How to Make Barbacoa

by A.J. Andrews ; Updated September 28, 2017

Traditional Mexican barbacoa cooking -- slow-cooking beef offal, such as tongue, cheeks and eyes, by burying the head in hot coals -- isn't feasible and far from appetizing. Americanized barbacoa, on the other hand -- like the type popularized by Chipotle Mexican Grill -- is nothing short of a marvel you can recreate in your kitchen. Although the barbacoa cooking technique changed with the times, its ingredients -- slow-cooked rump roast, a few well-chosen spices and the all-important chipotle peppers in adobo sauce -- epitomize the less-is-more approach to cooking, just like the original.

Heat the oven to 275 degrees Fahrenheit. Toast 1 tablespoon of cumin seeds in a dry saute pan for every batch of barbacoa.

Saute 1 or 2 cups of chopped onions and a clove of garlic in vegetable oil in an oven-safe pan until dark golden brown, about 10 minutes.

Add a few tablespoon of Mexican oregano and a couple cloves to the pan and saute them for a couple minutes.

Deglaze the pan with 3 or 4 cups of beef broth for every 3 or 4 pounds of beef. Add 4 or 5 chopped chipotle chilis along with a tablespoon of sauce for every 3 or 4 pounds of beef.

Add the beef to the pan; the stock should almost cover the beef. Add a couple of bay leaves and a couple pinches of kosher salt, and cover the pan with a tight-fitting lid. Place the pan in the oven.

Braise the beef until tender, about 4 or 5 hours. Take the pan out of the oven and return it to the stove, uncovered.

Transfer the beef to a plate. Take the bay leaves out of the sauce and bring it to a simmer. Simmer the liquid until it develops a rich saucy consistency, about 2 minutes.

Shred the beef using 2 forks as the sauce simmers. When the sauce reduces to about 1 to 1 1/2 cups, add the beef and toss it to coat.


  • Use the barbacoa method for chicken and pork. Pork shoulder is the best cut for barbacoa, and it takes about as long as beef. Chicken thighs work well in the preparation, too, and take about 1 to 1 1/2 hours.

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About the Author

A.J. Andrews' work has appeared in Food and Wine, Fricote and "BBC Good Food." He lives in Europe where he bakes with wild yeast, milks goats for cheese and prepares for the Court of Master Sommeliers level II exam. Andrews received formal training at Le Cordon Bleu.