Holly’s qualifications include:

In This Episode Learn:

  • Why are pup parents concerned about beef cheek rolls?
  • What is the different between animal hide and skin?
  • What makes a rawhide a rawhide?
  • How is a beef cheek roll different than a rawhide?
  • The difference between several brands of beef cheek rolls.
  • How Open Range processes their beef cheek rolls.
  • About another cool chew treat your pup wants to try.


Pup parents everywhere are talking about the latest TikTok craze – Beef Cheek Rolls!

Although they’ve been around for awhile, many people are just discovering these long lasting, affordable and palatable chew treats!

Now, along with the popularity of these treats come the skeptics, which is a GOOD thing! I’m always in favour of pet parents asking questions and fact finding before feeding anything to their beloved cats and dogs.

I always say that as a pet food retailer part of my job is policing the pet industry, so I’m all for a good grilling.

So, Why the Concern About Beef Cheeks?

The biggest concern I’ve found about beef cheek rolls is that they may be “rawhide in disguise”. In fact, the white appearance of these treats so closely resembles rawhide chews that we’ve had to put a “not rawhide” sign on them in our stores.

There is very little information out there about the processing of beef cheeks, and because there’s a well-deserved, inherent distrust of the pet industry as a whole, I’m here to try and clarify the differences between beef cheeks and rawhides for you.

There is also a chance I could make things muddier for you. (sorry) It is VERY hard to find trustworthy information on this topic, or most topics for that matter, but I’ll do my best!

What is the Difference Between Hide and Skin?

This was the first question I had while writing this blog. I mean, dogs eat skin all the time, so do we, so what’s the big deal?

Well, there really is no difference other than the term “hide” is used when describing the skin of a larger animal like a cow or a buffalo, and the term “skin” is used to describe the skin of a smaller animal like a goat, sheep, pig or deer.

“Beef Hide” is the skin of a cow, whereas “rawhide” can be the skin of a cow, buffalo, or horse for example.

Presumably, hide would be thicker than skin, and harder to chew and digest.

What Makes a Rawhide, a Rawhide?

The key to understanding what makes a rawhide a rawhide is in the processing. While you may think that rawhide is a by-product of the beef industry, you’d be wrong. Rawhides are actually a by-product of the leather and tanning industries. The top layer of the hide is used for leather, and the inner layer of the hide is salvaged for rawhide treats.

Unfortunately, when hides are destined for the leather industry, they undergo a plethora of nasty processes.

In order to prevent spoilage during transport over very long distances, they are initially subjected to a chemical bath. Then, they are treated with either a solution of ash-lye or sodium sulphide liming. These solutions should NOT be ingested by YOU OR YOUR DOG.

To give rawhides that “puffy” appearance, the hides are then treated further with even more chemicals. Before they become a “dog treat” they’ve likely been exposed to glues, formaldehyde and even bleach or titanium oxide to give them that white, clean appearance and to remove bacteria and hair. Additionally, artificial colours and flavours may also be added.

Rawhides are also not classified as “food” so there is very little, if any, oversight of their manufacturing by any regulatory body. It’s a bit of a free-for-all.

This short synopsis is merely a scratching of the surface when it comes to downfalls of rawhide. Simply put: DO NOT feed rawhides of ANY kind to your dog. Ever.

How is a Beef Cheek Roll Different from a Rawhide?

According to their name, beef cheeks are SUPPOSED TO BE made from the cheek meat of a cow. Cheek meat is very tough and contains a lot of collagen. This means that in order for people to enjoy cheek meat, it would need to be cooked “long and slow” to tenderize it.

Fortunately for a dog chew – nice and tough is the way we like it!

So while rawhides are made from the hide scraps of the leather industry, beef cheeky rolls are made from the cheek meat of a cow. Presumably, the cheek meat is never destined for the leather processing plant and bypasses all of the resulting chemical treatments.

In my opinion, the most important difference isn’t necessarily whether or not it contains hide, but that the hide isn’t a by-product of the leather industry. The thought of a dog ingesting all of those chemicals makes me ill.

If the cheek roll does not contain hide, they’re more digestible than rawhides. Along that vein, if they don’t contain hide they won’t likely last as long either although that’s purely speculation.

Let’s Look at a Few Different Brands of Beef Cheeks

I wasn’t planning on doing this, but whilst doing my research I stumbled upon something interesting and seemingly obvious. I found that while most of the cheek rolls I found had just one ingredient, the ingredient wasn’t always the same.

Here’s some examples:

Red Barn Cheek Roll Dog Chew

Ingredients: Beef Hide

They also have options that have a flavoured “glaze” on them. Also, on the Chewy.com FAQ page when asked if the beef cheeks are rawhide:

“Redbarn’s Beef Cheek Rolls are an all-natural chew made from the cow’s entire cheek. Although it is more easily digestible compared to traditional rawhide, it would still be considered a rawhide product.”

HDP Beef Cheek Rolls

Ingredients: Beef Rawhide

I would presume that these would be similar to the Red Barn rolls, however, based on the definitions I’ve found about rawhide, I’m not sure how they can say it’s both “beef” and “rawhide” being that “rawhide” can mean any hide.

Bones & Chews Water Buffalo Cheek

Ingredients: Water Buffalo Cheek

This sounds better than the first two, but they don’t specify if it includes the hide so can it? I’m not sure.

Open Range Beef Cheeky Roll

Ingredients: Beef Cheek Meat

Open Range Beef Cheeky Rolls are an approved product for our franchise and are sold in our stores. They have no glaze or flavour added to them, and they do not contain any hide.

UPDATE JULY 2022: Open Range Beef Cheek Rolls are NO LONGER an approved product in our stores like they were at the time of this writing. At some stage, they started irradiating their chews and for this reason we are dropping the Open Range line of chews and treats.

Now, labeling can be tricky and there are many ways brands get around sounding “bad” by tweaking labels. There are also rules that must be followed so when they’d like to list the ingredient as one thing, they are forced to use another. For example, I know one collagen chew that wasn’t allowed to put “collagen” on the label, they had to put “beef gelatin”.

I would assume that if listed as “Beef Cheek Meat” that would mean no hide, but who knows.

HOT TIP: Not ALL cheek rolls are made from only cheek meat. Some may include the skin or hide. You’ll need to inquire with the company you’re purchasing from for clarification if it’s not clear on the label.

How are Beef Cheeks Processed?

In the case of the Open Range Beef Cheeky Rolls, the cheek meat is tumbled in a wash of water and shells which act as a natural abrasive to remove any hair. It also removes the epidermis layer of the skin. All without chemicals.

Because the epidermis layer is removed, the cheek meat is then able to absorb water before the dehydration stage which inflates the cheek giving it that signature puffy appearance.

The white colour that resembles the appearance of rawhide comes from this cleaning process, NOT from the application of bleach or other chemicals.

Open Range Beef Cheeks are 100% Beef from free range cows without added growth hormones, antibiotics or steroids.

But remember, this is how THIS ONE company processes their cheeks. There’s no guarantee it’s the same for others. I would encourage you to ask.


Photo: Open Range

A Quick Word About Bull Tails

Bull Tails aren’t trending on TikTok, (yet), but they’re worth a mention because when they’re purchased from a good company they’re an economical, long lasting natural chew.

Open Range processes their Bull Tails, Cow Ears and many of their other products in the same manner they process their Beef Cheeky Rolls. This is why their cow ears are white and puffy, vs other ears that may be darker and thinner.

Bull Tails are steamed and then hollowed out to remove the cartilage. I was “today years old” when I learned that Open Range stuffs the wide end of their Bull Tails with cheek meat!

How cool is that?

HOT TIP: ALWAYS supervise your dog when they’re chewing any treat! All treats have the potential to become a choking hazard or to create a blockage when not chewed to an appropriate size before swallowing. Just a few days ago Pebbles got a chew treat stuck on the roof of her mouth that I had to remove for her and she’s a grown-ass adult!

In Conclusion

With the lack of info, and confusing definitions and labeling, how is a pup parent to know if a beef cheek is actually just a rawhide, rebranded?

The answer isn’t easy, unfortunately. We’d need to dive deep into each brand, and even further to each of their products to get the answers we need.

My best advice to increase your odds of purchasing a higher quality product is to avoid anything that actually admits it’s “hide” or “rawhide” on the label, and then ask the companies with ingredients like “water buffalo cheek” to find out if the “hide” or “rawhide” are included in the chew. Technically a cheek could include hide I suppose if it’s not intentionally removed.

Also avoid anything made in China. Most hides are shipped to China and the rawhides are produced there.

Ensure your favourite products have not been irradiated, and avoid any and all artificial colours, flavours and preservatives.

This should give you a head start.

Personally, I feed beef cheeks to my dogs, but ONLY the ones my head office has approved. They speak directly to the companies and ask the tough questions to ensure we’re only selling the best products available. For that reason, the only two brands I can recommend (as they are sold at the time of this writing) are Open Range and Puppy Love.

UPDATE JULY 2022: Open Range Beef Cheek Rolls are NO LONGER an approved product in our stores like they were at the time of this writing. At some stage, they started irradiating their chews and for this reason we are dropping the Open Range line of chews and treats. 

I hope this blog has given you some tools to help you choose a higher quality beef cheek for your pup. When produced responsibly, they really are a great chew!

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