Succulent and tender beef, a savory sauce, and oodles of noodles – what’s not to love about this Braised Beef Cheek Ragu? Topped with a dollop of ricotta and plenty of fresh Parmesan, this amazing dish is so flavorful you’re sure to love it!
I love this dish. As much as I love grilling and smoking and cooking outdoors, the weather doesn’t always cooperate, and with a cooked-low-and-slow dish like this, I can still enjoy big and bold flavors made in the kitchen. Plus, it’s an absolutely delicious dish that I look forward to making again and again!
This dish is a labor of love; it’s not a quick fix. But the results are oh-so-worth-it! Succulent and tender slow-cooked beef cheeks, al dente noodles, and flavor through and through makes this one of my favorite Italian pastas. If you don’t care for pasta or want a gluten-free alternative, pair this ragu with buttery mashed potatoes.
What Are Beef Cheeks?
The star of this Beef Cheek Ragu recipe is beef cheeks. Beef cheeks are a specialty cut, and they are literally the facial cheeks of a cow or ox. It’s a heavily used muscle, so there’s lots of tough sinew. But, when you cook them slowly in liquid – braise them – they become tender and delicious.
You’ll need to get beef cheeks from your local butcher and call them ahead of time because most butchers don’t stock them, but they’ll be happy to bring them in for you.
What Is A Ragu?
Ragu vs Bolognese – what’s the difference? First, a ragu is a stew – an Italian stew. Bolognese CAN be a ragu, but a ragu is not a Bolognese. There are some significant differences:
- Ragus are meat-based with a small amount of sauce, Bolognese is sauce-based.
- Ragu has more meat, generally larger chunks, than a Bolognese.
- Both ragu and Bolognese feature a sofrito, a combination of minced carrot, celery, onion, and sometimes pancetta, but a ragu typically has more soffritto than a Bolognese.
- There are hundreds of variations of both ragus and Bolognese sauces.
What Kind of Meat is in Ragu?
Ragus can be made with various cuts of beef, pork, goose, lamb, mutton, and even seafood. We’re using beef cheeks because they are perfect for braising but you could use leftover smoked chuck roast for a unique smoky flavor.
What You Need To Make Braised Beef Cheek Ragu
There are a fair number of ingredients in this beef cheeks recipe, but other than the beef cheeks themselves, most are commonly available. Don’t forget about the delish garnishes – each adds flavor and texture to the beef cheek stew transforming it from simple peasant fare to something worthy of the finest Italian restaurants.
For the braised beef cheeks:
- Beef cheeks – You’ll need about 2 pounds. Order them ahead of time from your butcher.
- Salt – Any coarse salt will do.
- Olive oil – Or use your favorite cooking oil.
- Onion – Fresh yellow or white onions.
- Garlic – Fresh garlic is essential.
- Red pepper flakes – Adds a bit of spice.
- GirlCarnivore Over Easy – bright herbaceous blend
- GirlCarnivore Ooomami – adds rich umami depth
- Tomato paste – To help build flavor.
- Red wine – Use your favorite drinking wine.
- Crushed tomatoes – One large 28-ounce can.
- Beef broth – Use homemade beef broth, low or no-sodium-added beef broth, or beef stock.
- Rosemary – Fresh sprigs.
- Thyme – Fresh sprigs.
- Bay leaves – Dried is fine.
- Black pepper – Freshly ground.
For the pasta:
- Pappardelle pasta – I love using fresh pasta, but if you can’t find that, any thin but wide noodle will work.
- Parmesan – Freshly grated or shredded.
- Ricotta – Smooth and creamy, this adds a lovely flavor to the dish.
- Rosemary – A sprinkle of freshly chopped rosemary accentuates the herbs in the ragu.
- Parsley – Fresh parsley adds a pop of flavor and color.
- Black pepper – Coarsely ground black pepper is a must to finish this dish.
How to Make Beef Cheeks Ragu
Grab your Dutch oven (a heavy-bottomed pot with lid that can go from stove-top to oven), and your ingredients – but start this dish earlier in the day because it does take a few hours to braise in the oven.
Preheat your Dutch oven over medium-high heat and add the oil.
Season the beef cheeks with salt and sear until browned. Set aside.
Preheat the oven to 325-F.
Add the diced onion, carrots, and celery to the Dutch oven and season with salt. Saute until soft, then add the garlic, red pepper flakes, and tomato paste.
Deglaze with the red wine, turn off the heat, and add the crushed tomatoes.
Nestle the seared beef cheeks (and any juices) into the Dutch oven.
Tie the rosemary and thyme sprigs together, then add them, and the bay leaves to the pot.
Cover and cook in the oven for 2.5-3 hours, stirring halfway through.
Remove the tied herbs and beef cheeks. Shred the beef, then return the shredded meat to the sauce and mix well.
Boil the pasta according to the directions on the package, saving some of the cooking liquid.
Add the ragu sauce to a large skillet and toss in the cooked pasta and some of the pasta water, tossing well to combine. Simmer over medium heat until thickened. Adjust the salt and pepper and serve immediately.
Serve the delicious Beef Cheeks Ragu with fresh ricotta, grated Parmesan cheese, and freshly ground black pepper. Sprinkle the herbs on top of the rich sauce, and enjoy!
- The beauty of braised dishes is that there’s not much to do once it’s in the oven! Stir this beef ragu halfway through the cooking time and add more beef broth if the sauce becomes too dry. You want it saucy!
- Canned tomatoes can be acidic. Add up to 1 teaspoon of sugar if you feel the sauce is too acidic.
- How to tell when beef cheeks are cooked? When they’re fall-apart meltingly tender. They should shred easily with meat claws or two forks.
- Don’t overcook the pasta! Boil it until it is quite al dente – it’ll finish cooking in the pan with the ragu.
- Don’t forget to garnish with the finely chopped fresh herbs – they add such amazing flavor.
Store any leftover ragu in an airtight container in the fridge for 3-4 days. You can also freeze any leftovers. Package this beef cheek dish in airtight freezer-safe containers and freeze them for up to 3 months.
Braised Beef Cheek Ragu
- dutch oven
For the braised beef cheeks:
- 2 tbsp Oil
- 2 lbs beef cheeks
- 1 tbsp Salt divided
- 1 Onion diced
- 1 carrot diced
- 1 celery diced
- 3 Garlic cloves minced
- 1 tsp Red pepper flakes
- 1 tbsp Girl Carnivore Over Easy
- 1 tbsp Girl Carnivore Ooomami
- 2 tbsp tomato paste
- ½ cup Red wine
- 28 oz can crushed tomatoes low sodium
- ½ to 1 cup beef broth
- 4 Rosemary sprigs
- 6 to 8 Thyme sprigs
- 2 Bay leaves
For the pasta:
- 16 oz Pappardelle pasta
- Fresh parmesan
- Rosemary finely minced
- Parsley chopped
- Ground black pepper
Sear the beef cheeks
- Preheat a dutch oven over medium high heat
- Add oil and let preheat2 tbsp Oil
- Pat beef cheeks dry
- Season with salt2 lbs beef cheeks, 1 tbsp Salt
- Sear until browned 3 to 5 minutes
- Set aside
Prep the veggies (soffritto)
- Preheat the oven to 325
- Add the onion, carrot and celery.1 Onion, 1 carrot, 1 celery
- Season with a pinch of salt1 tbsp Salt
- Saute 5 to 7 minutes until soft
- Add the garlic, cook 30 seconds longer.3 Garlic cloves
- Stir in the red pepper flakes, GirlCarnivore Over Easy, Oomami, and tomato paste to coat1 tsp Red pepper flakes, 1 tbsp Girl Carnivore Over Easy, 1 tbsp Girl Carnivore Ooomami, 2 tbsp tomato paste
- Deglaze the pan with the red wine sauce, scraping the bottom and browned bits as needed with a wooden spoon.½ cup Red wine
- Remove from heat.
- Add the crushed tomatoes and beef cheeks and stir to combine.28 oz can crushed tomatoes, ½ to 1 cup beef broth
Braise the beef cheeks
- Nestle the beef cheeks, and any accumulated juices back into the dutchoven2 lbs beef cheeks
- Tie the rosemary and thyme sprigs together4 Rosemary, 6 to 8 Thyme
- Add the herbs to the pot and the bay leaves.2 Bay leaves
- Cover and place in the oven for 2 ½ to 3 hours, stirring once halfway through until the beef shreds easily with a fork.
- Carefully remove the Dutch oven from the oven and the beef cheeks, herbs and bay leaves from the pot.
- Place in a bowl and shred the meat with two forks.
- Return the shredded beef to the ragu and stir to combine.
Make the pasta
- Boil the pasta according to the package directions for al dente noodles.16 oz Pappardelle pasta
- Drain, retaining 1 cup of the cooking liquid.
- In a clean Dutch oven or large skillet over medium low heat, add several cups of the ragu sauce and toss in the pasta to coat.
- Add a quarter cup to half cup of the pasta liquid and continue to toss the pasta to coat.
- Allow the sauce to thicken and stick to the pasta.
- Arrange the pasta on individual plates with a dollop of fresh ricotta on top to melt in. Sprinkle freshly grated parmesan cheese over top and season with black pepper.Fresh parmesan, Ricotta, Ground black pepper
- Add a light touch of fresh rosemary, if desired for a fragrant herbal touch.Rosemary
- Garnish with freshly minced parsley.Parsley
- Serve hot.