Barbacoa

Beef barbacoa (barbacoa de res) that’s juicy, meltingly tender, and seasoned with flavorful chilies and spices. The key to this Mexican staple is cooking it low and slow for meat that falls right apart. And once it does, it makes for the ultimate barbacoa tacos, bowls, and so much more!

Beef barbacoa on a plate with lime wedges.

What Is Barbacoa?

If you live in the US, you might know barbacoa from eating at your local Chipotle restaurant. It’s that juicy, tender beef that sits in that tub of spicy liquid. And I’ll be the first to admit it’s delicious, but it’s not quite as authentic as traditional Mexican barbacoa.

Mexican barbacoa is more traditionally made from beef cheeks, but it can also be made from various cuts of beef, or even lamb, or goat. It really varies among the different regions of Mexico. But here’s the gist of it – it’s heavily seasoned meat with spices and chipotle peppers, then slow-cooked in a pit with coals or over an open flame until you’ve got beautifully juicy, fall-apart tender meat.

I’ve been lucky to enjoy many of those tasty variations on my travels through Mexico. But today, I’m sharing an easy, slow-cooker version that you can make at home, using beef chuck roast along with all those delicious Mexican flavors!

Ingredients for beef barbacoa on a table.

Beef Barbacoa Ingredients

With the help of a flavorful spice blend, chilies, and other aromatics, this recipe is a flavor sensation!

  1. Beef Chuck Roast: Make sure to cut this into 3-inch chunks before adding into the slow cooker.
  2. Chipotles In Adobo Sauce: These peppers add the most delicious smoky flavor and just the right amount of heat. If you’ve got leftovers, blend them up into a chipotle sauce!
  3. Onion and Garlic: Essential aromatics that make any recipe better.
  4. Lime Juice: Fresh is always best, don’t use jarred lime juice. Trust me.
  5. Apple Cider Vinegar: For a big of tang and acidity.
  6. Spices: Just a little cumin, oregano, ground cloves, salt and pepper take this meat to the next level.
  7. Bay Leaves: A few bay leaves simmer in the juices to help round out the flavor.
  8. Beef Stock: Helps to keep the beef moist and tender as it cooks.

Find the printable recipe with measurements below.

What Cut Of Beef To Use

When it comes to cooking meat low and slow, it’s best to use tough and lean cuts of beef with minimal fat. You might be thinking the opposite, but as it cooks, their high amount of collagen will break down into gelatin and tenderize the meat. In other words, it’ll taste just as luscious as meat with fat on it!

How To Make Slow Cooker Barbacoa

Combine and cook. Add everything except for the bay leaves to the bowl of a slow cooker, and toss it all together with tongs. Then add in the bay leaves and cook on low for 8-9 hours. By then, the beef should be extremely tender and fall apart easily.

Prepping ingredients in the slow cooker for beef barbacoa.

Shred it up! Transfer the beef to a cutting board and shred it with two forks.

Shredded beef barbacoa on a wooden board with forks.

Make it extra juicy. Move the shredded beef back into the slow cooker and give it a stir to absorb all the delicious juices.

Picking up beef barbacoa in a slow cooker with tongs.

Serve immediately. Use the barbacoa straight from the slow cooker or add it to a plate for serving it up family style!

A plate with beef barbacoa on it.

Ways To Serve Barbacoa

Now that you’ve got an entire slow cooker filled with juicy, shredded beef – make the most of it! Sure, you can add it to a plate with a side of Mexican rice and beans. But it doesn’t stop there.

  • Tacos: Make barbacoa tacos with diced onions, chopped cilantro, red salsa, and a fresh squeeze of lime juice.
  • Burrito Bowls: Build a barbacoa burrito bowl to replicate your favorite Chipotle version! Start with a base of cilantro lime rice, then pile on barbacoa, black beans, pico de gallo, corn, sour cream, and avocado slices.
  • Salads: For a lighter meal, swap your base for chopped lettuce! Then pack on the same ingredients as the bowl.

Storing And Reheating Leftovers

  • To store: Let the meat come to room temperature before placing it in an airtight container. It’ll stay good for 4-5 days in the fridge.
  • To Freeze: In a freezer-safe container, the barbacoa will keep for 1-3 months in the freezer.
  • For Reheating: Microwave the barbacoa for 1-2 minutes until it’s warmed through.

Want to prep barbacoa in advance for a party? You can make it up to 3 days in advance, let it cool, then store it in a covered bowl (with the juices) in the fridge. When you’re ready to serve, transfer the barbacoa (with juices) into a baking dish and reheat in the oven for about 15 minutes at 350F.

Picking up beef barbacoa from a plate with tongs.

Spruce Up Mexican Night!

Whether you’re prepping for Taco Tuesday or Cinco De Mayo, you can’t go wrong with any of these delicious options.

And you can wash down all that spicy meat with a classic margarita, strawberry margarita, or mango margarita!

Easy Barbacoa Recipe Video

Ready for the most tender shredded beef? Watch the video below for an easy, step-by-step guide on how to make it!

If you make this barbacoa, let me know how it turned out! I’d love to hear what you think in the comments below.

Beef barbacoa on a plate with lime wedges.

Best Barbacoa (Slow Cooker)

5 from 44 votes
Prep Time: 10 mins
Cook Time: 8 hrs
Total Time: 8 hrs 10 mins
Servings: 8 servings
Author: Lisa Bryan
Mexican beef barbacoa that's juicy, meltingly tender, seasoned with flavorful chilies and spices, and made easy right in the slow cooker!

Ingredients

  • 4 pounds beef chuck roast, cut into 3-inch chunks
  • 1 onion, diced
  • 3-4 chipotles in adobo sauce, finely diced
  • 5 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1/4 cup fresh lime juice
  • 2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon ground cumin
  • 1/2 tablespoon dried oregano
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 1 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 3/4 cup beef stock
  • 3 bay leaves

Instructions 

  • Add all of the ingredients, except the bay leaves, to the bowl of a slow cooker.
    Adding beef barbacoa ingredients into the slow cooker.
  • Use tongs to gently toss and mix it all together. Then add the bay leaves, and cover. Cook on low for 8-9 hours, or on high for 4-5 hours. The beef should be tender and fall apart easily when shredded with a fork. If it doesn't shred easily, cook it a bit longer.
    Mixing beef barbacoa ingredients in a slow cooker.
  • Remove the beef to a cutting board and use two forks to shred it.
    Shredding beef barbacoa on a cutting board.
  • Place the shredded beef back in the slow cooker, give it a stir, and let it absorb the juices.
    Mixing beef barbacoa in the slow cooker.
  • Serve the barbacoa straight from the slow cooker, or add it to a plate and garnish with chopped cilantro and lime wedges.
    A plate of beef barbacoa and lime wedges.

Nutrition

Calories: 430kcal, Carbohydrates: 5g, Protein: 44g, Fat: 26g, Saturated Fat: 11g, Trans Fat: 2g, Cholesterol: 156mg, Sodium: 884mg, Potassium: 855mg, Fiber: 1g, Sugar: 1g, Vitamin A: 334IU, Vitamin C: 4mg, Calcium: 62mg, Iron: 6mg
Course: Main Course, Main Meal
Cuisine: Mexican
Keyword: Barbacoa, Beef Barbacoa, Shredded Beef
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116 comments on “Barbacoa”

  1. Beautiful recipe!  My crockpot had it cooked to perfection in 6 hours.  My family loved it on Almond flour tortillas and didn’t even know they ate Keto!  Loved it!5 stars

  2. This is my all time favorite recipe!5 stars

  3. This recipe was great! Followed the directions as written and the beef was so tender and flavorful. Definitely adding this to the rotation for taco nights!5 stars

  4. Delicious recipe! Just the right combination of spices. We loved it.5 stars

  5. I don’t leVe reviews.  This recipe is amazing.  The cut of beef used did not shred but flavor was amazing.  This will go into a regular rotation.  Had all ingredients on hand.  Made as directed.  Use 3.5 adobo chilies and heat was spot on.5 stars

  6. I love how easy and delicious it is! It was a bit too salty for my taste so next time I’ll only add one teaspoon of salt and season again at the end. Definitely will keep doing this one! Thank you!!!!5 stars

  7. Wondering how to make this in the oven since I do not have a slow cooker

    • I just made this last night in my Dutch oven. I had the oven temp at 300F and cooked it for just over 3 hours. The meat shredded easily and was tender. 5 stars

  8. Generally, I am a pretty tough critic on recipes. I ran across this recipe and it looked intriguing. I put it together that evening for dinner. Wow, was I impressed. I had one major variation from your recipe. Because I didn’t start making the recipe early in the day for the slow cooker I used an InstantPot. I ended up cooking the recipe for an 1 hour and 30 minutes under pressure. Once it cooked I left the food stay an additional 10 minutes under pressure before releasing it. It was amazingly flavorful and tender. Good job. Thank you for your site.5 stars

    • Happy to hear this turned out great in an Instant pot Greg! If you loved this recipe, be sure to try my carnitas on as well, I think you’ll love it.

  9. I know you have a delicious carnitas recipe, which I’ve made and love! But we adore the barbacoa recipe! Do you think it would work and take good is I used the pork with the barbacoa recipe? We can’t swing the price for beef right now and the butt is on sale for 99 cents!

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