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The Best Slow Cooker Barbacoa (Authentic Recipe)

Prior to Chipotle, barbacoa remained a dish relatively unknown outside Tex-Mex culinary cultures. However, the origin of the dish dates back hundreds of years and spans several countries.

Barbacoa in a bowl (best recipe)

There are three key elements that stand the test of time for making the best barbacoa: A well-marbled cut of beef, the right aromatics, and slow cooking at a low temperature.

The ingredients of this recipe have been carefully chosen to capture the essence of authentic and traditional flavor.

How to serve barbacoa

How to serve barbacoa (ramen, burrito bowls or tacos)

There are many ways you can enjoy barbacoa. Here are some of our favorite ways to use this recipe.

  • Burrito Bowl – Start by making a simple cilantro rice with a pinch of salt, a squeeze of lime and a handful of chopped cilantro. Then, add your barbacoa and other favorite toppings, like pickled onions and black beans.
  • Tacos – Barbacoa makes the perfect base for your own version of the famous cheese birrira taco. Add a few strips of melty cheese, like Oaxaca or mozzarella, and heat until melted.
  • Birria ramen – We love making our own ramen at home, and the chili-spiced juices of barbacoa are a unique way to complement ramen noodles.

Taco tip: Heat or toast your corn tortilla on the stovetop. For better tasting store-bought corn tortillas, always warm them first. This caramelizes the natural sugars in the corn, making them a little sweet and a bit sturdier as well.

Barbacoa tacos

Topping ideas

Barbacoa is a very rich meat mixture. There are specific toppings that go really well with barbacoa. These are our favorites:

  • Onions (pickled red onions are delicious)
  • Cilantro
  • Pickled/candied or fresh jalapeños (recipe here).
  • Sliced cabbage
  • Sweet yellow corn
  • Your favorite hot sauce
  • Coarse sea salt
  • Lime juice
  • Salsa verde
  • Cheese, avocado, and sour cream will be very rich

Ingredients needed for this barbacoa recipe

Barbacoa ingredients
  • 4lbs chuck (cut into 3-inch cubes) – While chuck is the best, beef brisket, goat, or lamb in the same quantity will also work. These meats work well because they are loaded with fat and collagen that add lots of flavor as they melt during the slow cooking process. You can trim the fat prior to cooking your meat, or discard it after the meat has cooked down. This will give it time to soak in all the flavors.
  • Chipotle chilies in adobo sauce – These are found in a can at the market, usually in the international aisle. This is a very important ingredient in this recipe. But, if you cannot find them at your local store, you can add your favorite smoky hot sauce instead. Or, get them online.
  • Beef broth – Beef will yield the best flavor, but you can also use chicken broth.
  • Garlic, cumin, bay leaf, and cinnamon – These aromatics contribute to the authentic flavor of this barbacoa. You can use 1/4 tsp of ground cinnamon, allspice, or clove in place of a cinnamon stick. Any of these ingredients will provide a hint of warmth and spice.
  • Lime juice – Lime adds the acid necessary for this dish, as well as a perfectly balanced flavor.
  • Mexican oregano – Mexican oregano is different than traditional oregano. It has a brighter flavor with more citrus notes. If possible, try and find Mexican oregano. If you need to substitute, use marjoram or standard dried oregano.
  • Olive oil, salt and pepper

How to make barbacoa in the slow cooker

How to make barbacoa in the slow cooker

Step 1: Prepare your ingredients. Thinly slice your 4 chipotles without rinsing off the sauce or seeds. Pat the beef dry and cut into 3-inch chunks. Mince the 6 cloves of garlic.

Step 2: Season beef generously with salt. I like to use around 1/4 cup of salt for this process.

Step 3: Preheat a skillet or cast-iron pan over medium-high heat and add the oil to coat the bottom. Sear each side of the cut chuck for about 2-3 minutes. Don’t overcook the meat, you just want to sear it at this point. Do this in batches if necessary to avoid overcrowding the pan. This is an important step in the recipe and helps tremendously with flavor.

Step 4: Transfer meat to the slow cooker and turn off stovetop.

Step 5: Deglaze your pan by pouring in the beef broth. Using a wooden spoon, scrape away the burnt bits stuck to the bottom of the pan.

Step 6: Add the minced garlic, sliced chipotle, cumin, lime juice, oregano, and pepper to the beef broth. Stir to combine. Pour the mixture over the meat in the slow cooker. Using tongs, make sure the meat is coated on all sides. Finally, add bay leaves and the cinnamon stick to the slow cooker.

Step 7: Cook 4-6 hours on high, or 8 hours on low. Your barbacoa is done cooking when the meat easily falls apart by pulling it with a fork.

Step 8: Discard any unwanted remaining pieces of fat and shred the meat apart using two forks. Serve hot.

Recipes FAQs

What does this Barbacoa taste like?

The meat is rich and juicy with a flavor that is slightly smoky and spicy from the chipotles. The cinnamon adds a hint of warmth, complementing the savory flavors.

What is the difference between barbacoa and carnitas?

Despite their similarities in spice blends, carnitas are made with pork, while barbacoa is typically made with beef. In Mexico, it’s also made with lamb, mutton, and goat.

Can you make Barbacoa without a slow cooker?

If you don’t have a crock pot, you can use a Dutch oven and braise barbacoa with the lid on for 4 hours at 325°F. Check often to ensure there is enough liquid left, adding more broth as needed.

How do you serve Barbacoa tacos?

Barbacoa is traditionally served on charred corn tortillas, not flour. As for the toppings, they are typically very fresh and simple. Chopped cilantro and onions offer a sharp and herbal contrast to the rich savory meat.  Finish with a drizzle of tangy hot sauce or a squeeze of lime juice and a pinch of kosher salt. 

Barbacoa tacos

Slow Cooker Barbacoa

This slow cooker barbacoa is filled with authentic flavors and the most perfect, tender meat.
5 from 1 vote
Print Pin Rate
Course: Main Course
Prep Time: 20 minutes
Cook Time: 8 hours
Servings: 6

Ingredients

  • 4 lbs chuck cut into 3-inch cubes
  • ¼ cup kosher salt
  • 2 tbsp. olive oil
  • 1 cup beef broth
  • 4 chipotle chilies in adobo sauce sliced
  • 6 large cloves of garlic minced
  • 3 tsp of ground cumin
  • 1 tsp pepper
  • 3 bay leafs
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • Juice of ½ lime
  • 1/2 tablespoon dried Mexican oregano substitute marjoram if needed

Instructions

  • Prepare your ingredients. Thinly slice the chipotles without rinsing. Pat your roast dry and cut into 3-inch chunks. Mince the garlic.
  • Season beef generously with the salt.
  • Preheat a skillet or cast-iron pan over medium-high heat, add oil to coat the bottom and sear each side for about 2-3 minutes. Do this in batches if necessary to avoid overcrowding the pan.
  • Transfer meat to the slow cooker and turn off stovetop.
  • Deglaze your pan by pouring in the beef broth, using a wooden spoon to scrape away the burnt bits stuck to the bottom.
  • Add the minced garlic, sliced chipotle, cumin, lime juice, oregano, and pepper to the pan. Pour the mixture over the meat in the slow cooker. Using tongs, make sure the meat is coated on all sides.
  • Add bay leaves and the cinnamon stick to the slow cooker.
  • Cook 4-6 hours on high, or 8 hours on low. Your barbacoa is done cooking when the meat easily falls apart by pulling it with a fork.
  • Discard any unwanted remaining pieces of fat and shred the meat apart using two forks. Serve hot.

Notes

Storage: Sealed in an airtight container barbacoa will stay fresh 4-6 days in the refrigerator, or 1-3 months in the freezer.
Reheat: Refrigerated barbacoa can be easily reheated in the microwave on high, or in the oven at about 350°F for 10 minutes. Be sure to cover your barbacoa with tinfoil in the oven to create steam that will help rehydrate the meat as it reheats.
Recipe Rating




L Daniel Orozco

Wednesday 21st of June 2023

Excellent recipe! Very delicious! In Mexico we make delicious Quesabirria, and Tortas with Barbacoa Quesabirria: is a Quesadilla with Barbacoa inside, easy to do and delicious. For you information: Birria and Barbecue are different kinds of dishes in Mexico. Birria is juicy with broth, and cooked in a pot. Barbacoa doesn't have juice, similar to a brisket and cooked slowly and cover with Maguey leaves inside a hole in the earth for many hours. The result is a very tender meat that is rich in flavor. Barbacoa is too make in domestic oven.