Father's Day

Barbacoa Beef Cheek Tacos

January 19, 2010
5 Ratings
  • Serves 6-8 (depends how many tacos each person can eat!)
Author Notes

I couldn't face a whole cow head ... so I made this with cheeks. The marinade turns into a thick, rich almost mole-like sauce ... delicious! —aargersi

Test Kitchen Notes

When we asked for “nose to tail” recipes, we didn’t expect to see many universal crowd-pleasers, but aargersi’s tacos are just that. The beef cheeks, marbled and melting after over three hours in the oven, absorb the various marinade components (spices, coffee, chili, peanut butter) and sing with freshness of the lime juice in which they’re braised. Add a warm corn tortilla, some addictive pink pickled onions, a slab of avocado and a fistful of cilantro leaves, and you’ve got a taco fit for the toughest critic. Make sure to save any leftover onions! – A&M —The Editors

What You'll Need
  • Pickled Onions
  • 1 red onion
  • 1 tablespoon salt
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 1/4 a beet
  • 1 handful cilantro
  • 1 part water
  • 2 parts cider vinegar
  • Barbacoa Beef Cheeks
  • 2 1/2 pounds beef cheeks
  • 4 cloves garlic
  • 1 tablespoon natural peanut butter
  • 1 ancho chili
  • 1 teaspoon instant espresso
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil (plus 2 more for cooking)
  • 1 tablespoon honey
  • 2 teaspoons cumin
  • 1 teaspoon smoked sweet paprika
  • 1 handful fresh cilantro
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup chicken broth (you can use beef too, I just had chicken on hand)
  • 3 limes
  • 1 avocado
  • corn tortillas
  • fresh cilantro
  1. Pickled Onions
  2. Slice the onions very thinly and put them in a microwaveable container. Add the beet, cilantro, salt and sugar. Cover everything with 1 part water to 2 parts vingar.
  3. microwave for 1 minute, stir, and microwave for another minute. Cool, then refridgerate overnight. The beet will turn it a really pretty hot pink color.
  1. Barbacoa Beef Cheeks
  2. Clean and trim the cheeks. Put them in a container that you can marinate them in.
  3. Remove the stem and seeds from the ancho, cut it up into chunks and rehydrate in a little water (I stick it in a ramekin and microwave for 30 seconds)
  4. Peel and chop the garlic. Put everything from the garlic to the salt in the food processor (including the water from the chili) and blend into a paste. Toss the paste with the cheeks and marinate for several hours or better yet over night.
  5. When it is time to cook, heat the oven to 275, and heat 2 tbs olive oil in a dutch oven. Brown the cheeks on both sides. Use the broth to rinse the rest of the marinade into the dutch oven, then squeeze the juice of 3 limes in.
  6. Bake at 275 for 3 1/2 hours - turn the cheeks over once or twice while they cook and if the liquid dries up add a bit more broth
  7. When the cheeks are fall-apart tender, take the pan out of the oven. Using 2 forks, pull the meat apart in the pan so that it mixes in with all of that fatty juicy goodness.
  8. To serve - heat 2 tortillas (I like to double wrap the taco as they are juicy). Fill with barbacoa, a slice of avocado, some of pickled onions and fresh cilantro. Serve and enjoy!!!

See what other Food52ers are saying.

  • maryvelasquez
  • coffeefoodwrite
  • savorthis
  • Airi @ TastynChic
    Airi @ TastynChic
  • lschrive

Recipe by: aargersi

Country living, garden to table cooking, recent beek, rescue all of the dogs, #adoptdontshop

73 Reviews

KyleKerr June 1, 2021
This recipe was great! Easy to follow and was my first time cooking with beef cheeks at home. I always order beef cheek at local restaurants when available but this recipe made it easy to prepare at home too!

I also used my Instant Pot to cook them and it reduced the cooking time down to 75-80- mins.

I also added some fresh pineapple salsa on top and they were delicious!
Jeanine Y. June 10, 2019
Great easy recipe. Couldn’t find cheeks so I got my butcher to cut up boneless ribs to same size as cheeks. Next day leftovers were even better as the day of! Served on tacos with avocado, pickled onions, cilantro, cucumber and fresh jalapeños. Good!!
ChezRocio March 25, 2019
I used a pressure cooker and reduced the cooking time to 90 minutes. Meat was like butter. Sabrosisimo !
Amanda H. March 25, 2019
An Instant Pot or a traditional pressure cooker? Thanks for sharing this tip!
ChezRocio March 25, 2019
Traditional pressure cooker
maryvelasquez August 21, 2014
Has anyone tried beer instead of or in addition to the stock? I think it would work.
marymary June 26, 2014
While looking for basic instruction on how long to cook cow cheeks for my dog, I came across this and decided the dog could eat his own food. WOW. This is the best. I felt like I was deep in Mexico for two days straight. The meat is so tender and the flavor decadent. I used 1-1/2 lbs of the meat and added 1 lb of beef marrow bones. I followed the recipe, except for the following: Instead of a using a processor, I just threw the ingredients together and added the meat and bones to marinate overnight. Upped the broth to 32 oz. sodium free chicken broth + 1 cup or so of water for a soup, subbed ground coffee for instant, jalapeno pepper for ancho, and added 2 tsp Cuban spice mix and some fresh ground pepper.

Cooking time was perfect; turned the meat twice during the process. Pulled the meat apart and put in a separate bowl with the marrow. Strained the liquid, skimmed off fat and added a pre-heated can of black beans to it. Served the meat with HEB's Mixta half corn/half flour tortillas (my new favorite thing), pico de gallo, avocado slices and a cup of black bean soup over white rice, with fresh cilantro and sour cream. I will have to try the processed marinade and the pickled onions another day. And there will be many more to come with this dish! Thank you, thank you, thank you aargersi. P.S. I didn't leave Jack hanging. He gets the marrow bones.
jaxstar84 October 3, 2012
Have got this in the fridge marinating and it smells awesome!! I cant wait till I can cook it tomorrow!
coffeefoodwrite August 31, 2012
It's so great to see this recipe active again! It looks so yummy!
savorthis August 30, 2012
These look great. No wonder so many people are saving it! If I can get to the mexican market this weekend I am all over it.
aargersi August 31, 2012
Oh I hope you do! And that you enjoy them! Maybe I should make them too, in solidarity ...
dchu May 31, 2012
Amazing!!! Thanks for the recipe! I used 1.5 lb beef cheek and 1 lb beef tendon since that's what I had in the freezer, and the tendon gave the sauce a wonderful silky texture. It's absolutely true that the onions are key--I'm pickling 2 onions next time since there just weren't enough to go around!
Airi @. February 27, 2012
These were good. didn't have time to marinate and slow-cook for a few hours but just made them last minute after work and they still didn't disappoint. Thanks for this great recipe. Will be back soon to enjoy again :)
lschrive January 25, 2012
These are wonderful! I almost didn't make the pickled onions, but am so glad I did. The bright acidic bite was needed against the full fattiness of the beef. Wonderful meal - thank you!
aargersi January 25, 2012
I am so glad you enjoyed them! Yes - the onions are key :-)
TOfoodie January 18, 2012
We made this with 2 lbs of brisket and popped it in the slow cooker for 10 hours overnight (and another 1 without the lid). Delicious! Thanks!
TOfoodie February 17, 2012
Trying it again this weekend with beef cheeks and I have to say, it's even better!
Timnaustin September 23, 2011
I can attest from personal experience that Aargers' beef cheek tacos are absolutely delicious. I hope she will give me another chance to review them. (c; I may try to make them myself. Her Cochinita Pibil is awesome as well. Of course the pink onions go well on both items, or on their own for that matter.
Timnaustin September 23, 2011
I can attest from personal experience that Aargers' beef cheek tacos are absolutely delicious. I hope she will give me another chance to review them. (c; I may try to make them myself. Her Cochinita Pibil is awesome as well. Of course the pink onions go well on both items, or on their own for that matter.
Poufoulet June 2, 2011
Beef cheeks are available at Costco Business Center in San Diego (not the regular retail stores, though). At $2.35 a lb, they are a steal!
lloreen December 12, 2010
I made this with beef chuck and it was delicious - tender and full of flavor! Thanks for the great recipe.
Just sensational--don't let the overnight marinade keep you from making this! I was looking for something fun and different to make (easy is always good too!!!) for my 14 yo and me...so I went to the best recipe section and my kid was all over this Barbacoa. Issues? Not so much: It was late in the day, and store didn't carry beef cheeks (I was sort of okay with that - Mr. awesomeness-beef-man-behind-the-meat-counter Dave recommended: prime rib (REALLY 'spensive, Lucy! And also said could use Chuck. Got the chuck...). Forgot the buy ancho chile...So anyway used two limes, poblano paste instead of the anchos----and just cooked it all up without all the marinating...three hours, low heat. Son made homemade flour tortillas. The pickled beets and onions, beyond just being beautiful...were so simple and tasty...so many fabulous app. ideas to use this prettiness for ....What a great find....
monkeymom June 1, 2010
This recipe is amazing! It was an opportunity for me to go to a local carniceria. They also had great oxtail too so we literally had a head to tail week of eats! The beef cheeks had great flavor and I liked the differences in texture. And the onions...man, awesome. Love your recipes!
Shoshanadh April 26, 2010
I would like to try this with a whole 6lb brisket that I got at the farmers mkt. The farmer told me that since it's bison, I should cook it "low and slow," at 185F overnight. Do you think it will still work?
aargersi April 26, 2010
Absolutely - bison is a lot lower fat though so I think it might be a good idea to up the oil a bit to compensate ... and you'll need more marinade since it's 6 lbs ... make a lot of the onions!!!
fulphilling April 23, 2010
Props to you aargersi, this recipe was the shit!!! made it for the wife and a couple of friends. had some drinks and what not, man, we enjoyed these tacos thoroughly! the onions are all gone, still have more meat though, any leftovers suggestions? BTW- I tossed in some heel meat that we happened to have in the freezer. TRUE nose to tail tacos!

aargersi April 26, 2010
I am so glad you liked them! Leftovers - enchiladas maybe? Or just with refried beans and salsa, maybe some jalapenos? Awesome deal on the heels, I have never cooked them (or even seen them for that matter :-) I have some cheeks in the freezer, perhaps this will be a taco weekend ...
midnitechef May 24, 2011
Leftover Barbacoa breakfast tacos: over moderate heat, sprinkle some babacoa in your pan, render remaining fat, add scrambled eggs and green onion. You can add other stuff to the pan before the eggs, whatever you like really. Mushrooms would work well.