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. Hey Lisa, this recipe is awesome and is very close to my clone Barbacoa recipe from Chipotle Mexican Grill. The adobo sauce has vinegar in it so, I left this ingredient out as I use adobo sauce from the can along with the chipotle peppers. My cilantro lime rice has quite a bit of lime juice in it so, l left this ingredient out as well.

    I have made my recipe with beef broth and without it and I now prefer to use just water as the beef broth dilutes the flavor of the chipotle peppers (smoke flavor) and seasonings. I find that the beef roast has enough beef flavor for the recipe.

    I have also made the recipe with and without bay leaves and I cannot tell the difference. Therefore, I no longer use them in my recipe. I am not a chef and my palate may not be sensitive enough to taste this ingredient in the finished product. It may also have something to do with the capsicum or heat from the chipotle peppers.

    You must have read Chiptle’s ingredients online as your recipe is one of very few that includes ground cloves. I believe this is one of the necessary ingredients as juniper berries are to Chipotle’s carnitas.5 stars

    1. Hi Rick – so happy you enjoy this recipe and have tweaked it to your preferences. Thanks for your review and feedback!

  2. This is not barbacoa simply because too call it barbacoa would mean you used cheek meat NOT chuck roast all you made here was beef stew not barbacoa ….. do some research5 stars

    1. Hey Frank. Lighten up, bro. You are correct in the true sense of Barbacoa from Mexicao or Barbados but if you step into a Chipotle Mexican Grill restaurant you will find this version of Barbacoa which is far more popular in the U.S.

    2. hummmm, i have heard different versions of barbacoa from native Mexicans, some with cheek, Tongue, chuck or brisket. I think it depends on what part of Mexico you come from. Either way, this recipe is awesome and probably just as flavorful as the native recipies. But Frank, you should cook it your own way if you think it will taste better. Me, I am dying to try this version.5 stars

  3. This recipe is one of our family favourites.. Its so easy and versatile.. I poured the whole can of adobes in with the sauce.. I thought there would be too little sauce but the meat lets out so much juice.. I cooked it for the recommended time of 8 hours and it just melts in your mouth.. I threw in a sliced jalapeno for some heat..
    Put leftovers into tacos and froze the rest.. Honestly good, healthy recipe..5 stars

  4. This recipe was easy and very flaverful my family gave me two thumbs up. Thank u. Helen5 stars

  5. I had some tough steak I wanted to use up, and this recipe made it tender and flavorful. Will make it again. Thanks.5 stars

    1. The slow cooker has a magical way of tenderizing tough meat. Glad it all turned out for you!

  6. I made this dish last Sunday for
    my family! They loved it! So, tasty! I will definitely be making this again soon.5 stars

  7. This is a favourite in our house. The flavours are amazing. I made a batch and froze and still so good weeks later.5 stars

    1. It’s one of my favorite recipes to store and then reheat as well. Hope you enjoy it even more in the future!

  8. I made this today, and it was delicious! Super easy, and used ingredients I already had. I used 3 chilis in adobo sauce, and it was a little spicy, but not too bad. It made the house smell wonderful! I’ll definitely be making this a lot! Thanks so much for the recipe!5 stars

    1. Hi Shauna – it will likely cook faster. I’d check on it an hour sooner, and see if the meat falls apart. If it does, you know it’s done. :)

    1. Hi Beth – I haven’t tried this recipe with beef brisket, as it’s typically made with chuck roast.

      1. This dish is AMAZING. This is my third time making it. I actually put the entire roast in whole, I put all of the onions, peppers, garlic, herbs and spices in our Vitamix and blend until smooth, pour it over the beef, and cook on low for 8 hours or high for 6 hours (we have 3 kids and sometimes I start cooking it late, lol). Everyone loves it! It’s my oldest daughter’s FAVORITE dish now, and she is hard to please when it comes to eating real food.5 stars

  9. This was excellent! We loved the barbacoa bowls and tacos! I made the cilantro rice to go with it all. I made the recipe exactly as written and it turned out wonderfully.5 stars

  10. Is nutritional value per serving, or per dish? I have to watch my potassium intake.
    Thank you
    Ava

  11. Turned out just like it looks. Delicious flavor juicy tender. Mine was just under 4 pounds so it only took seven hours. I made it in advance as Tuesday is a very busy day for me and will come in handy to just throw it together in a bowl. Thank you for this delicious meal.5 stars

    1. Hi Laura – You can halve the recipe if you’d like and make this in a dutch oven! I haven’t tested this in a dutch oven though, so you might want to reference a different recipe for the proper cooking time.

  12. This barbacoa was easier than I thought to prep , slow cooker on high for four hours, fork tender, adding into my go-to recipes.

    Spice level: zero 🌶️ spicy
    I did not use the peppers just the adobo sauce from the can
    Thanks Lisa

  13. Could this be prepare in an instant pot as written? If so, how long would you suggest and would 3/4 c broth be enough liquid? Thank you. ☺️

    1. Hi Linda – I haven’t made this in an Instant Pot before, so I would look up a recipe using that appliance for the proper cooking temp and time. Otherwise, you can use these ingredients!

    1. Hi Marie – You can always find the serving amount in the recipe card. But, this recipe has 8 servings :)

  14. Could this be used on good crusty rolls or would the rolls get soggy? How would I thicken the sauce to use on the sandwiches?

    1. Hi Linda – You can use this as a sandwich filler! The rolls will soften over time from the meat juice, so I wouldn’t add extra sauce.

  15. This recipe is delicious, I prepared it exactly as written. It’s very easy to make, and will make your house smell amazing! Thank you, Lisa!5 stars

  16. My husband & I agreed if there was a barbacoa cookoff contest, we could win with this recipe. Thank you so much for sharing. It was my first recipe of yours to try and now I’m ready to find another.5 stars

    1. Thanks so much for that compliment, Penny! I’m glad you both enjoyed the barbacoa, and I hope you enjoy many more recipes on my website as well. :)

  17. My family just loves this recipe!! It’s in our regular rotation and it is always a hit. Even my fussy teen asks for it!!5 stars

  18. So good and so simple to make! I don’t know if it made a difference, but I seeded the chipotles because I am not one for a lot of spice. It turned out just perfect for me – just a little tingle on the tongue, nothing more. We’ve used it on tacos, burritos, and loaded nachos – all turned out great!5 stars

    1. So happy you loved the barbacoa, Carissa! And yes, you can remove the seeds to reduce the spice to your liking. Enjoy!

  19. Lisa,
    This recipe is nothing short of perfection. Our family loves the Barbacoa and would not change a thing. Thanks for sharing!!5 stars

  20. Tastes just like the meat I would get from the Taco Street restaurant at our local mall! I was so disappointed when they left the mall. I’m so grateful I found this recipe.5 stars