Barbacoa Recipe | Gimme Some Oven (2024)

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This homemade beef barbacoa recipe is easy to make in the slow cooker, and it’s SO flavorful and delicious! Perfect for burritos, tacos, salads, quesadillas and more.

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What was the“cool” restaurant you begged your parents to take you to when you were a kid?

Growing up in Wichita in the 80s and 90s, I have to admit that my parents were way ahead of the whole “supporting local restaurants” trend, and we were regulars at our neighborhood Mexican and Chinese restaurants. But when we were ordering take-out on a busy evening, or going out to dinner with a bunch of family friends, or when we read enough books and earned enough stars on our purple holographic buttons….Pizza Hut was where it wasat. Or more accurately, where we were at. Yes, many a landmark occasion in my childhood was marked with a Canadian bacon personal pan pizza and an ice cold Pepsi and friends nearby to celebrate. And then a few days later my sister and I would beg our parents to take us back. Actually, just a few weeks ago, my aunt ordered Pizza Hut for a family reunion and my inner 10-yr-old came out and I inhaled three pieces of thin pizza like they were the best. food. ever. Because in my childhood, they pretty much were.

But it seems like times have changed. When I was teaching kids music lessons for years, I couldn’t help but notice that the to-go cup that most frequently accompanied students into the studio was from none other than…Chipotle. My students werecrazy about Chipotle. It seemed to be the place where their families went for a quick meal on the go, or where they would celebrate together with the team after the soccer game, and where (at age 9!) they could rattle off their preference for a chicken-burrito-bowl-with-black-beans-rice-corn-salsa-extra-cheese-no-lettuce by memory. And just like my sister and I years ago, they would beg their parents to take them there as often as possible.

Nowgranted, Chipotle will never have anything as cool as Book-It. (Sidenote: pleasetell me that you all read about this very important30th birthdayand the return ofBook-It for adults!) But I have to agree that I find myself popping in nowadays for a barbacoa salad bowl much (much) more than I order a pepperoni pizza. And I’m thrilled that — of all the fast food restaurants out there — Chipotle all the rage, and has become such a popular, affordable, fresh, generally healthy, and tasty place for a new generation of kids to eat. And, you know, all of those “kids at heart” too.

But as much as I love and always order the barbacoa salad there, I have to confess that it still doesn’t compare to the barbacoa recipe (a.k.a. shredded beef) I make homemade. It’s so flavorful, super tender, and perfect on just about anything. Also, it can be made simple in the slow cooker, and you can add as much of it to your tacos or burritos or salads or rice bowls as you’d like. Plus, the cost of making it homemade for a large family (or for leftovers) will probably only be a fraction of what you would pay eating out.

Homemade barbacoa, anyone?

Homemade Barbacoa Recipe | 1-Minute Video

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Traditionally, barbacoa is cooked over an open fire, or in a pit dug in the ground that has been covered with maguey leaves. But I live in a loft building downtown where open fires and pits are, you might say, “frowned upon”. So I go for the next best thing — my slow cooker.

To keep things as easy as possible, this recipe basically just requires you to toss all of your ingredients in the pot and let the slow cooker do all of the work. It will definitely yield a shredded beef barbacoa that has a few chunks of onion and garlic and green chiles in there, which I don’t mind. But if you want to take an extra step, you can pulse all of the extra non-beef ingredients (minus the bay leaves) together in a food processor or blender beforehand so that there are no chunks. Your call.

Some people also like to sear the beef in a tablespoon or two of oil in a saute pan before adding it to a slow cooker, which will result in some crispier edges and slightly richer flavor. But I think this beef is plenty tender and flavorful cooked 100% in the slow cooker. So also, your call.

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Then once the beef has simmered for hours, it will fall apart easily when you shred it with two forks…

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…and you will have the most tender, flavorful, delicious beef ready to serve.

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I like my barbacoa to be well seasoned, since I enjoy it most often served Mexican-street-taco-style, with just corn tortillas, chopped white onions and chopped fresh-cilantro (with maybe a sprinkle of cheese). So this recipe is loaded with easy seasonings — including chipotle peppers in adobo (a must) — that will make your barbacoa stand well on its own.

If you’re not into soft tacos, you can definitely serve this barbacoa meat Chipotle-style in a burrito, or “burrito” rice bowl, or a salad, or crispy tacos. Or it’s also great in everything from quesadillas, to enchiladas, to soups, to tostadas, to sandwiches and more. And, it freezes really well so if you’re single like me and want to have it for leftovers, it will be the barbacoa recipe that just keeps on giving.


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  • Prep Time: 10 minutes
  • Cook Time: 250 minutes
  • Total Time: 260 minutes
  • Yield: 0 About 8-12 servings 1x
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This barbacoa recipe is simple to make in your slow cooker, and makes the most tender, flavorful, delicious barbacoa beef.




  1. Slow cook. Combine all ingredients in the bowl of a slow cooker. Toss gently to combine. Cover and cook on low for 6-8 hours, or on high for 3-4 hours, or until the beef is tender and falls apart easily when shredded with a fork.
  2. Shred and toss. Using two forks, shred the beef into bite-sized pieces inside of the slow cooker. Toss the beef with the juices, then cover and let the barbacoa beef soak up the juices for an extra 10 minutes. Remove the bay leaves.
  3. Serve. Use a pair of tongs or a slotted spoon to serve the barbacoa beef and enjoy!


Storage instructions: Any leftovers can be stored (with their juices) in a food storage container in the refrigerator for up to 3 days, or frozen for up to 3 months.

Barbacoa Recipe | Gimme Some Oven (11)

posted on October 8, 2014 by Ali

Main Dishes, Mexican-Inspired


Barbacoa Recipe | Gimme Some Oven (2024)


How is barbacoa traditionally cooked? ›

Barbacoa is a method of cooking meat (historically lamb or goat, though beef or pork is often used today) that produces tender and juicy results. It's traditionally steam-cooked underground, but modern barbacoa can be prepared over an open fire, on the stove, or in a slow cooker.

What temperature is barbacoa done? ›

Return the roast to the smoker and smoke for an additional 3 hours or until the internal temperature registers 190°F to 200°F on an instant-read thermometer. Remove roast from smoker. Let stand for 15 minutes. Unwrap; using two forks, pull meat apart into shreds.

What cut of meat is used for barbacoa? ›

In the US, people typically make barbacoa with chuck roast, brisket and beef cheeks. However, any cut of beef that has a lot of connective tissue and takes a long time to cook until tender works well.

What is barbacoa seasoning made of? ›

Grind the toasted cumin and cloves into a powder, and place into a blender. Add the ancho chile powder, onion, garlic, oregano, thyme, vinegar, and lime juice. Remove the chiles from the soaking water, and place into the blender along with 1/3 cup of the soaking liquid. Cover, and blend until a smooth paste forms.

How is authentic barbacoa made? ›

Traditionally, barbacoa is a preparation of meat (usually sheep, goat, or beef) that is steam cooked in an underground oven until very tender and succulent. Today the term is also sometimes used for a similar preparation made on a stovetop or in a slow cooker.

What is the best way to eat barbacoa? ›

Barbacoa can be served in a variety of ways, and salsas are the customary accompaniment. The most popular way to enjoy barbacoa is to serve it with tortillas for barbacoa tacos. Zaragoza recommends making tacos dorados (fried tacos) and topping your barbacoa with Mexican crema, shredded cabbage, and salsa.

What do you eat with barbacoa? ›

Serve barbacoa beef with salad and your choice of side (yellow rice, tortillas, black beans, Mexican street corn, etc). Enjoy! If meal prepping, divide beef and rice evenly between six meal prep containers.

How many pounds of barbacoa do I need for 6 people? ›

Ingredients Needed

Chuck Roast – you'll need 3 pounds of chuck roast to serve 6-8 people. Spices – a combination of salt, pepper, cumin, chipotle chili powder, Mexican oregano, cloves, garlic, and bay leaves lend so much flavor to the beef!

How do you cook barbacoa in the ground? ›

Burn large chunks of wood—Vera prefers mesquite, which is plentiful in South Texas—for several hours, until they are reduced to glowing embers. Add the meat and cover the pit with maguey, or agave, leaves to retain and conduct heat. Cook for eight to ten hours, replenishing the wood as necessary.

What does the word barbacoa mean in English? ›

Barbacoa (Spanish: [baɾβaˈkoa]) is a form of cooking meat that originated in the Caribbean with the Taíno people, who called it by the Arawak word barbaca, from which the term "barbacoa" derives, and ultimately, the word 'barbecue".

Is barbacoa always shredded? ›

Is barbacoa always shredded? While shredded barbacoa is a common way of serving the dish, it is not the only way. Barbacoa can be prepared and served in various forms, depending on regional preferences and personal tastes. Barbacoa can also be served sliced or diced.

What's the difference between barbacoa and carnitas? ›

Carnitas is a traditional Mexican dish made with pork.

This is in contrast to barbacoa, which is made with beef. Carnitas means "little meats" in Spanish. It's a slow-cooked pork dish that is simmered until it becomes tender and juicy.

Why is barbacoa so good? ›

Seasonings and spices: Barbacoa is often seasoned with a blend of spices and herbs, such as cumin, oregano, garlic, and chili powder. These seasonings add depth and complexity to the flavor of the meat.

Why is it called barbacoa? ›

The term "barbacoa" originated from the Caribbean indigenous word "barabicu," which refers to a method of slow-cooking meat over an open fire. In Mexico and many other regions, barbacoa is commonly prepared using various cuts of beef, such as beef cheek, beef head, or beef shoulder.

Why is barbacoa healthy? ›

Benefits of Barbacoa

One interesting fact, too, is that barbacoa—because it's made from the head—contains high levels of collagen. It is also extremely high in protein. It is a little high in fat, so it's not a meal for every day but is a good source of meat protein.

How did the Aztecs cook barbacoa? ›

The word barbacoa comes from the Nahuatl word Baalbak Kaab, literally meat covered in soil. The Aztecs and many other indigenous people in Mexico cooked barbacoa in holes in the ground filled with hot stones, wood and charcoal.

What is barbacoa tradition? ›

In contemporary Mexico, it generally refers to meats or whole sheep or whole goats slow-cooked over an open fire or, more traditionally, in a hole dug in the ground covered with agave (maguey) leaves, although the interpretation is loose, and in the present day (and in some cases) may refer to meat steamed until tender ...

Why is barbacoa cooked in the ground? ›

According to the book Pre-Hispanic Mexican Cuisine: The Food of the Ancient Mexicans, which Barbacoa Renatos has used as a source, the Mayans came up with the technique of steam-cooking meat in underground ovens, which keeps both the juices from the animal and the smoke and heat from escaping and forces them back into ...

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