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 22 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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71 comments on “Barbacoa”

  1. This recipe will definitely become part of the Taco Tuesday rotation.  It was so simple to put together and the flavor was amazing.  5 stars

  2. Just put everything together in the slow cooker and can’t wait to serve it to my guests tonight! It sounds… and already smells… AMAZING!5 stars

  3. Absolutely delicious and even better the next day. I added a bit of Worcestershire sauce when cooking and served with rice, corn, black beans, avocado and salsa. Whole family loved it!5 stars

  4. Looks delicious:I can’t wait to make it 

  5. I made this yesterday and we LOVED IT. This is one of my best-ever recipes. Followed the instructions exactly, and shredded the beef with my hand mixer — didn’t even need the stand mixer. We found it to be spicy but not overly “hot,” and I served it on burrito tortillas with fresh diced avocado, tomatoes, and leaf lettuce. No extra salsa or seasoning needed! This is a wonderful, wonderful recipe.5 stars

  6. I made this in a pot on the stove (I only have a small slow cooker) and put it on simmer for 5 hours and it was perfect! Love all your recipes Lisa!5 stars

  7. I already gushed to you on Instagram about how good this was, but I cannot stress enough just how delicious it turned out! The first night it made for the most satisfying burrito bowls. Over the next couple of days, we used the leftovers up for plenty of tacos! It’s packed full of so much flavour and it was so simple to whip up, plus it made for super easy subsequent meals!5 stars

  8. I’m not a big meat eater, but This Is SO GOOD! It’s going into our regular meal rotation, for sure. I could not find chuck roast so made it with a 2 lb pot roast, halving all the other ingredients. The meat was fork tender and I couldn’t stop taking bites of it as I fixed the rest of the sides for the bowl. Honestly, it’s great by itself!
    Really loved your White Chicken Chili that I made last month as well. Thanks for all these great recipes. Look forward to trying more.5 stars

  9. Absolutely delicious! Thanks!5 stars

  10. Delicious flavor! Even my picky eater liked it! I will cut down on the salt just a hair next time but overall wonderful recipe and results!5 stars

  11. Glad found this recipe. Can i use beef brisket and trimm the fat before?

  12. Oh wow was this ever phenomenal! I used a pork tenderloin and chicken broth as I don’t eat beef and after 7 hours on low the meat pulled apart while I was stirring with a wooden spoon! I made the tacos tonight and my husband and I were in our glory! Next time I will add less salt though. Thank you Lisa for another fantastic recipe!!5 stars

  13. Is there another cut of meat you could recommend ? Thank you for your time.
    Susan Hammond

  14. Are you using Mexican oregano or regular?
    Thank you :)

  15. I made this yesterday.  It turned out wonderfully.  I used a potato masher to break up the beef cubes, after finding and removing the bay leaves.  Worked perfectly, and I was able to keep the meat in the slow cooker while doing it. 5 stars

  16. I just put it in the slow cooker and two things I did wrong. One- I did not have cloves, so I substitute with nutmeg and two- I accidentally put beef broth in and not beef stock. 🤦🏼‍♀️ I hope it still tastes good! So far, everything I have made following your recipes have been, AMAZING! Thank you!

  17. I was wondering how much dried chipotle powder I could use instaed ofchipotle in adobe sauce please? I can’t wait to make it. Thank you5 stars

  18. I want to make this but am wondering how spicy (heat wise) this is. I likes lots of spicy flavor but cont like a lot of heat.

  19. This looks amazing! Do you recommend using a pressure cooker for this recipe? I think I know the answer ; )
    Thanks for your great recipes!

  20. Made it Sunday. Absolutely wonderful!5 stars

  21. I just made this last night for my family, and it was SO delicious!! Leftovers for dinner tonight too. Definitely try it!! 5/55 stars

  22. Hello!  What’s the serving size for this recipe?

    • Hi Renette – We don’t have an exact serving size for this recipe as it depends on how big your chuck roast is. But this recipe will produce around 8 servings.

  23. Mine is my slow cooker now. Can’t wait! I will also be making the cassava tortillas with my new tortilla press I bought from your web sight to make tacos with all the fix’ns. Thank you Lisa for such great recipes. You have brought more deliciousness to my life. 😉😋5 stars

  24. Wow, this looks amazing! I’ll be making this dish for dinner at some point this upcoming week. I loved your falafel recipe and I look forward to serving this for my family.5 stars

  25. This sounds delicious, but I don’t have a slow cooker. Could I cook it in a heavy cast iron pot instead? If so, what oven temperature and duration would you recommend? Thank you!

    • H Nicole – You can cook this in a iron pot in the oven for about 4-8 hours at 325F. But make sure to keep an eye on it!

  26. What if we don’t have a slow cooker? Will a regular pot work or instapot? Thx

  27. Hi Lisa, Can we use chipotle pepper powder instead of chipotle peppers in adobo sauce? If not, do you have any chipotle pepper in adobo sauce brand recommendation that uses good quality oil? 

    • Hi Kay – If you can’t find chipotle peppers, a dried and ground version works in a pinch! Just keep in mind that one dried chipotle pepper is equivalent to 1/2 teaspoon of chipotle powder.

  28. I have never made barbacoa and have to try your recipe. My hubby will love this.5 stars

  29. Great recipe – I’ve never had it and cant wait to try it. I also watched your video – you are a natural – loved it!5 stars

  30. This barbacoa looks amazing, and I bet it will be great in tacos! Will be trying this soon.5 stars

  31. Such beautiful photos! The beef looks absolutely amazing and I love the flavor from all those spices. Yum!5 stars

  32. Wow! This is one beef dish I know I will make often. The flavors agree with my taste buds. And I love your pictures5 stars

  33. Excellent recipee 

    Thank you 5 stars

  34. Thank you for the yummy sounding recipe. How large (quarts) is the crock pot you used? 

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