There has been renewed interest in the use of cartilage for middle-ear reconstructions. The aim of the present review is to examine the indications, techniques and surgical outcomes of cartilage tympanoplasties reported in the literature. There have been concerns regarding weakening of cartilage struts, from histological studies involving explants; as a result, cartilage struts for ossiculoplasty have not gained popularity. On the other hand, cartilage tympanoplasty is now an established procedure for tympanic membrane and attic reconstruction. The commonest techniques involve cartilage palisades and composite cartilage–perichondrial island grafts. There are many variations on the shape, size and thickness of the cartilage grafts. The perceived benefit of cartilage tympanoplasty is to prevent retraction pockets at the grafted site, even though many otologists accept that this technique may not deal with the causal factors involved in the retraction process. Concerns that the stiffness and mass of cartilage grafts may adversely affect hearing have not been substantiated in clinical reports thus far.