Eating Well Made Easy: Barbacoa

Barbacoa is a Mexican meat dish that traditionally consists of steamed meat (beef, lamb, or goat) which is cooked in an underground brick lined oven. This produces a tender, flavorful cut of meat that is then shredded and served with sauce. While barbacoa recipes have been modernized and even “Americanized,” the spirit remains the same. This version of barbacoa will leave you with a robust, fall-apart meat dish that is sure to be a family favorite.

Traditionally, barbacoa is steamed in a brick lined oven that is dug into the ground. The cut of meat, often cheeks, is wrapped in leaves and then set on a grate inside a pot. A little bit of water is placed into the bottom of the pot. Herbs and spices are added on top of the leaves as aromatics, and then the whole thing is covered with a lid. The underground oven is generally fueled by a wood fire and left to smolder all night long.

Modern barbacoa recipes allow for both slow cookers and conventional ovens. While much of the ceremony is lost (no wood fire, no brick oven, no banana or agave leaves), the fundamental elements of the dish remain the same.

When developing a recipe of my own, I always study traditional recipes as well as the more unusual outliers. I then try to create something that suits the tastes and dietary needs of my family. Nearly every modernized recipe I viewed called for a can of “chipotle chilis in adobo sauce.” This is an easy, accessible ingredient found at just about every grocery store. However, each can that I picked up contained high-fructose corn syrup, which is a dietary line I just won’t cross. This sent me down a rabbit hole looking for a more traditional adobo sauce that I could create at home.

The adobo sauce recipe that I’ve added does make for an extra step to an otherwise dump-and-go meal. However, I prefer to use whole foods in my kitchen. Also, I found it interesting that while the canned product contains high fructose corn syrup, many of the more traditional adobo recipes don’t have any sweeteners at all. The adobo sauce recipe below can be prepared ahead of time and frozen in batches. One batch of sauce is enough for three batches of barbacoa. And if you really need something on the quick, you can always fall back on the canned adobo product.

If you choose to make the adobo sauce instead of buying it, cut the dried Guajillo peppers open with kitchen scissors and remove all seeds and strings.

While the Guajillo peppers are simmering in hot water, roast the garlic and onion, then add all remaining ingredients to a blender.

One cup of adobo sauce is needed to make the barbacoa recipe. This adobo recipe provides enough sauce to freeze two extra portions for future use.

While beef cheeks are traditionally used for barbacoa, modern recipes call for beef roasts such as a chuck or round roast. Even a brisket would do well here. When it comes to a tender, fall apart final product, the fattier the cut, the better.

Chipotle peppers are red jalapenoes that have been smoked or dried. For this barbacoa recipe, I sliced and diced them into small pieces before adding them to the sauce.

Just before entering the oven. I chose to slow cook on a day when I was working from home. This. Smells. Amazing!

Barbacoa can be served as tacos on a fresh corn tortilla. It pairs well with the simplicity of cilantro, lime, and chopped onions. For a fancier presentation, layer a little Spanish rice atop your tortilla, then continue with the barbacoa, pickled cabbage, sliced avocado, and a cream sauce like this one. During the summer, I also like to keep barbacoa in the fridge as a ready to go salad protein. Then you can dress up those garden greens with all of the above taco options. It makes for a flavorful, yet quick, satisfying lunch.

Adobo Sauce

  • Servings: 3 cups
  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Print

This adobo sauce can be prepared ahead of time and frozen in batches. One batch of sauce is enough for three batches of barbacoa.


– 12 dried Guajillo chilis (remove seeds and strings/stems)
– 3/4 c beef stock for blending
– 1/4 c apple cider vinegar
– 1 small onion, peeled and halved
– 2 garlic cloves, peeled
– 1 Tbsp honey
– 1 tsp cinnamon
– 1 tsp oregano
– 1 tsp salt
– 1/4 tsp black pepper
– 1/4 tsp cumin
– 1/4 tsp ground cloves
– 1 tomato, rough chopped (with juices)


  1. Heat a cast iron skillet. Once hot, lay the chilis on the skillet and turn until both sides have begun to blister. When done, remove the chilis and place them in a pot of simmering hot water. Leave for at least ten minutes.

  2. Once the chilis are removed from the skillet, place the two onion halves face down beside the garlic cloves. Roast until brown, then move the onion and garlic cloves to the blender.

  3. Add the soaked chilis (without the water) to the blender. Add all other ingredients and blend until smooth.

  4. Split the excess finished product into two jars and freeze what is not needed right away. (For freezing, be sure to leave at least an inch of space at the top of your jars.)


  • Servings: 10-12
  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Print

While barbacoa recipes have been modernized and even “Americanized,” the spirit remains the same. This version of barbacoa will leave you with a robust, fall-apart meat dish that is sure to be a family favorite.


– 3-4 lb. roast (chuck or round)
– 4 cloves garlic, chopped
– 1 onion, chopped
– 2 smoked/dried chipotles, chopped
– 1 cup adobo sauce (see above recipe)
– You may replace the above two ingredients with a can of chipotles in adobo sauce
– 2 c beef stock
– 1/4 c fresh lime juice
– 2 T apple cider vinegar
– 2 bay leaves
– 4 tsp cumin
– 2 tsp oregano
– 2 tsp salt
– 1 tsp black pepper
– 1/4 tsp ground cloves


  1. Mix all ingredients together. Cook low and slow.
    • For a slow cooker, cover and cook on low for 6-8 hours, or high for 3-4 hours.
    • In a Dutch oven, cover and cook in a conventional oven at 275 for 4-5 hours.
  2. Shred the beef and mix with the surrounding sauce. Serve.

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Here on, Jennifer Taylor Schmidt writes beef recipes for the busy, natural homemaker. It is possible to seek optimal health with limited time and money. Join Jennifer in future posts as she explores the possibilities found in a 1/4 and a 1/2 beeve. You can also find her thoughts and personal health journey on

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