Easy Barbacoa

Easy Barbacoa

The Spruce / Maxwell Cozzi

Prep: 30 mins
Cook: 10 hrs
Total: 10 hrs 30 mins
Servings: 8 servings
Nutrition Facts (per serving)
503 Calories
33g Fat
5g Carbs
43g Protein
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Nutrition Facts
Servings: 8
Amount per serving
Calories 503
% Daily Value*
Total Fat 33g 43%
Saturated Fat 11g 55%
Cholesterol 150mg 50%
Sodium 318mg 14%
Total Carbohydrate 5g 2%
Dietary Fiber 1g 3%
Total Sugars 2g
Protein 43g
Vitamin C 9mg 43%
Calcium 47mg 4%
Iron 4mg 24%
Potassium 591mg 13%
*The % Daily Value (DV) tells you how much a nutrient in a food serving contributes to a daily diet. 2,000 calories a day is used for general nutrition advice.
(Nutrition information is calculated using an ingredient database and should be considered an estimate.)

Barbacoa is a classic dish from Mexico, and if you think the word has a familiar sound, this is likely as it is also the Mexican word for barbecue. But any resemblance to the grill we all know outside of Mexico stops with the word. Barbacoa is a dish made through the long slow cooking of beef with strong seasonings. The meat is then cooled, shredded, and used as a filling for tacos or served over rice. 

Typically, the seasonings will include chipotle peppers, cumin, cloves, and garlic—but not exclusively. However, like many favorite classic dishes, everyone has their own personalized recipe. Essentially, the finished dish must be tender from the slow cooking and have a mild smoky flavor with a little sting of heat, but not too much heat. It requires a chipotle paste, which is an ingredient you can buy online, in specialty Mexican grocers, or in some well-stocked supermarkets. (If you can't find chipotle paste, you can substitute ancho paste).

Since this dish is cooked in a slow cooker for up to 10 hours, the best meat to use is brisket. This cut of meat is popular for its pronounced flavor, but more probably because it is cheaper and more affordable.

Barbacoa should not be confused with carnitas, which is another slow-cooked dish that's made from pork. 


  • 3 tablespoons chipotle paste

  • 2 teaspoons ground cumin

  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano

  • 1 pinch ground cloves

  • 2 tablespoons tomato paste

  • 2 1/2 pounds brisket

  • 4 tablespoons vegetable oil

  • 1 red onion, roughly sliced

  • 2 cloves garlic, minced

  • 2 limes, juiced

  • 1/2 cup apple cider vinegar

  • 2 1/2 cups beef stock

  • 3 bay leaves, lightly crushed

  • Kosher salt, to taste

  • Freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Steps to Make It

  1. Gather the ingredients.

    Easy Barbacoa ingredients

    The Spruce / Maxwell Cozzi

  2. Place chipotle paste, ground cumin, oregano, cloves, and tomato paste in a large bowl and mix thoroughly. 

    Place chipotle paste, ground cumin, oregano, cloves, and tomato paste in a large bowl

    The Spruce / Maxwell Cozzi

  3. Cut brisket into large chunks, add to marinade, and stir to ensure meat is well coated. Cover with plastic wrap and leave for 3 to 4 hours, or overnight if possible. 

    beef with marinade in a bowl

    The Spruce / Maxwell Cozzi

  4. When ready to cook, heat a large skillet, add oil, and then add chunks of beef a few at a time. Sear on all sides.

    beef cooking in a pan

    The Spruce / Maxwell Cozzi

  5. Once browned, remove from pan with a slotted spoon and put to one side and repeat until all the beef is seared.

    cooked beef on a plate

    The Spruce / Maxwell Cozzi

  6. Add onion to same skillet and stir well. Cook onion over medium heat until softened. Add garlic and cook for 5 minutes more.

    onions cooking in a pan

    The Spruce / Maxwell Cozzi

  7. Transfer onion-garlic mixture into slow cooker and place beef on top.

    beef in a slow cooker

    The Spruce / Maxwell Cozzi

  8. Reheat skillet, add lime juice and apple cider vinegar, and bring to a boil.

    lime juice and apple cider vinegar added to the beef juice in the pan

    The Spruce / Maxwell Cozzi

  9. Reduce by half, then add beef stock. Stir well to scrape up any bits of beef or onion from bottom of pan.

    beef stock added to the mixture in the pan

    The Spruce / Maxwell Cozzi

  10. Bring to a boil, then pour over meat in the slow cooker. Add bay
    leaves, cover with a lid, and cook on low for 10 hours. 

    bay leaves and stock mixture added to the beef in the slow cooker

    The Spruce / Maxwell Cozzi

  11. After 10 hours, beef should be tender and falling apart, and the sauce much reduced and thickened. If sauce is too thin, pour into a saucepan and reduce before adding back to slow cooker. 

    sauce in a saucepan

    The Spruce / Maxwell Cozzi

  12. Cool barbacoa and then refrigerate overnight. (The meat improves in flavor if left in the fridge for a day or two.)

    barbacoa in a bowl

    The Spruce / Maxwell Cozzi

  13. Before serving, reheat thoroughly. Once hot, using two forks to gently break up the meat—it will shred easily. Add salt and pepper to taste. 

    barbacoa on a platter

    The Spruce / Maxwell Cozzi

Serving Ideas for Barbacoa

  • The traditional way is to stuff the shredded beef into a taco shell and top with finely chopped tomatoes, red onion, and cilantro leaves or a touch of Adobo sauce. However, add your favorites, including toppings such as guacamole, sour cream, a little extra chipotle, cheese, or salsa.
  • Another favorite way of serving is to serve the barbacoa in baby gem lettuce leaves, a lovely way for a party or informal gathering.  
  • The barbacoa is also good over steamed rice


  • Pop the meat into the fridge and leave it for a day or two as it will have more flavor.