Over-the-top beef cheek chilli

Over-the-top beef cheek chilli

Over-the-top chilli (or over-the-top anything for that matter) is something I have only fairly recently discovered. Its an obvious technique when you start to think about it - I have often reflected on the fact that whilst smoked beef is an excellent ingredient in chilli, you loose a lot of the delicious meat juices (connective tissue broken down in to gelatin and the fat rendered out) into the grill. Juices that with a standard braise would be running directly into the gravy and adding to the richness of the dish.

1. What is over-the-top chilli?

Over-the-top chilli is a technique of cooking on a grill whereby the meat is suspended directly above the dish that is cooking the sauce or gravy. In the case of chilli-con-carne, you’d make a tomato chilli base in a pan and then suspend the meat above the pan. This technique only really makes sense whilst smoking, rather than in an oven, as the benefit is the meat takes on the smoke, whilst all rendered juices drop into the sauce directly below. After three hours or so, once the meat has taken on as much smoke as its likely going to, you can add the meat to the sauce to braise it to finish it off (which makes for a much faster cook than seeing the meat through all the way in the smoker).

2. Can I cook anything else over-the-top?

Yes! Anything really, if you are making any kind of meat and sauce dish - a casserole or stew - can be done over-the-top. The principle is exactly the same, we apply a bit of smoke to the meat and then finish with a braise. Any meal that you might ordinarily cook as a normal braise can be switched to over-the-top.

3. A cheeky chilli!

Beef cheek, also known as Ox Cheek, is one of the hardest working muscles on a cow (just think how often you have seen a cow chewing), which means its packed full of connective tissue and intramuscular fat, which makes for both a deep savoury umami flavour and a cut that turns beautifully soft and tender with a slow cook. Beef stands up well to smoke flavour, as well as standing up against the chilli flavour. If you are feeling really decadent, you can throw a couple of pork cheeks in there too, which will add to the richness and depth of flavour of the overall dish.

  • 4 people
  • 20 minutes
  • 4 - 5 hours


  • 400 - 500 grams beef cheek (one beef cheek)
  • 1 onion
  • 1 stick of celery
  • 2 cloves of garlic
  • a couple chillis
  • 1 tablespoon tomato puree
  • 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon onion powder
  • 2 teaspoons oregano
  • 2 teaspoons cumin
  • 1 tablespoon chilli powder
  • 1 tin 400g chopped tomatoes
  • 400ml vegetable stock
  • 1 tablespoon cider vinegar


  1. Start by prepping the beef cheek - your butcher may have done a decent job, but you will need to remove the excess fat or silverskin membrane on the outside of the beef. Once done season generously with salt and pepper
  2. In a casserole dish, gently sweat the chopped onion, garlic and celery until soft (you don't want it browning)
  3. Add the tomato puree and heat through for about a minute
  4. Add the chilli powder, onion powder, garlic powder, oregano and cumin and mix through
  5. Add the tomatoes and stock
  6. Setup your grill for indirect cooking at 110C/225F with a few chunks of wood. Beef cheek can stand up to a strong smoke so feel free to add a stronger wood like hickory
  7. Suspend the beef cheek on top of the casserole dish - you can do this using a grill place on top, or a few skewers. Make sure that the meat is all directly above the dish
  8. Cook for two or three hours
  9. After the initial smoke, transfer the meat to the sauce and put a lid on it. At this point you can transfer inside to an oven (and if doing so you can up the temperature to 160-180C as the liquid will insulate the meat and cook it more efficiently). You can also chop the meat into smaller pieces at this point as this will speed up cooking time as well
  10. Braise for a further 1 1/2 - 2 hours
  11. The chilli will benefit from a further rest (even over night before being re-heated), but you can serve immediately with rice or tortillas

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