Easy Barbacoa

Elaine Lemm
Prep: 30 mins
Cook: 10 hrs
Total: 10 hrs 30 mins
Servings: 8 servings

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
  • Pinch ground cloves
  • 2 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 2 1/2 pounds brisket
  • 4 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 1 red onion (roughly sliced)
  • 2 garlic cloves (minced)
  • 2 limes (juiced)
  • 1/2 cup apple cider vinegar
  • 2 1/2 cups beef stock
  • 3 bay leaves (lightly crushed)
  • Salt and pepper

Steps to Make It

  1. Gather the ingredients.

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

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

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

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

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

  7. Put the onions into the slow cooker and place the beef on top.

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

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

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

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

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

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

  14. Enjoy!

How to Serve Barbacoa

  1. 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

  2. Another favorite way of serving is to serve the barbacoa in baby gem lettuce leaves, a lovely way for a party or informal gathering. 

  3. 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.