Updated Apr 10, 2023
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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!
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!
Beef Barbacoa Ingredients
With the help of a flavorful spice blend, chilies, and other aromatics, this recipe is a flavor sensation!
- Beef Chuck Roast: Make sure to cut this into 3-inch chunks before adding into the slow cooker.
- 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!
- Onion and Garlic: Essential aromatics that make any recipe better.
- Lime Juice: Fresh is always best, don’t use jarred lime juice. Trust me.
- Apple Cider Vinegar: For a big of tang and acidity.
- Spices: Just a little cumin, oregano, ground cloves, salt and pepper take this meat to the next level.
- Bay Leaves: A few bay leaves simmer in the juices to help round out the flavor.
- 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.
Shred it up! Transfer the beef to a cutting board and shred it with two 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.
Serve immediately. Use the barbacoa straight from the slow cooker or add it to a plate for serving it up family style!
How 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.
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.
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.
Barbacoa (Slow Cooker)
- 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
- Add all of the ingredients, except the bay leaves, to the bowl of a 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.
- Remove the beef to a cutting board and use two forks to shred it.
- Place the shredded beef back in the slow cooker, give it a stir, and let it absorb the juices.
- Serve the barbacoa straight from the slow cooker, or add it to a plate and garnish with chopped cilantro and lime wedges.
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