Cheeks Are the Tender Cut That Make Our Favorite Comfort Foods Even Better

Some of your favorite comfort foods are even better when you start with this tender cut.

As more and more people embrace the concept of nose-to-tail eating, one of the things that has been wonderful to see is watching lesser-known cuts of meat begin to work their way into the consciousness. Cuts that used to only be known by a select few as "secret" butcher's cuts, or seen only in restaurants, are now appearing in the local supermarkets, from hanger steaks to chuck flaps.

But if there is one cut that is starting to become more and more common that you should definitely keep an eye out for are cheeks.

Yes, literally cheeks.

These tender morsels are your new best friends for the most delicious succulent dishes. Because they are well-marbled and muscled, they are ideal for things like braises and stews. If you do source cheeks, here are some of our favorite ways to use them!

Cider Braised Pork Cheeks
Cider Braised Pork Cheeks. Chef John

Beef Cheeks

These large slabs of meat make a perfect meal for two and are terrific when you want deep beefy flavor along with that sticky unctuousness that you also find in cuts like short ribs. Because of that, they can be subbed in for short ribs easily in your favorite recipes! We also love to cut them into large cubes for beef stew, or small cubes for Texas-style chilis, which often use small cuts instead of ground meats. Any slow cooked beef dish, like ropa vieja, is wonderful with this cut as well. You can also make one into a small pot roast for two! If you love to smoke brisket, but do not have the time for such a lengthy project, beef cheeks are a great swap out for the same style and flavor at a fraction of the time.

Braised Beef Cheeks
Braised Beef Cheeks. Kim

Get the recipe for Braised Beef Cheeks (pictured).

Pork Cheeks

Pork cheeks are much smaller than beef cheeks, and one cheek is a perfect serving for one person. These too are great for braised and slow cooked dishes like pulled pork, pork ragu, and these cider-braised pork cheeks, but they also do well in the smoker with that low and slow technique allowing for all the fat and collagen to melt, making for amazing smoked pork cheek sandwich potential. Cooked shredded pork cheeks are also wonderful to use as filling for Asian dumplings.

Chinese Pork Dumplings

Get the recipe for Chinese Pork Dumplings (pictured).

Fish Cheeks

While really any fish has a cheek, a small nugget of meat behind the eyes, the larger saltwater fish like halibut, grouper, and cod all have cheeks large enough to make them worth selling. Ask your fishmonger if they carry them or can get them for you. Fish cheeks are usually sized for a 1-2 cheek per person portion and have some of the same wonderful qualities that the beef and pork cheeks have, but with all the fast-cooking benefits of fish. They make for wonderful juicy portions that can be seamlessly swapped in for any fillet of your choosing, but you will find no better use for them than a classic fish and chips, they stay super moist and juicy in the frying process, and are flavorful and delicate to eat. They also make for perfect sandwiches, if you want to DIY an elevated version of Filet o Fish, but have enough fat to stand up beautifully to smoking, which you can even do in a stovetop smoker.

Halibut Cheeks with Ginger-Orange Sauce

Get the recipe for Halibut Cheeks with Ginger-Orange Sauce (pictured).

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