Bite Your Tongue! Why We Love Eating Tongue And You Should Too (Recipes Included)

Food Republic's column Ask Your Butcher seeks to answer FAQs in the world of butchery. Ethically minded butcher Bryan Mayer has opened butcher shops and restaurants and has trained butchers in the U.S. and abroad. He helped develop the renowned butcher-training program at Fleisher's. Today, he consults with farmers, butchers, chefs and anyone else who will listen. In each column, Mayer tackles a pressing issue facing both meat buyers and home cooks. This week, he shows us some things your butcher is doing beyond the usual raw-meat cuts.

Of all the organ meats, there's one in particular I find that lends itself to almost any preparation and any type of meal. Grilled, fried, braised or pickled, it's often hard to tell the difference between it and a more "traditional" cut. Like most offal, you'll find it served all over the world. And if you're eating some traditionally prepared cuisine here in the States, you've probably already had it. I'm talking about tongues.

If you've been playing along with our game of "eat around the animal," you must have noticed that we've left this particular part out so far. That's certainly not by design. In fact, stroll into your local butcher shop and place an order for some tongue, especially beef, and I guarantee you'll have a new best friend, considering that most of them are exported to Asia and Mexico. And if you're looking for a serious boost in your nutrition, tongues are an excellent choice. Loaded with iron and zinc, you'll give your immune system a boost. And your nervous system will benefit from all the choline and B-12 — something to take into account while you're chugging a Corona Light and scarfing down some tacos de lengua. P.S. I don't advocate either Corona Light or scarfing.

As mentioned above, this versatile fatty meat is perfect in many preparations. I'm sure it wasn't part of your mixed grill this weekend, but a poached, peeled and grilled beef tongue has enough fat and flavor to rival a — you guessed it — rib eye. Switch up your Taco Tuesday and try a spicy pork tongue taco. And if you haven't had tongue pastrami with mustard on rye, then you haven't had true deli! We'll stick with easier-to-use beef, pork and lamb tongue as opposed to things like duck tongues, because their size and bones can be a bit squirrelly to work with.

Before we get started there, here are a few things to know. When you look at most tongue recipes, they call for blanching the tongues. This process of placing the tongue in boiling water for a few moments and then into an ice water bath is supposed to make the removal of the outer membrane of the tongue easier. I have never had much luck with blanching. And when I've tried, what ensues is an extremely frustrating few minutes of trying to remove the membrane without carving divots into the flesh. Let's stick to poaching, simmering over low heat in some liquid for a bit longer — much easier and less frustrating. Do not let the tongue cool! Remember all that frustration I mentioned above with blanching? Well, letting the tongue cool will render the same results.

Get yourself a bowl of ice water, plunge your fingers into it and have at it. Please use common sense and don't burn yourself. Work in sections, from the back of the tongue to the tip. It should peel easily. Though tongues have a good amount of fat, you don't want to overcook them. Depending on whether you're looking for a "steakable" cut or something more appropriate for shredded tacos, you'll want to watch your poaching times. I find that two to four hours is the sweet spot. Once you get up to the five-hour mark, you're in danger of dry, unpalatable meat.

Your butcher should have done a pretty good job of cleaning up the tongues. And these days most tongues will have the bones removed, with the exception of smaller tongues from animals like duck. However, there's still a bit of knife work needed on your part, aside from peeling. You'll notice a bumpy texture toward the back of the tongue (and perhaps more toward the tip) after the skin has been removed. Simply take your knife and scrape against the tongue to remove it. Now's also a good time to remove any unwanted fat or leftover bone, cartilage or glands.

Finally, brining is an excellent way to add some additional flavor to your tongue. You'll want to do this before you poach. Smaller tongues from sheep or hogs will take about a day, while a beef or veal tongue can go for three or four, depending on the salinity of your brine. Here's a good down-and-dirty, easy brine recipe. It's good for one beef tongue or a few sheep or hog tongues.

Simple Brine


½ cup coarse salt

½ cup brown sugar

½ tablespoon crushed black peppercorns

½ gallon water


  • Place the above ingredients in a saucepan along with the water. Bring to a boil, making sure to fully dissolve the salt and sugar. Once dissolved, remove from heat and allow to cool. Rinse your tongue(s) and place in the brine for the desired amount of time.
  • Following the steps mentioned above, you're ready to cook with tongues any way you'd like.
  • Here are a couple of recipes to get you started:

    Grilled Beef Tongue

    Given the size and fattiness of beef tongue, it's perfect for your grill. There's a bit of time involved, but besides being able to cut in a straight line, there's very little skill involved. Poaching is essential here, but if you don't feel like brining you can certainly skip that step.

    After you poach your tongue, remember to save some of the liquid as your tongue will keep for up to four days in the remaining liquid. Once your tongue is poached and peeled, cut one-inch steaks (unless you're not cooking that day), fire up your grill, brush with a bit of oil, salt liberally (if you haven't brined) and grill for roughly 10 to 15 minutes, turning frequently.

    You can garnish and season however you like; simply with mustard and horseradish or perhaps with some yuzu kosho and juice, soy, sake and sesame oil for a nontraditional gyūtan.


    1 three-pound beef tongue from fully pastured beef (if your local butcher shop doesn't have them, then try your local farmers' market)

    2 quarts stock or water (chicken stock is perfect)

    Olive oil

    Salt and pepper, to taste


  • Place your tongue in a pot and cover with water or stock. Bring to a boil and then reduce to a simmer.
  • Cover and cook for roughly 2½ hours or until tongue is fork tender. Once cooked, remove tongue, and as soon as possible, remove the membrane from the tongue.
  • Whether you choose to poach your tongue with aromatics or just in water or stock, be sure to save the liquid for future use. Slice the tongue into one-inch-thick pieces and get your grill heated up. Brush with a bit of oil, dust with salt and pepper and then onto the grill it goes. In roughly 10 to 15 minutes (turning often), you'll have one of the best "steaks" you've ever eaten: a balance of textures, crispy and charred a bit on the outside, tender on the inside.
  • Pork Tongue Tacos With Salsa Verde

    With the unofficial start of summer in full effect, and temperatures reaching the 90s here in New York over the last few days, all I want to do is drink Doc's Cider and eat tacos. Sure, we could take the easy road, head to our local butcher shop or farmers' market and pick up some ground beef or pork, but you've done that before and Taco Tuesday needs an upgrade.

    Just like beef tongues, you'll get a ton of nutrients and flavor, except with a porky taste. And just because we're going to shred this meat doesn't mean you need to keep things indoors. Treat your grill just like you would your stovetop/oven. That's what your cast iron was made for. You'll follow the steps above and poach your pork tongues, taking it a bit longer so the meat will shred. Get your grill good and hot and add a bit of oil to your cast-iron. When it starts to shimmer, add your shredded tongue and cook for roughly 6 to 8 minutes, making sure to get the meat good and crispy.

    While your shredded tongues are crisping, place some corn tortillas on your top rack or away from the direct heat. Keep a spray bottle of water handy to keep them moist (yes, that word), remove and keep covered, allowing their own steam to keep them soft. You can whip up a quick, raw salsa verde, or garnish with onions, lime, guacamole, cilantro, queso, etc.


    3 whole pork tongues, roughly 1 pound each, from fully pastured or woodlot pigs

    2 quarts stock or water

    1 tablespoon cooking oil (like sunflower)

    Salt and pepper, to taste


  • Place your tongue in a pot and cover with water or stock. Bring to a boil and then reduce to a simmer.
  • Cover and cook for roughly 3½ to 4 hours or until tongue is fork tender. Once cooked, remove tongue, and as soon as possible, remove the membrane. Just like above, make sure to save your cooking liquid for later use. You can store your poached tongue for up to four days in the liquid.
  • When you're ready for tacos, heat your cast-iron and cooking oil over medium-high heat until the oil starts to shimmer. Add your shredded tongue and cook for 6 to 8 minutes until the tongue is crispy and brown. Remember that you can salt and pepper to taste, but if you brined, pepper should be enough.
  • Get your tortillas started and remember to mist occasionally. When done, wrap in a towel or store in a covered bowl to keep them from drying out.
  • Want an easy, raw salsa verde recipe? Here's a bonus:


    ½ pound tomatillos, cleaned and rinsed

    ½ cup chopped cilantro

    1 small jalapeño, stem removed and chopped

    1 garlic clove, peeled and crushed

    Salt and pepper, to taste


  • Combine all your ingredients, except your salt and pepper, in a blender and blend until smooth. Salt and pepper to taste. And that's it. You can store this in your fridge for up to four days.
  • If you're looking to switch things up, feel free to sub in lamb, duck or even cod tongue. Okay, that last one isn't really tongue. It's more a bit of gelatinous flesh from inside the fish's mouth. Some salt, pepper, a little flour and some hot oil, and you've got something more akin to a fried scallop. Feel free to jazz up your brine a bit by adding bay leaves, juniper berries and allspice. As always, I like to keep things simple and enjoy a more natural taste.