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Close up view of soft tacos with shredded beef, julienned carrot, diced onion & tomato on a wooden board on a marble countertop.

Slow Cooked Beef Cheek Tacos (conventional and combi steam oven methods)

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I know beef cheeks might sound weird, especially if you’ve never cooked them, but these deeply flavored, savory and rich beef cheek tacos are ready and waiting to convert you, I promise.

Beef cheeks are something a lot of people don’t use at home, but they’re full of flavour, easy and amazingly tender if you give them time to melt and soften in a low oven.

I love a dish made with properly cooked beef cheeks, and I adore Mexican food, so when I found this brilliant recipe for Barbacoa Beef Cheek Tacos quite a while back I was pretty excited. I tweaked it and adapted the cooking method for combi steam, and have made it several times since. I have to admit to forgetting to share the recipe, though, until a lovely reader got in touch a few weeks ago, asking about beef cheeks. I shared the original recipe link with her (hi, Anika!) and it was a success at her place too. I think it’s high time the rest of you get the chance to try it out.

Beef cheeks vs other slow-cooking beef cuts

If beef cheeks are an unfamiliar cut of meat, don’t be wary. Tough as boots to begin with, they are full of connective tissue and cook down to become amazingly soft and tender, with a sticky quality I love. They’re intensely ‘beefy’, which means they take on quite aggressive flavours well. Today’s Mexican marinade is a good example, but they’re also great turned into a red wine laden beef bourgignon, or an Asian-style curry or braise.

You do need to be prepared to give beef cheeks a long cooking time, even when you account for the quicker cooking you get by using combi steam. I find they can take anywhere from about three hours and up to five in combi steam, or four to seven in a regular oven. Yes, that’s a big variation, but it really does depend on individual cuts – some cows must work out their chewing muscles more than others, making the meat tougher! The payoff is worth it for the flavour and texture, and because this dish freezes well you can easily double the recipe to make another entire dinner for later.

If you find it hard to buy beef cheeks where you live, or you’d just prefer a different cut of meat, diced chuck steak also works well in this recipe. It won’t be as deeply flavoured and the texture won’t be as melting, but it will cook in around half the time of the cheeks and it’s still pretty delicious.

Cooking beef cheeks in a regular oven or a combi steam oven

I’ve given a conventional oven method below as well as a combi steam one. They are similar but the cooking times vary.

You’ll need a pot with a lid if you’d like to cook these in a regular oven, so they don’t dry out too quickly.

If you’re a slow cooker fan this recipe would also be great made in that; you could happily leave it blipping away in a slow cooker for ten or more hours overnight to get the meat to a falling apart consistency.

Give these beef cheek tacos a try soon. Once you’ve got them into the oven they’ll almost take care of themselves. Served up with bright fresh vegetables, lime and chili sauce, and wrapped in a tortilla, they make for a really satisfying meal that takes minimal last-minute work.

Happy cooking, see you here again soon.

Soft tacos filled with shredded beef, julienned carrot, diced onion & tomato on a wooden board on a marble countertop.

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Beef Cheek Tacos

These slow cooked beef cheek tacos are deeply savory and rich, spiced with earthy Mexican flavors and ready to make your next taco night different and delicious.
Prep Time15 mins
Cook Time3 hrs
Course: Main Course
Cuisine: Mexican
Keyword: beef cheek tacos, combi steam tacos, slow cooked beef cheek tacos
Servings: 6
Calories: 449kcal

Ingredients

Instructions

Steam Oven Method

  • Preheat oven to 265°F/130°C combi steam. If your oven has variable steam settings, select 30%. If not, don’t worry! Just set to combi steam at the correct temperature, and the oven will figure out the humidity.
  • Clean and trim the cheeks, and cut each one in half (if you buy yours from the butcher, you can ask them to do this for you).
  • Remove the stem from the ancho chili, roughly chop and put in a small dish covered with boiling water to rehydrate. Set aside for 5 minutes.
  • Put everything from the garlic to the salt into a food processor or blender (including the water from the chili) and blend into a paste. Add the beef stock and the juice of the limes and blend again to combine.
  • Put the beef into a baking dish or pot where it fits fairly snugly, pour over the sauce and give it a mix. Place in the preheated oven (no lid necessary) and cook until the meat is falling apart and tender, anywhere from around 3 hours and up to 5. Turn the cheeks over in the sauce a few times while they cook and if the liquid dries up, add a little water.
  • When the cheeks are cooked and you have a thick, dark sauce, take the dish out of the oven and use two forks to pull the meat apart. Return it back to the sauce as you shred to mix in with all of that rich, juicy goodness.
  • Serve meat piled into soft tortillas or crispy taco shells with sliced avocado, extra lime and coriander/cilantro, crunchy salad vegetables and your favourite spicy chili sauce.

Regular Oven Method

  • Preheat oven to 265F/130°C, conventional heat (no fan) setting.
  • Clean and trim the cheeks, and cut each one in half (if you buy yours from the butcher, you can ask them to do this for you).
  • Remove the stem from the ancho chili, roughly chop and put in a small dish covered with boiling water to rehydrate. Set aside for 5 minutes.
  • Put everything from the garlic to the salt into a food processor or blender (including the water from the chili) and blend into a paste. Add the beef stock and the juice of the limes and blend again to combine.
  • Put the beef into a lidded baking dish or pot where it fits fairly snugly, pour over the sauce and give it a mix. Put the lid on and cook until the meat is falling apart and tender, anywhere from around 4 hours up to 7. Turn the cheeks over in the sauce a few times while they cook and add a little water as the liquid dries up to maintain a thick gravy.
  • When the cheeks are cooked and you have a thick, dark sauce, remove from the oven and use two forks to pull the meat apart. Return it back to the sauce as you shred to mix in with all of that rich, juicy goodness.
  • Serve meat piled into soft tortillas or crispy taco shells with sliced avocado, extra lime and coriander/cilantro, crunchy salad vegetables and your favourite spicy chili sauce.

Notes

  1. You can eat this as soon as it’s done, but like many slow cooked dishes it tastes better the next day or even the one after that. The cooked and shredded meat will keep in the refrigerator for up to three or four days, or the freezer for a couple of months, so I often make it on a weekend when I’m around the house all day and save it for a busier weeknight dinner.
  2. The ingredient list calls for a whole ancho chili, which is the fruity, slightly smoky, mild dried version of the poblano pepper. It does add a special something so is worth seeking out. Ancho chilis are readily available online and from better grocery stores in many parts of the world. I add them to quite a few different dishes, which means a bag of several chilis can be used up in as many Mexican-inspired cooking sessions. If you can’t wait to make this dish and you don’t have ancho chili, use ½ to 1 tsp cayenne pepper as a substitute. You want the dish to have warmth rather than intense spicy heat.
  3. For serving the tacos we like to mix it up, sometimes using crunchy taco shells and other times soft flour tortillas to pile the meat into. Garnishes and condiments are up to you – we like tortillas or crunchy taco shells chili sauce, avocado, fresh coriander/cilantro, lime wedges, shredded fresh peppers and carrots – but feel free to make the dish your own. I haven’t done it because my kids aren’t enchilada fans, but I think the beef would make a great enchilada filling too.
  4. The nutritional information for this recipe is calculated on the beef cheeks only, and doesn’t include accompaniments.

Nutrition

Calories: 449kcal | Carbohydrates: 13g | Protein: 39g | Fat: 28g | Saturated Fat: 11g | Cholesterol: 130mg | Sodium: 641mg | Potassium: 902mg | Fiber: 3g | Sugar: 6g | Vitamin A: 1849IU | Vitamin C: 13mg | Calcium: 59mg | Iron: 5mg

Over to you – if you try this recipe I’d love to know about it! Please share your pictures with me on Facebook or tag them #whatsinthesteamoven on Instagram.

Would you like more Steam and Bake recipes and steam oven inspiration? Join the mailing list – there’s no spam, just an email every now and then to tell you the latest. When you sign up, you’ll get an invite to the exclusive subscribers-only Combi Steam Cooking Facebook group, which is full of people at all stages of their combi steam journeys, and with many different brands of oven. It’s a friendly, helpful space to learn and share with one another, and I’m always in there answering questions and sharing tips.

And if you’re after more delicious slow-cooked combi steam recipes, try the combi steam oven pulled pork, my cheat’s combi steam chili con carne (another candidate for those ancho chiles!), or the Asian style sticky beef (which is fabulous with ribs or cheeks).

1 thought on “Slow Cooked Beef Cheek Tacos (conventional and combi steam oven methods)”

  1. Sounds fabulous. I am 70 and a devoted cook, and I have never seen beef cheeks offered anywhere. Will have to see if I can special order them.

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