Slow Cooker Barbacoa

When my daughter said that we were having barbacoa for dinner I had no idea what to expect.  I had never heard of it.  I saw the slow cooker on the counter so I knew that it was an all-day affair....I knew that we had gone to the market late in the evening to get pork and would you believe, they were out?  Stores are not supposed to be out of pork...we had a plan...alas, it was dashed by all those folks in Seattle who also wanted pork!  That led us to the beef counter.  A nice beef roast would be fine....we were still having barbacoa.

What is barbacoa?  I was told that it is on the menu at Chipotle.  I rarely, rarely eat there so that still meant nothing to me....except I new it was Mexican cuisine.  As it bubbled and cooked I was constantly drawn to the kitchen by the wonderful aromas...braising beef, a simmering pot of beans, pickled onions....this was going to be delicious and it was!

When I got home, I knew that I was going to make it for Mr. T.   I really needed more information so I started researching and realized that there was no better source than Rick Bayless and I just happened to have a few of his cookbooks.  According to his cookbook, Mexico One Plate at a Time, barbacoa is a slow-cooked meat, pit style. The meat is wrapped in leaves and lowered into a pit dug in the ground, placed on heated rocks glowing from a bonfire.  The meat is sealed in the pit which becomes a smoky, steamy oven.  Hours later the pit is opened and the pit-cooked meat is removed with a bit of anticipation and ceremony.  That is really a simplistic description as in some styles of barbacoa, the actual process involves placing the meat on a grate over a cauldron of soup and then sealing the pit!  Cooking with steam....meat juices falling into the a process....

The type of meat and the type of leaves vary by region....lamb, cow's head, goat, pork...leaves from agave, avocado or banana...  It is all about the process...steam-roasting the meat whereas, in the United States, pit cooking is more about the smoke.

So what does that have in common with what I did?  Meat, spicy sauce (soup), steam, braise for hours in a slow is all good!

Slow Cooker Barbacoa
adapted from Sisterhood of the Shrinking Jeans and The Slow Roasted Italian

3 pounds beef roast, top round, eye of round
Kosher salt
Extra-virgin olive oil
Fresh ground pepper
2 bay leaves

1 white onion, chunked
6 cloves garlic, peeled
4 tsp ground cumin
1 1/2 Tbsp dried Mexican oregano
1/8 tsp ground cloves
4 chipotle peppers (from a can of chipotle packed in adobo sauce)
1 Tbsp adobo sauce
1/4 cup cilantro leaves  (optional)
2 Tbsp vinegar - cider, red wine or rice
1/2 tsp kosher salt
1 cup chicken broth
1/4 cup fresh lime juice

Prepare the roast:  Trim fat.  Cut the roast into large chunks.  Sprinkle all sides with salt and pepper.  Set aside.

Prepare the sauce:  In a food processor or blender combine the sauce ingredients.  Blend until smooth.  Set aside.

Heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a heavy bottom skillet or pot.  Sear all sides of the beef chunks. Do not crowd the meat as you want it nicely browned, not steamed...yet.  :-)  When browned, remove the pieces of meat to the slow cooker.

Pour the sauce over the meat.  Add the bay leaves.  Cook on high for 6 hours.

After five hours, use two forks to check the meat to see if it is shredding.  If so, remove it from the slow cooker and pull the meat apart, remove any pieces of fat.  Place the shredded beef back into the slow cooker.  Stir to cover the meat with the sauce.  Continue cooking for another hour on warm.

Serve in warm tortillas.  Garnish with cotija cheese, radishes, pickled onions, thinly sliced or shredded cabbage and cilantro.


We enjoyed the Barbacoa served as tacos with pickled onions, shredded cabbage, thinly sliced radishes, cotija cheese and a sprinkling of cilantro.  The meal wouldn't have been complete without a pot of beans!  You can find the recipe for pickled onions, here.  The recipe for the Bacon-Simmered Pot Beans is here.

While we served the Barbacoa in tacos, it can easily become burritos!


  1. There must've been a huge pork sale that day! :-) I've never heard of Barbacoa, but it looks and sounds delicious. Ricky Bayless has restaurants here in Chicago and I'll have to see if it's there. All those good flavors, bet it would be great with chicken also!

  2. Barbacoa is new to me too, but I've certainly heard of Chipotle from Jim Cramer. Rick Bayless knows his way around southwestern cuisine, so I know it musts be delicious.

  3. I eat at Chipotle, fairly often, because they serve grass-fed meat and you can eat pretty healthy-- if you know how to order right. I love their Barbacoa and would certainly think this recipe is just as good. This looks so savory, with plenty of crunch and color. The Mexican side of my D.N.A. is wishing I had some of this...stat!

  4. I would do it in a taco as I love them! Much more than a burrito. I have no idea why. I have never been to a Chipotle, but I will try this looks great!

  5. This sounds wonderful Kate. If never heard of Barbacoa either but I think it's time to get aquainted.

  6. Oh my family would love this. It looks delicious!
    Love Rick Bayless too. I do believe soon I must make this.

  7. Kate, barbacoa is plentiful in Denver and each offering is a different interpretation of the dish. Sometimes when I get to the Hispanic markets on the west side, I stop at a shop that, due to it's complexity, only sells it on Saturday and Sunday. It's the real deal and incredible with flavor. Hours of slow cooking and special spices. What I love most about this is the topping of radish. Someone did their homework to know about that. Looks great.

  8. Oh my! Your version of barbacoa sure sounds delish. One can actually mix barbacoa in with some tacos, nachos, burritos, tortillas or even pizza. The slow cooking is definitely gonna make the meat uber juicy and tender. It'll be like a little piece of meaty heaven. Thanks so much for sharing that! Happy cooking!

    Diane Baker @ AlejRest


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