Beef cheek is an inexpensive cut that is perfect for braising and slow-cooking. A cow’s cheek and jaw muscles are heavily used which makes them rather tough with a lot of sinew if they are not cooked low and slow. It can be hard to find beef cheeks if you don’t live near a speciality butcher, but thankfully, many other cuts can easily be substituted for beef cheeks. In fact, any braising and stewing cut of beef will make a great substitute for beef cheek . The good news is that these cuts are also usually inexpensive, and mostly easy to find in regular supermarkets and butcher shops.
Best replacements for beef cheek
Oxtail is a beef cut that is well-known to make gelatinous, melt-in-your-mouth stews and soups. This previously ignored cut has become more popular in the mainstream Western culinary world lately, so it should be easy to find in most stores. Unfortunately, this oxtail renaissance has also caused the price of oxtail to increase, so it is no longer as cheap of a cut as it once was. That being said, you will never go wrong stewing and braising oxtail, it’s always a winner!
2. Short Ribs
Beef short ribs with the rib bones included is a great choice to replace beef cheeks, as they have meat and connective tissue just like beef cheeks. In fact, many ragù sauces use both beef cheeks and short ribs. Make sure you get English cut short ribs, which are thicker, and better suited for long, low-heat cooking. Korean style short ribs are thinner and the meat will get tough if slow cooked.
3. Beef Shank
Beef shank is from the leg of a cow, just above the knee. It’s sometimes sold as fore shank or hind shank. They usually look like steaks with round bones in the middle. Beef shanks are very tender if cooked slow and with moisture. They make a great beef cheeks substitute, and the meat becomes extremely tender when stewed. They have a similar flavor, and are usually just as cheap as beef cheeks.
Brisket makes a great beef cheek substitute because it is easy to find in a variety of stores. It is usually affordable, though more expensive than cheek and other cuts on this list as it has grown in popularity recently. I will say that although it is a good substitute, brisket isn’t quite as tender as other cuts on this list. It would be a great choice if you want a meat that you can still slice after cooking, as opposed to meat that will fall apart into shreds.
Chuck is a great option for a beef cheek substitute because of how available and cheap it is. You can find chuck in every grocery store. When cooked low and slow, it becomes melt-in-your mouth tender. Chuck is underrated in its versatility, because you can use it in almost any braising recipe. Though it may be a little less fatty than other cuts on this list, which is something to keep in mind if fat is an important component to your recipe.
6. Lamb shank
Lamb shank is a great choice for the non beef eater out there. Lamb shank is the lamb analogue of beef shank, a cut from the leg just above the knee. The cut is quite tough and usually cooked low and slow just like beef cheek. Unfortunately, lamb is substantially more expensive than beef.
Bonus for the more adventurous: Tongue
Beef tongue is a good substitute for beef cheeks, as it is just as tender and very cheap! This isn’t a good choice for someone who may not be used to nose-to-tail eating, though.
Frequently asked questions
What are beef cheeks?
Beef cheeks are exactly what they sound like- meat from the facial cheeks of the cow! The butcher will cut off the many sinews the animal naturally has in the cheek area during processing. Cows eat all day so the cheek muscles are well developed, a sign of a tougher cut of meat.
Are beef cheeks expensive?
Beef cheeks cost substantially less per pound than more popular cuts like chuck, shank, loin etc. You can expect to be one half to a third as much compared to these other cuts although it depends on your region.
Are beef cheeks fatty?
Beef cheeks are definitely not a fatty cut. Long days of grazing cause the cheek muscles to become lean and dense.
What do beef cheeks taste like?
Beef cheeks are known for their unique and desirable texture. Beef cheeks contain a lot of collagen (connective tissue) which melts in your mouth and creates a gelatinous texture comparable to oxtail.
Regardless of whether you are avoiding beef cheeks because you eschew beef all together or because you simply cannot find them at your local grocer, you’ve got options. Nothing will perfectly replicate the unique flavor and texture of beef cheeks but the cuts outlined here provide excellent substitutes to add to any dish calling for beef cheek. Oxtail offers the closest match but is equally exotic and tough to find. Lamb shank is a great non beef option that will blend well in any recipe. The other cuts listed are western staples easily found in any grocery store and certain to be inoffensive to even the pickiest eaters.