happy chowing down on cheek all by itself, but I made some crepe-tortilla-wrap-things and served the barbacoa in those with avocado, cilantro and tomatoes. They were the best soft tacos I think I’ve ever had.

I don’t think you’ll be able to find beef cheek in a grocery store. Maybe Whole Foods or a Mexican grocery store. Maybe. You’re better off calling up a farmer in your area and seeing if you can get it directly from them. In that case, you’re much more likely to get meat that’s been sustainably and humanely raised.

And if it’s hard to find…keep looking. Remember what I said about it being the diamond in the rough? I’m not kidding!

Beef Cheek Barbacoa


  • 4 lb. beef cheek
  • 1 diced yellow onion
  • 10 whole garlic cloves
  • 5 cups bone broth
  • 4 Tbsp. New Mexico chile powder
  • ½ tsp. cayenne
  • 2 tsp. ground cumin
  • 2 Tbsp. mild chili powder
  • ½ tsp. ground black pepper
  • ½ tsp. smoked paprika
  • 1 Tbsp. kosher salt
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1 tsp. whole cloves


  • Place all ingredients in a crock pot.
  • Cook on low for 6-8 hours.
  • Serve.