Why Is Beef Tongue So Expensive? (Cost and Substitutes)

If you are a fan of Mexican food you may have experienced the joy of eating beef tongue tacos, or tacos de lengua. It is truly a unique dinner experience to share with your family.

Recently my husband and I decided to try preparing our own beef tongue tacos and were surprised by the price of the odd cut of meat.

It doesn’t seem like the type of thing that would be in high demand so it got me wondering, why is beef tongue so expensive? If you’re curious about this, read on for the answer, as well as for some of my best tips for tongue taco Tuesdays!

Generally speaking, one cow can yield 120 to 180 cuts of steak, but only one tongue. This makes the supply of beef tongue lower than other types of beef. Because it is harder to find and tends to sell out, it is sold at a high price. 

Mexican restaurants and other farm-to-table establishments are also preparing beef tongue entrees more frequently to cater to an increasingly adventurous public.

This growing popularity increases the demand of a product that is already in limited supply. This will always drive up the price. 

How Much Does Beef Tongue Cost?

The average price of beef tongue is usually around $10 per pound. Since most cow tongues are about 2 pounds you will generally spend around $20 for one tongue.

You might think that an organic, grass-fed beef tongue would cost even more, but in general all beef tongue on the market is sold at this price. You don’t find tongue at cheaper prices because it is only ever sold in specialty stores.

Where Can You Buy Beef Tongue?

You can’t just walk into Costco and buy a cow tongue, that’s why you may have never seen one in person. You will need to search it out at your local butcher shop or farmers market if you want to try this newly popular delicacy.

It is important to note that it is not legal for stores to sell beef tongue with the tonsils still attached.

The USDA does not allow this due to sanitary reasons, so be sure to only buy a tongue that has been packaged and frozen by itself or with another tongue. 

How Does Beef Tongue Taste?

When beef tongue is properly cooked it has a mild beef flavor and is very tender. It has a tongue taste that is all its own, but it isn’t as strong as other odd cuts of meat like liver or heart. The tongue is less absorbent than organ meat, so it doesn’t hold excess blood or taste like iron.

The quality that makes it special beyond just the taste is the texture. If it is undercooked it will have a chewy, rubbery texture, but when slow cooked that rubbery texture turns into a pleasant balance between firm and tender. 

Beef tongue can be diced or shredded like pork roast, but unlike pork it doesn’t run the risk of turning mushy. Older generations might remember eating beef tongue sandwiches growing up.

Beef tongue can be aged and preserved with salt and nitrates like ham. When it is processed this way it tastes very similar to corned beef but with a softer texture. 

Veal, sheep, and pig tongues were used in this way though, not just beef tongues. Tongue sandwiches were usually served on rye with mustard, but can also be served open faced with gravy. 

Is Beef Tongue A Good Cut of Meat?

Beef tongue is a very flavorful cut of meat. When cooked right, it is tender and delicious. You want to be careful that you don’t overcook it because it can become chewy. You can do a lot with a cut of beef tongue and use it make a great meal.

How Do You Cook Beef Tongue?

If you’ve decided to splurge and have your first tongue taco fiesta it is important to plan ahead. Tongue takes time to prepare and cannot be quickly thrown together. It is not a complicated or difficult process, it just takes time for the meat to become tender. 

To prepare beef tongue you first need to boil the tongue whole. After boiling for as long as 3-4 hours you will be able to peel off the outer skin. The hot water helps the skin to separate from the meat and it begins to tenderize the tongue.

The outer skin of beef tongue will not become tender and cannot be consumed. It is covered in taste buds that are definitely not appetizing to look at. 

Beef Tongue Recipes

Once you have peeled off the white tough skin the dirty work is over and the meat that remains will look much more familiar to you. Once you have boiled it the possibilities are endless! I prefer it slathered in delicious spices, and served in a fresh tortilla with avocado and salsa verde. 

What I usually do is dice or shred it, then sauté it in olive oil and taco seasonings. If you are not interested in Mexican food but still want to try tongue you can add it to stew, or even pickle it.

Is Beef Tongue Healthy? 

Beef tongue is high in protein and nutrients. In one 3 ounce serving of beef tongue you will get 16 grams of protein, 19 grams of fat, and 240 total calories. The high protein and fat content make beef tongue very filling and satisfying.

You don’t need to eat much of it in each meal, so one tongue can go a long way, especially if you are using it in a dish like tacos or a stew that incorporate high fiber vegetables. 

Vitamins And Minerals 

Beef tongue is a great source of vitamin b12 and zinc. Vitamin b12 is an essential vitamin that many people don’t get enough of in their diet. It is important for overall energy, and if you don’t get enough you can become anemic.

Zinc is essential for our immune system and our metabolism. Beef tongue also provides a decent amount of Vitamin B6, potassium, magnesium, and iron. 

Why Shouldn’t You Eat Cow Tongue?

Beef Tongue

While beef tongue is low in sodium it is high in saturated fat. It is important to monitor the amount of saturated fats that you are eating in order to maintain a healthy cholesterol level.

Avocado contains healthy omega 3 fatty acids that help lower cholesterol. Pickled versions of cow tongue will be higher in sodium.

How Much Beef Tongue Should You Eat?

In general cow tongue is not unhealthy when enjoyed in moderate portions. Some saturated fat in the diet is good for you, it just shouldn’t be eaten in excess. Beef tongue should not be consumed in large portions.

Since you might not be buying this cut of meat from a big store, you need to be sure to buy beef tongue from someone who you trust to properly sterilize and handle the meat. Find a butcher or an organic farm with a good reputation and buy it from them.  

4 Beef Tongue Substitutes

Beef tongue has some unique qualities, such as the texture and mild taste, but it does come at a cost.

If you are not willing to pay $20 per tongue or $10 per pound, then there are plenty of more affordable options for you to enjoy.

I will go over a few options now, but since beef tongue has a mild taste, you can really use any of your favorite meat products as alternatives.

A pork roast is a good option that can be slow-cooked to make carnitas or pork tacos. You can find a great pork butt roast for $1.79 per pound. Most pork roasts are a few pounds at least, so you will be getting a lot more meat for your money.

If you are planning a big party or just have a big family, pork might be the best option for you. Though pork doesn’t have the same texture and is higher in fat, it does have great flavor and value. 

If you are looking to stay within the beef meat variety but you can’t quite bring yourself to try out a tongue, beef bottom round roast can be about $5.50 per pound. It can also be slow cooked very easily, and doesn’t have a weird skin that you need to peel off. 

Beef Tongue Substitutes

Skirt steak and flank steak are great in Mexican dishes and similar in price to beef tongue, at 10-11 dollars per pound.

Corned beef will cost on average $6 per pound. Corned beef is a good option for sandwiches and stew but not for tacos.

Beef tongue$10 per lb
Beef bottom round roast$5.50 per lb
Skirt or Flank steak$10 per lb
Corned beef$6 per lb
Pork butt roast$5.50 per lb

Is Beef Tongue Worth The Splurge?

In my opinion, beef tongue is worth a try, if only for the experience. My husband sure had a good time chasing me around the house with it when it was still raw and covered in taste buds. But ultimately it isn’t for everyone.

I for one plan to reserve it for one or two times a year. You will have to decide for yourself if the price seems worth it but I hope my little guide here was of some help! 

Leave a Comment