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Cow Head....what can I do with it?

I went to a butcher here in Michigan and ask about Beef Cheek and got a blank stare. The young man at the counter had never been asked that question and had to go back to the master butcher for some words.

When the young man came back he stated that they did not sell Beef Cheek separately but I could buy a Cattle Head for about $30 bucks a pop. Well I started thing beef tongue and cheek. I wondered if there was anything else I could use. I thought the brain would most likely be a no go do to MCD. The eye balls might be a bit more than I could stomach.

Has anyone here ever taken a Cattle head and butchered it down?

I look forward to the squirms, ideas and drama that this thread could bring about!


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  1. read a particularly bleak Christmas chapter of "Angela's Ashes" by Frank McCourt.

    a book worthy on its own for what to do with odd cuts..

    1. My old standby reference for this is Unmentionable Cuisine, C W Schwabe

      "... The skinned beef ... head consists largely of muscle meat and bone, plus the brain and sensory organs. The head meat per se is like any carcass meat, but because it is readily removed only after cooking, it is eaten most commonly as so-called headcheeses, or brawns, or is used as sausage ingredient."

      The English recipe for oxhead brawn calls for an overnight brine soak, followed by rinse, trim, simmer till meat falls off the bones. Chop the meat, concentrate the stock, season, and mold, and refrigerate.

      1. While working in highland Chiapas, the friendly butcher invited us to dinner: full cow's head roasted in a huge clay domed wood fired oven. It was all delicious! Fed a lot of people. Served with good (Mexican) beer. Can eat the whole thing.

        1. Barbacoa de cabeza is a delicacy, traditionally eaten for Sunday brunch. Here's the recipe, such as it is.


          1 cow's head, tongue removed and reserved. If desired, remove and discard the eyes, ears, and (if the head is split) brain.
          2 or 3 gallon jugs of vinegar (white or cider)
          Beer. Lots and lots of beer.

          Special equipment:

          Burlap bags
          5-gallon bucket
          Lawn chairs


          On Saturday around lunchtime, grab some friends, a couple of shovels, lawn chairs for everybody, and a cooler full of beer. Find a likely spot and start digging a hole wide enough to easily hold the head. Only one or two people at a time should be digging; the others sit around, drink beer, and critique the diggers' technique. After a few minutes, switch places. Repeat as necessary until the hole is hip-deep.

          Put the burlap bags in the 5-gallon bucket and cover with vinegar. Let soak.

          Build a good-sized fire in the bottom of the hole and sit around drinking beer and telling lies until it has burned down to embers.

          Liberally season the cow's head with salt, pepper, and chile flakes, then wrap in multiple layers of vinegar-soaked burlap. Include a couple of onions and a head or two of garlic if you want. Put the wrapped cabeza on top of the coals, then shovel the dirt back into the hole. Go eat dinner. (Remember that tongue? How 'bout tacos de lengua?) When the beer runs out, go to bed.

          The next morning, go dig up brunch. Not too early; it should have cooked for at least 12 hours. More is better. And besides, you're probably going to want to be sleeping in (if you know what I mean).

          Unwrap the head (carefully, now; the meat will be falling off the bone). Put it in the middle of a picnic table. Serve with big stacks of tortillas and bowls of chopped onion, cilantro, and various salsas. No plates or utensils are involved; the diners use tortillas to grab chunks of meat off the head, then garnish as desired.

          Seriously good food.

          4 Replies
            1. re: alanbarnes

              I like your thinking too Mr Alanbarnes! I love cow head tacos!

              I am personally not a brain fan...tastes like over done egg yolks to me, but there are a lot of brain curry recipes available by google if you were to go the South Asian route for some of your cow head.

              Here is a good looking one:

              the recipe says use 2 cow brains, so you could half the masalas.

              1. re: alanbarnes

                Wow! makes me want to go get a cow;s head!

                1. Prion disease scares the crap out of me (oh my gosh, read the book The Family That Couldn't Sleep). I don't know how you can butcher a head at home and not cross contaminate with brain tissue.

                  But beef cheeks sound lovely.

                  7 Replies
                  1. re: Vetter

                    Look at - http://www.cdc.gov/ncidod/dvrd/bse/im...

                    The numbers do not support a high risk. I would gather that driving a auto is a greater risk.

                    As for cross contamination....why Butcher out the brain...lets just cook it to a proper temp.

                    I am personally looking forward to Alan Barnes recipe...

                    1. re: Vetter

                      Unless the head is split, the brain is pretty well isolated. You're eating meat from the cheeks, the neck, etc., nowhere near the cranial cavity. So I figure the risk is vanishingly small. Prions are found in the spinal column, as well, but nobody worries about cross-contaminating a rib roast, even though it may contain the chine (spine) bone. And yes, the cheeks are lovely.

                      1. re: alanbarnes

                        Now my mouths watering....We will be cooking a cow head today as part of our News Years celibration feast. We've usually cooked them either on our gas grill or on our wood/charcoal grill. We haven't cooked one in the ground since I was a little kid and my family would cook them like that. I've eaten every part of the meat except the eyes. I've seen people eat them. But I'll pass.
                        The rest of the meat is so tender and if seasoned well the flavor is as good. if not better than a good roast. On the grill it basically can be cooked like a brisket or turkey. Slow and left alone to do it's job.
                        Seasoned with onion slices, chopped garlic, sea salt, peppercorn, sliced poblano peppers for the spice. Sometimes we set lime slices or orange slices on top to let the flavoring run down. Wrapped up in a good strong foil paper and set in to cook for a few hours Then we serve it along with my wifes traditional German foods. MMMmmmm. Now I'm hungry.
                        Happy New Year, ya'll

                        1. re: TxJeaux

                          Oh the bbq? How much does a cow's head cost? Your's sounds delicious TxJ!

                      2. re: Vetter

                        "Deadly Feasts" by Richard Rhodes, traces the history of prions, their discovery, and the diseases they cause.

                      3. Michigan huh... This might sound ignorant, but are there any Mexican markets in your area? Here in Calif. they carry beef cheeks as well as other less than usual cuts... Reading this thread about cow head preps sounded pretty darn tasty though!

                        10 Replies
                        1. re: RWCFoodie

                          Actually Detroit has a very large Mexican community.

                          I did not ask a Mexican butcher at all though...I just went to a Butcher near my parents place. Merindorf Meats in Williamston. http://www.merindorfmeats.com/

                          I since have gone down to Detroit's Mexi-town and have found a few places that would offer more exotic cuts that normal Gringo's like me would not normally order.

                          1. re: JanPrimus

                            Thanks for educating me on Detroit :-)
                            So, are you going to do the whole cow's head thing or get some cheeks from the Mexi-town markets? I'm looking forward to reading how this story ends!

                            1. re: RWCFoodie

                              Considering the ground is pretty much frozen shut I will not be digging any holes till April or May. I will post pictures when I do...

                              When I see the cheeks I will pick them up...and post back.

                              Tonight I am falling back on a standard....BLT's :)

                              1. re: JanPrimus

                                I agree with the pit method. We used to cook 8 at a time. We put a metal cover the hole and then dirt on top. Now I cook it in the oven. I wrap the head with brown paper bags. I don't use foil. Works great.

                                1. re: tnert2003

                                  So how to easily clean the head? How do you get the tongue out? And if you wanted to split the head, how do you do that? Kind of important points you all are leaving out here....

                                  1. re: TommySwan

                                    Generally you can ask your butcher to do that if you have one...other wise sharp knifes and chainsaws!

                                    FWIW.....my Cow head was awesome....the only problem is how little meat you get off the whole head.

                                    1. re: JanPrimus

                                      Well we, got tons of meat off of our cow head, like 7 pounds, 10 including the tongue. Chainsaw, huh? I suppose that'd work, prolly want to use an electric chainsaw...don't want to get bar oil all over the meat

                                      1. re: TommySwan

                                        A chainsaw seems like it would cause more problems than it would solve - I can just imagine picking bone chips out of every bite. If you have a bandsaw, that's what a butcher typically uses. If not, a hacksaw - or just a hammer and chisel - would do the trick.

                                        1. re: alanbarnes

                                          Actually I was going for humor there....Chainsaws are not recommended for any kind of butcher work. You can use a bone saw that looks a lot like a hack saw. I just let my professional butcher do the dirty work....

                                          FWIW he had the brain, eyes and tongue removed...not sure what Tommy had done to his head to get the extra meat (I see he added the tongue). I think after we got rid of the undesirable parts we ended up with 3-4 pounds.

                                2. re: JanPrimus


                                  My brother used to work for a pump company and would break down and take the pallets to a Mexican bar in the neighborhood near the San Jose train station. Out back they had a big piece of sewer pipe (the 6' diameter concrete section) sunk in the ground. on Thursday, they would start burning the wood scraps--oak 2'x4's and 1x6's, those pumps parts are heavy-- and then families would bring cowheads and the bar owners would cook them to order overnight on Thursday for their weekend parties. Brother and his friends would stop by the bar on their way home Fri nite and have cabeza tacos and beer on the house. wow, how come he never brought any home????

                          2. A chef friend of mine in NYC cooked one recently in a smoker, a blog account from a fellow cow's head enthusiast, which gives blow-by-blow instructions, is attached here: http://www.slashfood.com/2009/07/27/h...

                              1. re: Joseph123456789048

                                My next door neighbors raise goats but they sell them off; I wish I knew someone that I could buy some already cleaned from. Goat is not sold in the few little stores around my area.

                              2. Have you seen "Giant"?