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How to Make Tacos de Cabeza: Mexican Beef Cheek Tacos

Written by MasterClass

Last updated: Nov 8, 2020 • 2 min read

Cabeza is meat from the head of a cow and is typically served braised or steamed to enhance its tenderness (cabeza can be quite supple and rich, thanks to the high-fat content in the head). Cabeza shows up in taquerias across many regions in Mexico, alongside other common taco fillings like carnitas, chorizo, barbacoa, al pastor, and carne asada.



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What Is Cabeza?

Cabeza literally means “head” in Spanish. In Mexican cooking, cabeza refers to an entire, cooked head of an animal, usually of a cow though sometimes of a pig. For tacos de cabeza, the entire cow’s head is slow-roasted until the meat that surrounds the skull becomes fall-apart tender. Beef head meat is delicious served in burritos or tucked into a quesadilla.

Some taquerias may offer specific parts of the cow’s head, like lengua (tongue), sesos (brains), cachete (cheek), or ojo (eye), so that customers can choose their preference.

Mexican Beef Cheek Tacos Recipe

Prep Time
20 min
Total Time
2 hr 20 min
Cook Time
2 hr


Because a whole head can be difficult to procure, this recipe uses beef cheek meat, which can be found at most butcher counters.

  • 3 dried guajillo chiles, stems and seeds removed
  • 1 dried cascabel chile, stem and seeds removed
  • 2 pounds beef cheek
  • Kosher salt
  • Black pepper
  • 3–4 cloves garlic
  • ½ teaspoon Mexican oregano
  • ½ teaspoon cumin
  • 3 cups water
  • 1 small white onion, chopped
  • 1 bay leaf
  • Warm corn tortillas, for serving
  • Salsa, for serving
  • Fresh cilantro, for serving
  1. Blister the dried guajillo and cascabel chiles on a comal over medium heat, then submerge chiles in boiling water and let stand for 10 minutes to rehydrate.
  2. Season the beef cheek with salt and pepper evenly on both sides according to your taste and preference; set aside.
  3. In a blender or a food processor, combine the chiles with the garlic, oregano, cumin, and 2–3 tablespoons of the water. Purée until smooth, adding water as needed to give it a thick but pourable consistency. Transfer to a large pot or Dutch oven.
  4. Add the rest of the water, onion, and bay leaf to the chile mixture and season well with salt and pepper. Stir to combine and bring to a rolling simmer over medium heat.
  5. Add the beef cheek to the pot, reduce heat to low, and cover. Cook until meat is fork-tender, 1½–2 hours.
  6. When the meat is beginning to fall apart (but not mushy or dissolving), remove with a slotted spoon, and place in a clean bowl. Using two forks, shred into bite-sized pieces. Meanwhile, increase the heat to medium-high and bring the remaining liquid to a light boil. Reduce until consistency has thickened slightly, and season to taste; add some of this braising liquid to the cheek meat just before serving for extra juiciness, or ladle into small bowls so guests can serve themselves.
  7. Serve immediately with warm tortillas, salsa, and cilantro.

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