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What is Beef Tongue?

Lainie Petersen
Lainie Petersen

Beef tongue is the tongue of a cow sold as meat for human consumption. Several ethnic cuisines, including those of Mexico and Germany as well as traditional Jewish cookery, make liberal use of tongue in various traditional dishes and recipes. The calorie count for beef tongue is 241 calories per 3-ounce (85-g) portion, with most of its calories coming from fat. Preparation of tongue varies, but often includes boiling and then skinning the tongue before slicing it and then adding it to different dishes. While beef tongue is not always readily available in United States supermarkets, it is often a staple in various ethnic markets.

The consumption of beef tongue, along with other types of offal or organ meats, reflects the need in many cultures to consume as much of a butchered animal as possible rather than wasting perfectly edible meat. While many modern diets reject offal due to its lack of refinement and in some cases because of its fat content, various types of traditional diets still consume organ meats on a regular basis. Beef tongue tacos, also known as lengua tacos, are a common Mexican dish and can even be found in the United States in Mexican restaurants that cater to a largely immigrant clientele. Tongue may also be served in a cold salad or as a spicy dish, called lengua de res, to be served with a starch, such as rice, or in tortillas.

If butchers don't have beef tongues, customers often can order the special cut.
If butchers don't have beef tongues, customers often can order the special cut.

Shoppers in countries that do not normally include beef tongue in their regular diet may need to hunt for a store that actually stocks this type of meat. In some cases, a customer can specially order a beef tongue from a butcher or meat market. In areas with ethnic enclaves, it may be possible to source beef tongue from an ethnic market. Individuals purchasing a beef tongue for the first time should be aware that beef tongue from a full-grown cow can be quite large, so they should have a recipe in mind that can be prepared all at once and then portioned out and frozen, provided of course that the cook doesn't have a large crowd to feed. In some cases, a meat market may have calf's tongues for sale, which may be much smaller than a tongue from an adult cow. Consumers should also be aware that tongue contains no bones, so the price they pay will be for meat and skin only, which can have a significant impact on the affordability of the meat.

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Discussion Comments


I really enjoy a good beef tongue sandwich whenever I take a trip to the city. The taste and texture are a little hard to explain, but cow tongue doesn't taste bitter like a lot of organ meats can. I'd say it was closer to a beef brisket in flavor, but the texture is soft and chewy at the same time.

I've tried cooking beef tongue at home, and it turned out pretty well. Boiling was clearly the way to go. It reminded me of boiled corned beef. I have seen some beef tongue recipes that go beyond the basic boil and slice method, but I have to wait until I can purchase some smoked beef tongue at the meat market.


I've always heard that beef tongue was one of the best cuts of meat available, but I can't find any restaurants or delis around my area that serve it. My wife remembers trying it when she took a trip to New York City as a child, but she couldn't remember if she liked it or not. I think they all tried it as a dare. I don't have a problem with eating unusual foods, but I don't know if I'd want to try cooking beef tongue at home.

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    • If butchers don't have beef tongues, customers often can order the special cut.
      By: Christophe Fouquin
      If butchers don't have beef tongues, customers often can order the special cut.