Barbacoa

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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!

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.

Similar to Mexican birria, 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.

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 to 5 days in the fridge.
  • To Freeze: In a freezer-safe container, the barbacoa will keep for 1 to 3 months in the freezer.
  • For Reheating: Microwave the barbacoa for 1 to 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 350°F.

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!

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)

4.97 from 111 votes
Prep: 10 minutes
Cook: 8 hours
Total: 8 hours 10 minutes
Servings: 8 servings
Author: Lisa Bryan

Description

Mexican beef barbacoa that's juicy, meltingly tender, seasoned with flavorful chilies and spices, and made easy right in the slow cooker. Watch the video below to see how I make it in my kitchen!

Video

Ingredients 
 

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 to 9 hours, or on high for 4 to 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
Did you make this recipe?Mention @downshiftology or tag #downshiftology!

Recipe originally published February 2021, but updated to include new information for your benefit!

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About the author

Lisa Bryan

Lisa is a bestselling cookbook author, recipe developer, and YouTuber (with over 2.5 million subscribers) living in sunny Southern California. She started Downshiftology in 2014, and is passionate about making healthy food with fresh, simple and seasonal ingredients.

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Recipe Rating




256 Comments

  1. Family favorite! We make this every month or so for barbacoa burrito bowls with the cilantro lime rice. We wowed our large family with this during our time to make dinner at the lake house. No left overs.5 stars

  2. Too spicy. Oh my. I even de-seeded the chipotle peepers.
    It does smell amazing though. I just can’t stomach the heat. :(2 stars

    1. Oh no! Sorry to hear you found it too spicy. I wonder if you might have grabbed a different type of chipotle pepper, as it shouldn’t be overly spicy.

  3. What a great recie! The meat could be mashed with a fork it was so tender. Superb flavor! This is now my go-to for barbacoa.

    My changes: Did not add salt, cut lime juice to 2 T, added 1 C beef broth, used entire contents of 7 oz can of chipotles in adobo. Also seared the meat in coconut oil before cooking.

    I slow-cooked the 3.5 lbs of meat in a Dutch oven for 4.5 hours at 275 F, tucking a piece of parchment over the meat to preserve moisture. Next time I may well add 1.5 cups of broth.5 stars

  4. Good spice and flavors, but careful with the salt. Especially if you use a broth like Better Than Bouillon that has salt in it. Mine was so salty it was inedible. I’m cooking another roast today with no seasonings to mix into it in hopes of cutting down the saltiness.

  5. This recipe was perfect. Only thing I did different was add the liquid at the end of cooking to the blender to thicken it up, then poured it back over & let it simmer longer to absorb. Thank you!5 stars

  6. Very delicious ! My second time making this! My fiancé loves it and the aroma smells through out the house! Very easy recipe! Lisa Bryan please show us how to cook Birria!5 stars

    1. So happy you love my barbacoa recipe, Annette! And a birria recipe is coming your way soon. Keep your eyes peeled. ;)

  7. Hi Lisa,
    This is the first meal I ever made from you. We absolutely loved it and I have now made it 6x. I would like to say we have leftovers, but my family plows through this meal in a flash. They love it! I have now made many of your meals- thank you!5 stars

  8. I have not made this YET. Sounds wonderful but I am afraid of spice . Wanted to double check that it is not spicy for those of us who cannot tolerate spice. Please reassure or give alternative for chipotle with adobe sauce.
    I love your recipes. Must wait until Nov to get your new cookbook from Amazon.Thanks

    1. I made this today and it was very spicy. My tongue and lips feel burnt from the heat and I even de-seeded the Chipotle peppers.

  9. I made this for the first time last weekend, for friends and family. Couldn’t find Chuck Roast in my local grocery store, so I used Sirloin Tip Roast. It was delicious and everyone raved about how good it was. Hands down the best I’ve had. I made cilantro lime rice to go with it and it was the perfect side/addition to the meal, along with some freshly made guacamole.5 stars

    1. Yay, I’m happy you, your friends, and family loved the recipe! And a great pairing with the cilantro lime rice and guacamole as well. Now you’re making me hungry! Haha.

  10. My husband is allergic to Adobe. Is there anything else I can use to get a similar flavor or make sure it’s flavorful? I love barbacoa and want to make this.
    Also, do you think flank steak would work?

    Thanks.

  11. Lisa, we have 6 kids, 4 of them boys. There isn’t a month that goes by that they don’t ask me to make this for them! We all love it so much, and if there are any left overs its even better. We do have to go to your 3x recipe so we have enough thankfully our crockpot is large enough. And it always tastes the same! Very grateful for your recipes, and your amazing cookbook. You Got It Goin’ On Girl!5 stars

    1. I’m not sure as I haven’t tested this in a pressure cooker. It would be best to look up pressure cooker instructions!

    1. You add the bay leaves in step 2. You can refer to the recipe card (toward the bottom of the post) for the official list of instructions.

  12. This is the best beef slow-cooker recipe I’ve ever had! Making it again today for Memorial Day. Thank you so much! 5 stars

  13. I’ve made this recipe a few times and it’s always a hit. I serve it over rice and people always ask for the recipe. Last night I used it as filling for quesadillas and it was *chef’s kiss*. Thanks, Lisa!5 stars

  14. I am a Southern Texas girl and moved to a state further north, and our family craves good Mexican food. This meets all the restaurant quality requirements we so miss- taste and spice! With homemade tortillas, this is heaven for your mouth. I have made this recipe multiple times, and it always comes out wonderful! It is so much better than any other recipe out there. My son just came in from college and requested this for street tacos to get his Mexican food fix before heading back. Leftovers are often mixed with eggs and/or potatoes for breakfast tacos.5 stars

  15. This recipe was awesome! So easy too! I love barbacoa and this recipe is even better than the restaurants. I have a question, if I want more juices for the meat, can I add in more beef broth? Thanks!! 5 stars

  16. We have made this twice now and LOVE it! We decided to use our dutch oven in the oven instead, but didn’t change anything else. It is very flavorful and super juicy.5 stars

    1. Miranda, did you do this in a cast iron dutch oven, such as a Le Creuset?  Can you tell me the oven temperature and cooking time?    Thank you! 

  17. This recipe is a well loved staple in our house. I’ve been making it for more than a year now and it’s a consistent and easy meal. Both my husband and kids love it; they typically can’t stand anything cooked in the crockpot, but this is a winner for us all! Thanks for the wonderful recipe!5 stars

    1. My family doesn’t like crockpot food unless it’s only meat being cooked. If you put in veggies they all taste the same and never cook properly-too mushy. 4 stars

      1. Once you pull the meat out of the pot use a stick blender and blend the veggies up and then thicken with some cornflour slurry or gravy granules if you can get them in the US. It becomes a great pie filling or just a luscious meat dish in the end. Then toss baby potatoes and veggies in oil and seasoning and air fry them and steam some green veggies in the microwave and you have a belter of a Sunday lunch or a slow cooker meal. Slightly more effort but a way to use the veg when you put them in with the meat. Veggies do more than bulk a meal they add flavour it’s just away to not have to waste them if they aren’t enjoyed whole don’t forget to take out the bouquet garnie and bayleaf if using them aswell.

  18. Awesome! Made exactly as written. This recipe is now going to be in our monthly rotation. We may never go to Chipotle again!5 stars

  19. Living in the Southwest I have eaten Barbacoa before, but have. Ever made it.  This recipe was so easy, and tasty.  My husband and I put it together in the crock pot ( an older, manual version of your recommendation) and let it cook all night on low.  Both of us work up saying how the aroma drove us crazy.  I would hav never thought of adding just a tad of clove.  It rally made the taste pop.  This is a keeper for sure. 

  20. Absolutely delicious. Left out the cloves since I didn’t have any. Also increased the amount of chipotle peppers because we love the heat. 5 stars

  21. As a Mexican from central valley California I feel qualified to judge Mexican food. I have relatively high standards for this stuff. But let me tell you this recipe is so good and EASY too!! I’ve even made it for my mom and dad who both loved it (and are FROM MEXICO). I was concerned about the acv but you can’t even taste it. It just adds a nice acidity. 👍👍 2 thumbs up.5 stars

    1. This is delicious! I use it for burritos night in our house. Left overs are used for everything from salads to sandwiches. I nor.ally do pork or ground meat for “taco” night in our hour. After making this it has become part of our regular routine.

  22. This looks absolutely delicious! I don’t have a slow cooker though, do you have any instructions for if I were to make this dish in a Dutch oven? 

    Do I use the same amount of water? 
    And how long do I keep it in the oven? And at what temperature? 

    Thank you :-) 

    1. Unfortunately, I haven’t made this in a Dutch oven, so I would look up a recipe for a specific oven temperature and time. But you can use the same spices and ingredients I use in this recipe :)

  23. This is such a yummy and easy recipe. I make this for special nights when the house is full and we want to make simple tacos, barcoa bowls or even nachos. For just my husband and I, I meal prep these and have several taco nights in the freezer. Never disappoints.5 stars

  24. G’day! I’m in Aus and since it’s warming up my butcher didn’t have chuck… would brisket be silly to use instead?

  25. Do the Chipotles make it hot? I don’t like spicy foods as much, but I do love Barbacoa. This will be my first time making it! Hope to hear back thanks.

  26. This is my favorite crock pot recipe. Its so flavorful and versatile.
    Love to make a large batch then freeze it for tacos burritos bowls etc.5 stars

  27. Best Barbacoa I’ve ever made and possibly had. We ate it for over a week without tiring of it. Kids loved it too. Tacos, nachos, all the things, yum! 5 stars

  28. 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

  29. 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

  30. 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

  31. 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

    1. 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

  32. 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

    1. 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.

  33. 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!