Smoked Beef Cheeks (Barbacoa) Tacos

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If a cow understands how to do one thing well, it’s stand about all day munching.

That makes the cheek one of the hardest functioning muscles on the beast, and as such, one that lends itself PERFECTLY to low and slow barbecue style, since the cheek would be a chewy, inedible hunk of fatty meat without a long, slow cook.

However, if you show them some love, they will repay you with rich, intense, velvety, meaty bliss. And if you serve them as I have, as the basis for a taco with a fresh, zesty salsa, you will fall in love with them as well…!!

What you’ll need

Smoked Beef Cheeks (Barbacoa) Tacos

  • You’ll need a smoker that can cook on low and slow.
  • 1 beef cheek per person (plus one extra for every 3-4 persons to be safe).
  • 11 oz ginger beer per 3 cheeks.
  • A beef seasoning I’ve included my brisket rub recipe, which is ideal for them, but I’ve also used Lanes Brisket rub with wonderful success.
  • You’ll also need a couple of metal trays, each large enough to contain enough liquid to boat the beef cheeks after smoking them without being too shallow in the pan.
  • You will also want brown sugar. If you want to use the beef cheeks for tacos (which I strongly recommend), you’ll also need the items mentioned below.
  • You’ll also need a boning knife (or another sharp knife) for trimming.
  • You will also need around 6 hours before you want to eat.

Making your rub

Smoked Beef Cheeks (Barbacoa) Tacos

I use this rub on brisket, beef short ribs, and these beef cheeks, but it’s great on any piece of beef that lends itself to slow cooking.

It’s a simple rub, just SPG (salt, pepper, garlic). I use 2 parts pepper, 1.5 parts kosher salt, and 1 part garlic granules.

When applying the rub, garlic powder has a propensity to clump, and you might wind up with pockets of powdered, uneven rub on your gorgeous beef cheeks.

I make this rub in quantity, so simply adjust the amount to fit how many people you’re cooking for, and don’t stress about being exact; as long as you’re in the ballpark, you’ll be OK.

If I’m making this rub at home rather than during a BBQ competition, I simply eyeball it.

I’ll simply use some Lanes BBQ Brisket rub or whatever other brisket rub I have sitting around if I’m feeling lazy.

Preparing your cheeks

Trim all of the external fat and silverskin off your beef cheeks.

We’ll be boating them in liquid and covering them with foil to prevent them from drying out, but there’s enough collagen and fat in these to keep them wet even with the heaviest trim.

After trimming your cheeks, place them in the refrigerator while you heat your smoker to roughly 250-300F. These are pretty forgiving, so don’t stress about getting the temperature just right; instead, keep it within this range for optimal results.

Once your smoker is hot and steady, gently oil your cheeks and apply a generous amount of rub, but not too much.

Because they’re smaller than a brisket, you don’t want to overload them, and I want the meaty taste to show through.

Related Learn how to use a smoker to cook beef birria tacos.

Smoking your cheeks

The first step is to get some color into your cheeks and start developing a great bark, so place them in the smoker straight on the grill.

I use Australian Ironbark for the great majority of my dinners since I primarily cook in a huge offset, and it is a high burning, extremely hard wood that is also inexpensive! These go very well with cherry, as do oak or pecan.

Try experimenting with different woods.

Check the temperature after a few hours; you’ll want to boat these after 2-3 hours, or until you’re satisfied with the color. You may also canoe at roughly 170 degrees Fahrenheit.

They will be fairly stiff at this point, but don’t worry, they will soon convert into lovely, sticky, glistening, rip apart perfection.

Boating your cheeks 

If you’ve never heard the phrase “boat” in the context of smoking, it simply refers to the act of partially wrapping your protein in foil with liquid. The most convenient method, particularly for numerous cheeks, is to utilize a disposable metal tray.

Pour 11 ounces of ginger beer over three beef cheeks on a tray.

You don’t have to be precise; you just need enough ginger beer to cover about a third of the way up the beef cheeks. This quantity will, of course, vary according on the size of your tray.

Experiment with the liquid you use as well.

If you don’t have any ginger beer on hand if the shop is closed, substitute stock. Or normal beer, like Uncle Bob’s, which he consumes before your expensive stuff.

A decent stout or Porter works well. Even a Dr. Pepper may help!

After that, sprinkle some brown sugar over the beef cheeks, around 2 tablespoons for three cheeks.

Cover the tray with aluminum foil and re-smoke for another two to three hours, or until the cheeks probe like butter and easily come apart.

The interior temperature should be approximately 203-210F, but cook to the probe test rather than to temperature. They are done when they are done, just like brisket.

The temperature is just a recommendation; you may begin checking the probe test at roughly 195-200F. If there is any resistance, leave them in for a little longer. I’ve had cheeks ready at 195°F and not be ready until 210°F.

When they’re done, pull them apart in the remaining liquid.

You may serve your gorgeous shredded beef anyway you choose, but keep reading to learn how to prepare our delectable tacos.

Making your salsa

You may begin preparing your salsa while the beef cheeks are still smoking, but save the last step until just before serving, or you’ll wind up with a terrible, watery salsa.

You will need:

  • 4-5 ripe tomatoes
  • 2 small red onions
  • 1 lime
  • 3 finely minced garlic cloves or garlic paste
  • some olive oil
  • bunch of cilantro.

Finely cut the cilantro and garlic cloves, as well as the onions and tomatoes.

Combine in a large mixing bowl and refrigerate covered with cling wrap. Just before serving, add 1 lime juice, 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil, and salt and pepper to taste, then stir and combine.

The Payoff

These beef cheeks go wonderfully with mashed potatoes and can be made into a jus with the remaining liquid, but my favorite way to eat them is in tacos.

Load some pulled pork onto a tortilla, top with some of the zesty, fresh salsa we created, and top with some finely sliced red chile or jalapeno if you prefer a bit of a heat!

After all that time, you deserve it. Serve with a chilled Corona (not that one) and a slice of lime on the side. Perfection. Thank you, buddy.


How to smoke beef cheeks for tacos?

2 hours. Place the beef cheeks in a half-size steaming pan.Place the beef cheeks on the grill right on the grates. Place the probe in the middle of one of your cheeks. Close the lid and continue smoking until the interior temperature reaches at least 160°F and the cheeks are beautifully browned, 2-2 1

How to smoke beef cheek barbacoa?

Here’s all you need to know about smoking beef cheeks:

Place the well-seasoned cheeks in a smoker set to 275°F and cook for 5 hours, or until an internal temperature of 210°F is reached. They may be removed or cut at this temperature.

Is barbacoa made from beef cheek?

Barbacoa is traditionally produced in Northern Mexico using either a cow head (including the cheeks) or goat flesh (cabrito). Barbacoa is most often cooked with lamb or pig in Central or Southern Mexico.

Does Chipotle use beef cheek for barbacoa?

Our Barbacoa is mostly made from the shoulder, which has enough fat to keep the meat wet throughout our extended braising process, resulting in a very juicy and tender final product.

What temperature do you smoke beef cheeks?

In a smoker set to 275 degrees Fahrenheit, beef cheeks will take about five hours to cook.

Can you overcook beef cheeks?

Can beef cheeks be overcooked? Because beef cheeks are a tough secondary cut with a lot of muscle, they are ideal for long cooking and would be difficult to overcook!

What temperature do you smoke barbacoa?

Prepare a smoker by filling it halfway with wet hickory wood coals. The temperature inside your grill or smoker should be between 180 and 200 degrees Fahrenheit (80 and 95 degrees Celsius). In a small mixing bowl, combine black pepper, oregano, cayenne pepper, chili powder, garlic powder, cumin, salt, and seasoned salt.

How do you know when beef cheeks are done?

This temperature is hot enough to complete the cut without drying out the meat. Before removing the beef cheeks, the internal temperature should be 205 degrees Fahrenheit. This usually takes four hours.

What temperature should barbacoa meat be?

When you decide to remove the smoker’s cheeks, the ultimate interior temperature should be at least 160 degrees (as measured with your Instant Read thermometer). Place the cheeks in the 12 steam pan after they have reached the desired color.

Is beef cheek meat expensive?

Beef Cheeks Do Not Come Cheap.

Beef cheeks are not a pricey cut of meat when compared to famous steak cuts like Porterhouse. Beef cheeks cost roughly $14 per pound because of their growing popularity. If you happen onto an Italian Bistro, expect to spend about $40 for a braised beef cheek meal.

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