Beef For Barbacoa


Hello! Today I’m going to show you what you will need to make Beef for Barbacoa. Barbacoa is a traditional meal in Mexico and also very popular in Texas. I’ll provide the complete recipe at the bottom of this post, but if you want to see each ingredient and step, scroll down and read this post.

Make authentic Mexican Barbacoa Beef in your slow cooker or Instant Pot with this easy Barbacoa Beef recipe.


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. 

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 was at. 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 were crazy 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.

Now granted, Chipotle will never have anything as cool as Book-It. (Sidenote: please tell me that you all read about this very important 30th birthday and the return of Book-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?


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.

Beef Barbacoa – Mexican Pulled Beef

Anyone for ultra-juicy Mexican pulled beef tossed in a chipotle-spiced sauce? Use this Beef Barbacoa for tacos, burritos, enchiladas, taquitos – the possibilities are endless. This is a slow cooker version and is simple to put together. Which means … effortless. YES!

Overhead photo of Beef Barbacoa Tacos

Beef Barbacoa

Hailing from Mexico and the Caribbean, Beef Barbacoa is a dish of meat that’s traditionally slow-cooked – often in pits – with seasonings or a light broth until very tender. As with many well-known ethnic dishes, Barbacoa made its way across borders into the Western world, where it has evolved into a dish of soft, shreddable meat that’s much more boldly flavoured.

Made famous by the Tex-Mex chain Chipotle in the US, Western-style Beef Barbacoa has got a fair kick of spiciness from chipotles, a subtle smokiness, hint of spices (the cloves really sets it apart from other pulled Mexican beef), and uniquely, a good amount of tang from vinegar.

The beef is cooked until fall-apart-tender, then prised apart gently with forks before being tossed with the full-flavoured braising liquid.

Moistened and flavoured by the sauce, the meat is rich and extremely versatile. Use it for filling anything from tacos to burritos, enchiladas to quesadillas. I’m a big fan!

Casserole dish filled with Beef Barbacoa ready to use in tacos and burritos

What Beef Barbacoa tastes like

Beef Barbacoa is slightly tangy with a subtle but distinct spicing. It’s not too chilli-hot, though to be fair, sometimes chipotles vary in heat!

The unique thing about Barbacoa is the slight tartness of the sauce from vinegar and lime, which cuts through the rich meat, and the warmth from cloves. This is what sets it apart from other Mexican braised beef fillings like my other Mexican Shredded Beef and everybody’s favourite 80’s-style Beef Taco Filling (we will never let this go!).

What goes in Beef Barbacoa

Here’s what you need for the Barbacoa Sauce:

Ingredients in Beef Barbacoa
  • Chipotles in adobo – The key flavouring here! Chipotles are dried and smoked jalapeno peppers. In tinned formed, they usually come in a tangy and spicy red sauce called adobo. You get smoky flavour and heat from the chipotle along with a good kick of spices, garlic and other flavourings from the adobo.Sometimes dishes use both the adobo sauce and the chilli. We’re just using the chipotle chilli today;
  • Dark ale/beer OR beef stock – The original recipe for this Beef Barbacoa from my friend Kevin at Kevin is Cooking is made using beef broth/stock. Usually I make it the original way but I gave it a crack using beer and loved the subtle extra layer of flavour it brings to the all-important-sauce, so I decided to offer that up as an alternative.For a dish like this, you can’t really go wrong with the type of beer you use. Dark ales are a great match for the sauce colour and deep flavours going on here (I used an Australian brand called White Rabbit, pictured above), but even an everyday lager or other ale will work great. A stout such as Guinness which we use for say Beef & Guinness Stew, would make the sauce flavours even richer.Bonus points if you can get Mexican dark beer like the excellent Negra Modelo. We used to be able to get this at Dan Murphy’s in Australia but I haven’t seen it for a while;
  • Cider vinegar and lime juice – Both give this dish the distinctive tang that makes it Beef Barbacoa rather than just a standard Mexican pulled beef (not that there is anything generic about any well-made Mexican shredded beef!);
  • Spices and herbs – Cumin, oregano, cloves and bay leaves for our seasonings. The cloves in particular give this dish a unique flavour;
  • Garlic – Because Mexican food loves garlic as much as I do.
Chipotles in Adobo Sauce
Chipotles in Adobo Sauce

Best beef for Beef Barbacoa: Beef cheeks

As mentioned earlier, this Beef Barbacoa is a Tex-Mex version which is more boldly flavoured than its traditional counterpart.

In addition to extra flavour, the other difference is the cut of beef used. The Tex-Mex version tends to use beef cheeks. This cut yields pulled beef that is outrageously tender but also remains succulent and juicy, thanks to the fine fat marbling and ample connective tissue that breaks down with slow cooking into rich, lip-sticking gelatin.

Raw beef cheeks in a bowl


While beef cheeks produce the best result for this dish, you’ll find most recipes call for beef chuck as a more accessible alternative. This cut of beef is not as well marbled, so it is not quite as juicy. However the cut is a popular choice for pulled beef dishes, and I regularly use it for things like Italian ragu.

For chuck, look for a piece that’s nicely marbled with fat for the juiciest result.

Boneless beef short rib would make a terrific alternative that’s almost as juicy as beef cheeks, as long as you can find ones without overly thick layers of fat in the meat.

I recommend avoiding leaner slow-cooking beef cuts such as bolar blade, lean brisket. The meat will tend to be rather dry and ropey.

How to make Beef Barbacoa

Three simple steps:

  1. Brown the beef;
  2. Blitz the sauce;
  3. Slow-cook until fall-apart tender!

And yes, I know I’ve shown EIGHT steps below!

How to make Beef Barbacoa
  1. Season & brown the meat – Sprinkle the beef with a generous amount of salt and pepper (we do not add any into the sauce), then brown aggressively. I use that word intentionally! Colour equals flavour in both the beef and the sauce, so don’t hold back here. (Well, don’t burn it, but seek a deep golden crust alllll over each piece!)TIP: Don’t crowd the pan, or the beef will stew rather than brown. Work in batches. Meat also cooks faster when it has room;
  2. Sauce – Place all the Sauce ingredients in a Nutribullet, blender, food processor, or other blending appliance;
  3. Blitz until smooth – This is quick, maybe 10 seconds on high;
  4. Slow-cook – Pour Sauce over beef in the slow cooker. Slow-cook for 8 hours on low to make the beef “fall-apart-at-a-touch” tender. (Alternative cooking methods: Slow cooker set on high – 6 hours; oven – 3 – 3.5 hours covered, Instant Pot/pressure cooker – 1 hour);
  5. Remove beef from the sauce;
  6. Shred meat using forks – Tip: Use the back rather than front of the fork so the meat doesn’t get stuck in the prongs. Yes, ignore the photos – follow the video!;
  7. Sauce it! Toss the shredded beef together with the sauce from the slow cooker. How much to use is up to you. I usually douse it with 4 big ladles. Yes, the sauce seems somewhat watery but it’s meant to be. It’s got plenty of flavour in it so you don’t need lots when stuffed into tacos etc;
  8. Use for tacos, stuffed into burritos, taquitos, enchiladas, quesadillas, make burrito bowls! I’ve provided some easy adaptable recipe links and a bit more guidance on this below.  Click here to jump to this section.
Using forks to shred Beef Barbacoa
Beef Barbacoa slow-cooked until it’s effortless to shred.
Close up of Beef Barbacoa Taco

How to serve Barbacoa Beef

Barbacoa is a Tex-Mex meat filling you can use for almost any Mexican Dish. Here are just a few ideas, including links to recipes where you can switch out the protein with this Barbacoa.


Pictured in this post! I’ve included:

  • Flour tortillas – Given a quick char in hot, dry skillet;
  • Mexican Red Rice;
  • Pickled red cabbage from this Fish Tacos recipe;
  • Lime crema – Crema is a slightly tangy, creamy Mexican condiment. My lime crema version is made with sour cream, lime zest and juice, a tiny amount of garlic and a touch of water for thinning (to make it drizzle-able, if that is a word!); and
  • Fresh coriander/cilantro leaves – Rarely does a taco get made in this household without it!
Close up showing inside of Beef Barbacoa Tacos

Or go the retro version like in these old-school Beef Mince Tacos: iceberg lettuce, tomato, sour cream, shredded cheese and CRISPY corn tortillas!


Switch out the beef in my Beef Burritos recipe with this Beef Barbacoa.


Add 1 can of black beans + 1 can of corn (drained) to the meat, plus some extra Barbacoa sauce. Toss well and use to make Beef Enchiladas. ie replace the ground beef filling in that recipe.


Use as the protein in Quesadillas. Follow this recipe here. Mix and match fillings!


Make Burrito Bowls with:

  • Mexican Red Rice;
  • Pickled red cabbage from this Fish Tacos recipe or even just plain sliced iceberg lettuce (there’s nothing 80’s about that! );
  • A big scoop of fresh Pico de Gallo;
  • Avocado – Diced, sliced or else go the whole way and make it Guacamole;
  • Lime Crema – per #1 (Barbacoa Tacos) above, or even just plain sour cream; and
  • Fresh coriander/cilantro leaves

Barbacoa Beef

The best Barbacoa Beef recipe! This flavorful meat is deliciously seasoned and cooked low and slow until perfectly tender. Layer it in tortillas with all your favorite toppings for a crave-worthy dinner!

Barbacoa beef layered in corn tortillas to make tacos. Shown sitting on a light grey serving platter, beef is garnished with cilantro and radishes.

What is Barbacoa?

Barbacoa is an authentic Mexican dish typically made with beef, goat or lamb. It is traditionally seasoned with dried chilies and spices and slowly cooked until perfectly tender. From there it’s used as a delicious filling for tacos, burritos and so forth.

Barbacoa Beef Video

This is my favorite Barbacoa Beef recipe! I first shared the recipe back in April 2015 but have since decided those photos needed some updating.

It’s an easy to make dish, nothing complicated and it doesn’t use hard to find ingredients. It’s incredibly flavorful and you’ll love the brightness of the lime.

Most definitely a recipe easily worthy of your dinner rotation!

Ingredients for Barbacoa Beef

  • Chuck roast – this type of roast is best here with it’s fat marbling. It yields super tender results.
  • Vegetable oil – this is used for browning the roast.
  • Beef broth – chicken broth can be substitute here if that’s what you have.
  • Chipotle chilis – these add a tasty spicy kick. Freeze any remaining from the can for a later use.
  • Garlic – as always I only recommend fresh garlic.
  • Cumin, cloves, oregano, bay leaves – these spices and herbs add a delicious depth of flavor.
  • Salt and pepper – season with a fair amount of each so it doesn’t taste flat.
  • Fresh lime juice – some barbacoa recipes call for vinegar but I like the fresh lime much better here.

How to Make Barbacoa Beef

  • Portion beef: Cut roast into 6 portions while removing any large pieces of fat.
  • Brown portions: Heat oil in skillet and sear seasoned beef, half at a time, until browned on all sides.

  • Make chili paste: In a food processor, pulse together chipotle chilies, garlic and 1/4 cup beef broth until well pureed.
  • Make barbacoa sauce: Whisk together remaining beef broth with chipotle mixture, cumin, oregano, salt, pepper and cloves.
  • Add beef and mixtures to slow cooker: Pour mixture over beef in slow cooker, add bay leaves.

  • Cook in Crockpot low and slow: Cover and cook on low heat 8 – 9 hours.
  • Shred beef: Remove beef from slow cooker (leave broth) and shred.
  • Mix in lime and rest to soak flavors: Stir lime juice into broth in slow cooker then return beef to slow cooker and cook on low or warm 20 – 30 minutes longer.

Can I Cook on High Heat in the Slow Cooker?

High heat cooking is not recommend here, the beef won’t be as tender so stick with low and slow.

How to Make it More Mild?

If you don’t want the kick of the chipotle peppers simply use 4 tsp chili powder instead. Also, skip the food processor step, just mince garlic instead.

What Should I Serve Barbacoa Beef In?

This versatile beef recipe goes perfect in:

  • Tacos
  • Burritos (wraps or bowls)
  • Salads
  • Nachos
  • Quesadillas
  • Enchiladas

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