Braised Beef Cheek Ragu

9 Min Read

Succulent and tender beef, a savory meat 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!

We love this dish. As much as we love grilling and smoking and cooking outdoors, the weather doesn’t always cooperate. With a cooked-low-and-slow dish like this, we can still enjoy big and bold flavors of beef recipes made in the kitchen. Plus, it’s an absolutely delicious dish that we 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 fall-apart tender slow-cooked beef cheeks, al dente noodles, and flavor through and through make this one of our favorite Italian pastas. If you don’t care for pasta or want a gluten-free alternative, pair this ragu with buttery mashed potatoes.

If you love Italian cuisine, you’ll love our Easy Pork Meatballs and Pork Belly Porchetta Roast!

What Are Braised 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.

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:

  • Ragu is a meat-based sauce with a small amount of sauce, and 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.

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.

Slow Braised Beef Cheek Ragu Ingredients

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.

  • 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.
  • Carrot
  • Celery
  • Garlic – Fresh garlic is essential.
  • Red pepper flakes – Adds a bit of spice.
  • Itlanial Seasoning – bright, herbaceous blend
  • GirlCarnivore Ooomami or Mushroom Powder – adds rich umami depth.
  • Tomato paste – To help build flavor.
  • Red wine – Use your favorite drinking wine. You can substitute wine with beef or vegetable stock if you prefer not to use wine. The wine adds depth to the flavor, but the dish will still be delicious without it.
  • 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.


  • Pappardelle pasta – I love using fresh pasta, but if you can’t find that, any thin but wide pasta 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 Ragu with Beef Cheeks

Braise the beef cheeks

  • Grab your Dutch oven (a heavy-bottomed pot with a lid that can go from stovetop 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 golden brown. Set aside.
  • Preheat the oven to 325 degrees 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 a splash of 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.

Shred and Serve

  • 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, thick sauce, and enjoy!

What to Serve With Beef Cheek Ragu

If you’re serving this for a hungry crowd, pair it with some crusty bread and a simple salad!

Wine Pairing

This rich beefy dish can handle a bold red. We recommend a Cabernet Sauvignon. Alternatively, dry red wine like Chianti, Barbera, or Sangiovese complements the rich flavors of the ragu. You can also use the same wine for cooking as for pairing.

Leftovers & Reheating

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.

Stovetop Method:

  1. Place the beef ragu in a saucepan or a deep skillet.
  2. Heat it over low to medium heat.
  3. Stir occasionally to prevent sticking and ensure even heating.
  4. Reheat until it reaches your desired temperature, usually within 5-10 minutes.

Microwave Method:

  1. Transfer the beef ragu into a microwave-safe container.
  2. Cover it with a microwave-safe lid or microwave-safe plastic wrap, leaving a small vent for steam to escape.
  3. Reheat on medium heat (50% power) to prevent overheating.
  4. Pause and stir every minute to distribute heat evenly.
  5. Continue microwaving until the ragu is hot throughout.


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