Barbacoa: A Traditional Mexican Delicacy

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Barbacoa is a traditional Mexican dish that dates back centuries, originating from the indigenous peoples of Mexico. The word “barbacoa” is believed to have its roots in the Arawakan language spoken by the Taíno people of the Caribbean, who used the term to describe a method of slow-cooking meat over an open fire or in an underground pit. Today, barbacoa is celebrated for its tender, flavorful meat that is typically made from beef, lamb, or goat, cooked slowly until it’s meltingly tender and infused with rich, smoky flavors.


  • 3-4 pounds beef cheek meat or beef chuck roast
  • 3-4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 2-3 chipotle peppers in adobo sauce, chopped (adjust to taste)
  • 2 teaspoons ground cumin
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1 teaspoon smoked paprika
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • Juice of 2 limes
  • 1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
  • 1/4 cup beef broth or water
  • Salt and pepper, to taste


  1. Prepare the Meat:
    • If using beef cheek meat, trim any excess fat and cut into large chunks. If using beef chuck roast, cut into large chunks.
    • Season the meat generously with salt and pepper.
  2. Make the Marinade:
    • In a blender or food processor, combine minced garlic, chopped onion, chipotle peppers, ground cumin, dried oregano, smoked paprika, ground cloves, ground cinnamon, lime juice, apple cider vinegar, and beef broth or water.
    • Blend until smooth to create the marinade.
  3. Marinate the Meat:
    • Place the meat in a large bowl or dish and pour the marinade over it, ensuring the meat is well coated.
    • Cover and refrigerate for at least 4 hours, preferably overnight, to allow the flavors to meld and penetrate the meat.
  4. Cooking Options:

    Traditional Oven Method:

    • Preheat your oven to 275°F (135°C).
    • Transfer the marinated meat and marinade into a large oven-safe pot or Dutch oven with a tight-fitting lid.
    • Cover the pot and place it in the oven. Cook for 4-5 hours, or until the meat is fork-tender and easily shreds with a fork.

    Slow Cooker Method:

    • Place the marinated meat and marinade into a slow cooker.
    • Cover and cook on low for 6-8 hours, or until the meat is tender and easily shreds.

    Instant Pot Method:

    • Select the “Sauté” function on the Instant Pot and heat a bit of oil.
    • Sear the marinated meat in batches until browned on all sides, then remove and set aside.
    • Add a little more oil if needed and sauté any remaining marinade ingredients for a few minutes.
    • Return the meat to the Instant Pot and add 1 cup of beef broth or water.
    • Secure the lid and set the Instant Pot to “Manual” or “Pressure Cook” on high for 60 minutes. Allow for a natural pressure release.
  5. Shred and Serve:
    • Once the meat is cooked and tender, shred it using two forks.
    • Serve the barbacoa hot with warm tortillas, diced onions, chopped cilantro, lime wedges, and your favorite salsa or hot sauce.

Tips for Serving

  • Barbacoa is traditionally served in warm corn tortillas as tacos or in bowls with rice and beans.
  • For added flavor, consider topping your barbacoa tacos with fresh avocado slices, crumbled queso fresco, or a drizzle of Mexican crema.


Barbacoa is more than just a dish—it’s a culinary tradition that celebrates slow cooking and bold flavors. Whether you prepare it in the oven, slow cooker, or Instant Pot, the result is tender, flavorful meat that will delight your taste buds and transport you to the heart of Mexico. Enjoy the process of marinating, slow cooking, and savoring this classic Mexican delicacy with family and friends. Barbacoa is not just a meal; it’s an experience of rich history and cultural heritage, shared through every delicious bite.

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Written by Robert Zelesky

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