As a busy working mum to a toddler and a 7 year old, when I get the opportunity to BBQ I like to try and make it as stress free as possible. It doesn’t always go to plan of course. I’ve had my fair share of disasters and very, very late meals along the way, but it’s always well received and the kids never complain about getting to stay up past bed time. The rate at which the food disappears tells me I’m on the right track too. There’s nothing better than seeing a teething toddler gnawing furiously on a pork rib.
So when I was asked to write a family friendly piece for the 2016 summer edition of UK BBQ Mag (for which I’m a contributor) I ended up asking myself well…”what’s not family friendly about BBQ?” I didn’t really have any answers. The whole essence of BBQ for me is the gathering together of people you care about and the sharing of good food, whether it be just the two of us having a quick mid-week steak, or having a gang of family and friends round for a proper get-together. And no matter which method you choose there’s always a little effort involved, which is why if someone invites you over for BBQ, you can be pretty sure they like having you around.
The beauty of this recipe is that, although it’s a low and slow cook, the small amount of preparation involved can be done well in advance, it needs very little attention during the cook and it’s great for sticking in the middle of the table for everyone to help themselves, leaving you free to spend time with everyone.
I hadn’t previously had much experience with this wonderful cut of beef, but what a gem! An almost constantly working muscle of the cow, it’s perfectly suited for low and slow cooking. All that connective tissue melts deliciously, leaving the most incredibly soft and ridiculously flavoursome meat which, like other gelatinous cuts, seem to embody all that is ‘beefy’ about beef. Your local butcher will be able to source them for you. I find these to be larger and better quality than those available in the supermarket. Here’s how I make my beef cheek tacos.
*** Ancho chilli paste can be tricky to get hold of in some areas. A few supermarkets sell the paste, while others stock the dried chillies themselves. I could only find the latter, so I rehydrated them in a little hot water and blitzed to a paste***
1.5kg beef cheeks, rubbed with equal parts salt, pepper and ground coffee
2 tbsp tomato purée
2 tsp minced garlic
2 tbsp muscovado sugar
2 tsp Ancho chilli paste
2 tsp cocoa powder
½ tsp ground cumin
½ tsp ground cinnamon
½ tsp ground coriander
1 tsp dried thyme
½ tsp ground black pepper
850 ml hot beef stock
1 large onion, sliced
2 large carrots, roughly chopped
Large foil tray
12-16 flour or corn tortillas
Set up your smoker/BBQ for a low and slow cook of around 275˚f. To obtain this kind of temperature in your BBQ, I find the minion method works very well. Place a large pile of good quality, unlit briquettes on one side of the fuel grate and then add about 8 lit briquettes onto one end of the pile. The lit briquettes will slowly ignite the others, giving you a low temperature cook that should last a number of hours. It’s important that you don’t use briquettes which are ‘easy light’ or ‘instant lighting’. These are doused with accelerants and are just plain nasty!
Smoke the beef cheeks over a few chunks of your favourite wood at around 275˚f for 3 hours.
Meanwhile place the vegetables in the bottom of the foil tray and set aside. Combine the remaining ingredients, bar the beef stock, to form a paste.
After 3 hours, remove the beef cheeks from the smoker and place them in the foil tray. Mix the spice paste with the hot beef stock, and pour it into the tray along with the beef and vegetables. Cover tightly with foil and place back on the smoker for a further 3 hours or until the beef cheeks are completely tender and falling apart. Remove the meat and set aside under foil.
Transfer the braising liquid to a pan and, using a hand blender, blitz until smooth. This can also be achieved by using a sieve and pushing the vegetables through with a wooden spoon. Reduce the sauce over a medium heat until thick and silky.
Shred the beef cheeks just before serving. We like to eat ours in flour or corn tortillas stuffed to bursting with guacamole, pico de gallo, sour cream and slathered with the mole style sauce. Dig in and get messy!