How Long Should Beef Cheeks Be Smoked?

Though they are a tougher and somewhat underrated cut of meat, properly cooked beef cheeks are flavor-packed and nothing short of melt-in-the-mouth tender. And while there are several low-and-slow cooking methods you could use to cook beef cheeks, but one of the best, by far, is smoking. However, you'll have to make a day of it because beef cheeks take the "slow" of "low-and-slow" seriously. 

As this particular muscle sees a lot of work — your cheeks would be tough if you were chewing grass all day long — the cheeks will need to be in the smoker for a long time to reach peak tenderness and flavor. The time needed for the beef cheeks to reach this point is at least five hours. This timing is based on a meat smoker that can keep a consistent temperature of 275 degrees Fahrenheit.

Naturally, the amount of time the beef cheeks cook depends on the type of smoker you are using and the temperature it can maintain. You'll definitely want to err on the side of longer cooking times at lower heat. The longer and slower the beef cheeks smoke, the better they will be.

Why so long?

But why so long in the smoker? Won't they overcook and get dried out? No, actually, they won't. Here's why. Beef cheeks need this time in the smoker because of the very nature of the cheek muscle itself. Like the shoulder and shank of the beef, the cheek is a highly worked muscle. This means that it is far from the most tender cut you'll find in the cow. Instead, it is tough and filled with fat and sinew. This is what makes it perfect for the smoker.

Smoking is one of the best methods for cooking tougher cuts of meat. The long exposure to the low levels of heat allows the sinews, cartilage, and fat time to soften and render. This process not only loosens up the meat but keeps it moist. The result is a cut that, even though it's been cooking for five hours, will fall apart with the slightest touch and burst with wonderful, beefy flavor.

You would ruin it completely if you tried this with a more tender cut, like a ribeye. You can smoke a ribeye, but only for about 40 to 60 minutes. Because the choice tender cuts don't see the same amount of work as the tougher ones, there is less fat and muscle to contend with. So, while cooking beef cheeks long and slow will render it perfectly cooked, keeping a ribeye on that long would turn it into a burnt piece of rubber.