Know Your Cow: Sweetbreads

After being featured in not one but two dishes on Top Chef last night, sweetbreads are piquing the curiosity of would-be gourmets throughout the reality TV viewing world. So, what exactly is a sweetbread? The answer is possibly less appetizing than you thought.

Most mammals, including humans and cows, have a thymus, a gland that helps produce immune cells, such as T cells. Cows have more than one thymus, in their neck and by their heart. They’re only prominent in young cows, thus they are frequently referred to as “veal sweetbreads.” If someone says “beef sweetbreads” to you then they are either stupid, or are they are Bobby Flay trying to trick you into looking stupid. In either case you should hit them with the nearest mallet.

Preparing sweetbreads involves removing the outer membrane by soaking them in salt water, usually overnight. They can then be poached, braised or straight-up deep fried. Like Lisa said on Top Chef last night, they’re kind of like a big beefy chicken nugget.

Sweetbreads information on the internet seems to vary. Some sites insist that the pancreas is also a sweetbread; others say it is only the thymus. Many sites talk about whether lamb or pork sweetbreads are worth eating – lamb seems to be generally accepted. Explore the interwebs for more info; meanwhile, here’s Stephanie from Top Chef’s veal sweetbreads recipe.

44 Responses to “Know Your Cow: Sweetbreads”

  1. Since Veal is young calves of the dairy herd, wouldn’t that make the sweetbread BEEF???? Calling people stupid is not very smart.

    • J. Thompson Says:

      Naming is always a problem. Beef usually being of the beef breeds, Angus, Hereford, etc Veal is from Dairy only because Dairy males as Steers or Bulls do not do as well in the market as the Beef breeds, so they as processed while still quite young, known as veal.

      Calling anyone Stupid is usually not a good thing, even when you think you are smarter. We all are stupid in one field or another.

    • Melinda Lopez Says:

      Beef sweetbreads are very commom in my culture. They are grilled and served in tacos. Garnished with avocado, cilantro, fresh and grilled onions. Lemons and any kind of salsa are servedon thr the side.

  2. how many calories does it have per serving?

  3. SpeedBird Says:

    I am eating sweetbreads as I type this. I was present at the slaughter last Thursday of a 1400 pound Angus cross steer of about 2 years’ age (cross referring to his ancestry, not his disposition).

    The butcher, Jesus ( a joy to watch, a true craftsman), who was also the slaughterer, handed me the sweetbreads as he cut them out of the carcass.

    I soaked them overnight in salt water and was not able to identify a membrane, much less remove it. After cooking in boiling water (is that called blanching?)n for about 5 minutes, I then tried again to remove … anything, with no luck.

    There were several blood vessels still attached, with various connective tissues, which I could not separate easily – so I just sliced them into chunks and simmered them for an hour swimming in leftover fat from a fatty sausage, olive oil, and Crane Lake California Zin 2005, adding sliced Crimini mushrooms and an organic turnip.

    Jesus handed me two sweetbreads, and they were about 6 ounces each. I did not realise at the time I would want to know which was which later. One was slightly larger, cooked up much more tender, and was sweeter. The other was a little… rubbery. Not like octopus but still not quite as good as the other. But the better one of the two still had the rubbery connective tissue along with it.

    One mans’ first experience with sweetbreads from a full grown steer (not a veal calf) in Colorado.

  4. J. Thompson Says:

    I am a third generation Custom Butcher for fellow farmers. We have saved and eaten sweet breads for years and yes they do come from around the windpipe near the windpipe chest entrance. Best to boil them for about an hour after which the nodes can be separated from the tissue. We normally cook them in a white sauce after they are in the natural marble size nodes.

    It is a treat and they are larger in younger animals. They are something like scalps in texture.

  5. Letoya W. Says:

    Personally, I season my sweetbreads with Lawrys seasoned salt, garlic powder and sliced onions, wrapped in foil and place them on the smoke grill for a few hours. they almost melt in your mouth! My problem now is I cant find them anywhere in Cheyenne, Wyoming! LOL never had that problem in Texas LOL

  6. john white Says:

    I appreciate there are different types of sweetbread but no one is mentioning testicles, i am looking on the internet to try and find a good recepie on how to cook my sweetbreads which are the testicles of some sort of beast, if testicles are in fact not sweetbreads then ive been duped by my butcher and i will end up force feeding them to him without blanching!!!!

    • Testicles are not sweet breads. If you do get your hands on ” Mountain Oysters ” make sure they are small from a young male calfs. The big ones, mostly found in foreign countries are tough, and gamey. Don’t bother.

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  9. Sweetbreads are only Beneficial for the O blood type sweetbreads are an Avoid for A B AB & RH Blood Types…*)ii(*No Joke…Dr.Adamo Eat Right Foe Your Type ….

  10. I work on a small cattle ranch and we get sweetbreads from full grown I guess me and all the guys at the slaughter house are stupid or mabey its the guy with the blog on the internet

  11. Mexicans have always BBq’d Sweetbreads (mojas)

  12. Ok beef have sweetbreads no matter the size of the animal. I know this because i have slaughtered many beef and removed them for consumption. You probably Will not see the ones from older beef in stores because it doesnt look as nice and generally is tougher with a grainier texture, so before you make yourself seem very ignorant by stating false “facts” do a little research!

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  31. I boil them in salty water for about 10 minutes, let them cool, put them in a plate with another plate in top and add a heavy brick to press, leave it in the fridge for about 24 hrs. Clean the extra fat and ligaments, cook on grill both sides, then slice them to get to flat portions and grill the inside. Top with garlic/butter sauce!

  32. I’m a slaughter house butcher and I collect more sweet bread off of over 14 month old beef then I do veal, yes the sweet bread is more prominent in a veal because thats all that it’s neck is really made of so it’s just a huge sweet bread out in the open, but mature beef actually have larger sweet breads, you just have to be able to find it and separate it all from the fat n muscle tissue hiding it, but the line moves fast so it’s really hard to get the knack of cutting it out, as it blends in with fat that you have to trim off the neck so most places don’t bother with beef sweet bread.. the elite do.

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  35. I custom slaughter domestic farm animals in WA,. I have found sweetbreads in beef (18 mos.) and older quite often, usually taking them home to eat for myself since many owners would rather throw them away. They are delicious and very rich in flavor.

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