The trick to making this Mexican favorite is to cook it low and slow for meat that falls apart. And when it does, it creates the best barbacoa tacos, bowls, and more!
WHAT IS BARBACOA?
If you reside in the US, eating barbacoa at your neighborhood Chipotle restaurant may be how you first encountered it. That tub of hot liquid contains that delicious, tender beef. And while I'll be the first to say that it tastes great, traditional Mexican barbacoa is more authentic.
Mexican barbacoa is typically made with beef cheeks but can also be made with other beef parts, lamb, or even goat. Across the many parts of Mexico, it really varies. The meat is strongly spiced with chipotle peppers and other ingredients, then it is slow-cooked in a pit with coals or over an open flame until it is delightfully juicy and fall-apart tender.
I had the good fortune to sample a lot of those delectable variants when traveling around Mexico. Nevertheless, I'm providing a simple recipe for a slow-cooker version today that you can prepare at home with beef chuck roast and all of those mouthwatering Mexican spices!
BEEF BARBACOA INGREDIENTS
This dish is a flavor revelation because of its rich spice combination, chiles, and other aromatics.
- Beef: Before putting the beef chuck roast in the slow cooker, chop it into 3-inch slices.
- Chipotles in Adobo Sauce: These peppers give a great smokey taste and just enough fire. If you have any leftovers, turn them into a chipotle sauce!
- Onion and garlic: Onion and garlic are essential aromatics that improve every dish.
- Lime juice: Fresh lime juice is usually preferable to jarred lime juice.
- Apple Cider Vinegar: Adds tang and acidity.
- Spices: A pinch of cumin, oregano, ground cloves, salt, and pepper elevate this beef to new heights.
- Bay Leaves: Simmer a few bay leaves in the juices to round out the taste.
- Beef stock: It keeps the beef wet and tender while it cooks.
WHAT CUT OF BEEF TO USE
It's better to use tough, lean beef pieces with little fat when cooking meat slowly and low. Despite what you might be thinking, while the meat cooks, the large amount of collagen will transform into gelatin, which will tenderize the meat. In other words, it will taste just as rich as beef that has been dripping with fat!
HOW TO MAKE SLOW COOKER BARBACOA
Cook together. Toss everything together with tongs in the bowl of a slow cooker, except the bay leaves. Cook on low for 8-9 hours, then add the bay leaves. By that time, the beef should be incredibly soft and readily break apart.
Shred it all! Shred the meat with two forks and place it on a chopping board.
Make it even juicier. Return the shredded meat to the slow cooker and stir to absorb all of the lovely juices.
Serve right away. Serve the barbacoa directly from the slow cooker or on a dish for a family-style meal!
HOW TO SERVE BARBACOA
Make the most of your juicy, shredded beef now that you have a slow cooker full of it! Yes, you can serve it with Mexican rice and beans on a plate. But it goes further than that.
- Prepare tacos with sliced onions, chopped cilantro, red salsa, and a squeeze of fresh lime juice for barbacoa.
- Create a barbacoa burrito bowl to re-create your preferred Chipotle dish! Add barbacoa, black beans, pico de gallo, corn, sour cream, and avocado slices after a base of cilantro lime rice.
- Salads: Use chopped lettuce as your base for a lighter supper! Next, layer the bowl's components on top.
STORING AND REHEATING LEFTOVERS
- How to Refrigerate : Let the meat come to room temperature before transferring it to an airtight container. You can keep it in the refrigerator for 4-5 days.
- How to Freeze : The barbacoa will stay in the freezer for 1-3 months if stored in a freezer-safe container.
- How to Reheat : Reheat the barbacoa in the microwave for 1-2 minutes, or until warm.
Want to prepare barbacoa ahead of time for a gathering? It can be prepared up to 3 days in advance, cooled, and then kept in the refrigerator in a covered bowl (with the juices). Transfer the barbacoa (with liquids) into a baking dish when you're ready to serve, and reheat in the oven for about 15 minutes at 350F.
SPRUCE UP MEXICAN NIGHT!
You can't go wrong with any of these delectable alternatives, whether you're getting ready for Taco Tuesday or Cinco de Mayo.
- Carnitas + Carnitas Tacos
- Chicken Fajitas
- Shrimp Tacos
- Carne Asada + Carne Asada Tacos
- Shrimp Fajitas
And a traditional margarita, strawberry margarita, or mango margarita will help you wash down all that hot meat!
BARBACOA (SLOW COOKER)
- 4 pounds beef chuck roast, cut into 3-inch chunks
- 1 onion, diced
- 3 to 4 chipotles in adobo sauce, finely diced
- 5 garlic cloves, minced
- ¼ cup fresh lime juice
- 2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
- 1 tablespoon ground cumin
- ½ tablespoon dried oregano
- 2 teaspoons salt
- 1 teaspoon black pepper
- ¼ teaspoon ground cloves
- ¾ 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 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.
- 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.