Often overlooked due to its slightly gruesome appearance, beef tongue rewards those willing to try it with a rich flavor and melt-in-the-mouth texture. Find out more about this delicious but much-neglected cut of meat, plus how to make an irresistible smoked beef tongue with an intensely flavored crust and meltingly tender center.
What is beef tongue?
Beef tongue, also known as ox tongue or neat’s tongue, is, simply put, the tongue of a cow. It’s bigger than you might think, usually weighing in at around 3 to 4 lb, and is one of the rarer cuts of meat. Supermarkets don’t stock it, and many butchers don’t either, although most will order one in. Ask for a ‘Swiss cut’ tongue, with any bones and extraneous fat trimmed away.
So is it worth going out of your way to get hold of one of these intimidating-looking hunks of meat? Our answer is a resounding yes. Beef tongue has a high fat content, with intricate marbling that has been compared to kobe beef. It has an intense, extra-beefy flavor, and a soft, melt-in-the mouth texture that’s sure to win you over once you try it.
Is beef tongue healthy?
As we’ve already mentioned, tongue has a fairly high fat content, so you shouldn’t eat it every day. That said, it is usually eaten thinly-sliced, as bursts of intense flavor to be savored, rather than in large portions. On the plus side, tongue provides plenty of protein, which is a good source of energy for those with a healthy, active lifestyle, along with all the amino acids required to build lean muscle. It is also high in several B-vitamins, with one 3 ounce portion providing your body’s entire daily requirement of vitamin B-12, and is a great source of zinc, phosphorus and easily-absorbable heme iron.
How to eat beef tongue
Beef tongue is a delicacy in many countries, and there are a surprising number of different ways to serve it. In Mexico, it is braised and made into tacos de lengua, while in Ashkenazi and Eastern European cuisines it is served with a fiery horseradish sauce called chrain. It can be braised, fried, pickled, stuffed or smoked, and tastes great in sandwiches, salads, made into meatballs, or simply served as a plate of cold cuts. There’s plenty of meat if you buy a whole tongue, so you can try out a few different ways.
Smoked Beef Tongue: the Recipe
If you’re new to beef tongue this recipe is a great place to start, with step-by-step instructions for prepping and cleaning the meat, then cooking it to tender, smoky perfection.
- Cow tongue
- 3 to 4 lb
- 1, cut into quarters
- 6 to 8
- 6 to 8
- Bay leaves
- Kosher salt
- 1 tbsp
- Pecan or oak wood chunks (for the barbecue)
- Dijon mustard
- Beef rub
The first step when cooking tongue is to thoroughly wash the meat. Place it in a clean sink under cold running water, and scrub well until the surface is free of any dirt or blood. Leave it to soak in cold water for 2 hours, checking back occasionally to replace the water when it becomes dirty.
Once clean, put the meat in a large pan, along with just enough water to cover it. Add the onion, cloves, peppercorns, bay leaves and salt, and cover with the lid. Bring the pot to boil and reduce the heat to medium-low, then leave to simmer for 3 hours. Drain the pot and discard the seasonings, then remove the meat onto a clean surface and leave it to sit until it’s cool enough to handle.
Take a sharp knife and score the skin in several places, cutting it into easy-to-peel chunks. Slide the knife under the edge of each piece and move it around until it becomes loose enough to grip, then grasp firmly between your thumb and forefinger and peel the skin away. Most should come away easily, but if any stubborn pieces remain, you can scrape them off with a knife. Use your knife to cut away any big pieces of gristle at the base of the tongue. Leave the boiled and peeled tongue to rest in the refrigerator overnight.
The next day, take the tongue out of the refrigerator and leave it on the side to return to room temperature while you heat up the barbecue. The ideal temperature for this recipe is around 225°F. When it’s heated to the correct temperature, add the wood chunks over the top of the charcoal, then add in a heat deflector or platesetter, with the feet up. Fill an aluminium pan with ice, and place on top of the platesetter, then place a stainless steel grill on top of the ice pan.
When the meat is back up to room temperature, cover it with the dijon mustard and then the beef rub on both sides. Put a meat thermometer into the thickest part of the tongue, and place the tongue onto the grill, over the pan full of ice. Close the lid of your barbecue and cook for 2 to 3 hours, flipping halfway.
When cooked, the meat should reach an internal temperature of 150°F. Check the meat with your thermometer in several different places to make sure it is properly cooked all the way through, then leave it to cool before slicing and serving.
For a truly gourmet tongue recipe, try this delectable pastrami sandwich with beef tongue, trout eggs and tarragon sauce, by chef Jérome Bigot of Les Grès in France.