This beef barbacoa recipe is cooked low and slow with chilies and spices until juicy and fall apart tender, perfect for barbacoa tacos, burritos, sandwiches, bowls and more!
The Best Beef Barbacoa
We're making Beef Barbacoa in the Chili Pepper Madness kitchen today, my friends. Care to join? If you've never had beef barbacoa before, this is a recipe you'll want to print and save in your recipe box.
Beef barbacoa is tender shredded beef that has been seasoned with ancho peppers and guajillo peppers along with chipotles in adobo sauce and other seasonings. The beef is cooked low and slow for hours in a slow cooker until it becomes so juicy and tender it melts in your mouth.
It's huge on flavor for my spice loving friends, and you can easily up the heat levels by adding spicy chili flakes, powders, or even fresh chili peppers into the mix.
Never heard of barbacoa?
What is Barbacoa?
Barbacoa is a technique of cooking that originated in the Caribbean where meat is steam cooked low and slow in an underground oven until it becomes very tender.
It was adapted by Mexican and American cooks, usually to cook meat from cattle heads and other cuts of beef, goat or lamb. The technique has evolved to cooking meats with a crock pot, slow cooker or instant pot, or in a pot on the stove top.
The word "barbacoa" translates to "barbecue" in English, though the two cooking method are quite different, which barbecuing done on a hot grill.
Time to get cooking! It's the best barbacoa beef recipe around.
Let's talk about how to make barbacoa, shall we?
Beef Barbacoa Ingredients
- Beef. Use beef chuck roast or use beef brisket, sliced into 2 inch chunks.
- Peppers. Guajillo peppers, ancho peppers, and chipotles in adobo sauce (optional, for extra saucy and tangy-smoky flavor)
- Olive Oil. For cooking.
- Beef Stock. Or use beef broth.
- Apple Cider Vinegar.
- Lime Juice. 1/4 cup to 1/2 cup.
- Vegetables. Onion and Garlic.
- Seasonings. Mexican oregano, cumin, bay leaf, and salt and black pepper.
How to Make Beef Barbacoa - the Recipe Method
Rehydrate the Dried Peppers. First, remove the stems from the guajillo and ancho peppers and remove the seeds. Place the dried chiles in a large bowl and cover with very hot or boiling water. Soak them for 15 minutes, or until they become very soft and rehydrate.
Drain and discard the water. Add them to a food processor along with the chipotles in adobo sauce and a bit of salt. Process until smooth.
Rub the Beef. Add the beef chunks to a bowl. Add the ancho-guajillo paste and toss to even coat.
Brown the Meat. Heat the oil in a large cast iron pan to medium-high heat. Sear the beef chunks a few minutes per side to get a nice coating. Transfer to a slow cooker or crock pot.
Deglaze the Pan. Deglaze the pan with a bit of beef broth, water or wine and scrape all of the brown bits from the bottom of the pan. Pour it into the crock pot.
Remaining Ingredients. Add the beef stock, vinegar, lime juice, onion, garlic, oregano, cumin, bay leaf and salt and pepper to taste. Stir.
Cook Low and Slow. Cook on high for 4 hours, or on low for 6-8 hours, or until the beef is fork tender. It should easily break apart with a fork. It could take a bit longer to cook, depending on your slow cooker.
I personally recommend cooking on LOW, as the beef will be more tender this way, though HIGH will save you time. Tender barbacoa is the best.
Shred the Beef Barbacoa and Serve. Remove beef and shred with 2 forks, and serve as desired. It's ready to eat once you've shredded the meat.
Serve them up as barbacoa tacos or a burrito bowl! Add some black beans or other fixins. Garnish with fresh cilantro and fresh lime juice. So good!
Boom! Easy enough, isn't it? It is quite an easy recipe. It's really just some quick seasoning and searing, then waiting for the crock pot or slow cooker to do its job.
The only issue is smelling that wonderful slow cooked beef in the house, driving you crazy with hunger. The meat is super tender and flavorful. Perfect for my spicy foods lovers.
Serving Ideas for Barbacoa
- Beef Barbacoa Tacos. Use flour or corn tortillas.
- Easy Beef Burrito Bowls.
- Beef Sandwich. Add some cheese and your favorite fixins!
- Simple Salad.
- Nachos! Pile it onto a big plate of cheesy tortillas. Yes!
Recipe Tips and Notes
Stove Top Barbacoa. If you'd prefer to make this on the stove rather than in your slow cooker, no problem. Just use a dutch oven or large pot.
Sear the seasoned meat in the pot, then add the remaining ingredients. Cover and cook on low for 6-8 hours, or until the beef shreds easily with a fork.
Pressure Cooker Barbacoa. You can make beef barbacoa in the pressure cooker. Simply follow the recipe, but instead of placing everything into the crock pot, place it into the pressure cooker.
Then, pressure cook on HIGH for 60 minutes, then use natural release. Shred the beef and enjoy.
You can make this recipe with only the ancho-guajillo paste, though the adobo sauce is commonly used.
Best Meats for Barbacoa? Traditionally, barbacoa was made with meats from cattle head, such as the cheeks, or with lamb or goat in Mexican cooking.
Today we mostly use tougher cuts of beef that benefits from low and slow cooking to become tender and succulent.
Brisket is very popular, as is chuck roast, which is what I normally use.
Time Saver. You can make the chili paste ahead of time and keep it in the refrigerator up to a week to use later. Or use my adobo sauce recipe.
The Seasonings. I used cumin, Mexican oregano, bay leaves, salt and pepper here, but feel free to incorporate your own favorites.
Try it with ground clove, chili powder or other dried herbs for great, flavorful meat.
Beef barbacoa will last up to 5 days in the refrigerator in a sealed container. Simply warm it in a pot or pan to enjoy again.
You can also freeze it for 3 months or longer. It freezes nicely.
That's it, my friends! I hope you enjoy my beef barbacoa recipe. I love this recipe! Spicy shredded beef, anytime for me. They're super popular served up as barbacoa beef tacos. So good!
Got any questions? Ask away! I’m happy to help. If you enjoy this recipe, I hope you’ll leave a comment with some STARS. Also, please share it on social media. Don’t forget to tag us at #ChiliPepperMadness. I’ll be sure to share! Thanks! — Mike H.
Barbacoa Recipe (Beef Barbacoa)
- 3 pound beef chuck roast or use beef brisket, sliced into 2 inch chunks
- 2 guajillo peppers
- 2 ancho peppers
- 7 ounce can chipotles in adobo optional, for extra saucy and tangy-smoky flavor
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1.5 cups beef broth
- 1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
- Juice from 1 large lime about 1/4 cup
- 1 large onion chopped
- 4 cloves garlic chopped
- 1 tablespoon Mexican oregano or use oregano
- 2 teaspoons cumin
- 1 bay leaf
- Salt and ground black pepper to taste
- Remove the stems from the guajillo and ancho peppers and remove the seeds. Place the dried chiles in a large bowl and cover with very hot or boiling water. Soak them for 15 minutes, or until they become very soft and rehydrate. Drain and discard the water. Add them to a food processor with the chipotles in adobo sauce, and a bit of salt. Process until smooth.
- Add the beef chunks to a bowl. Add the ancho-guajillo paste and toss to even coat.
- Heat the oil in a large cast iron pan to medium-high heat. Sear the beef chunks a few minutes per side to get a nice coating. Transfer to a slow cooker or crock pot.
- Deglaze the pan with a bit of beef stock, water or wine and scrape all of the brown bits from the bottom of the pan. Pour it into the crock pot.
- Add the beef stock, vinegar, lime juice, onion, garlic, oregano, cumin, bay leaf and salt and pepper to taste. Stir.
- Cook on high for 4 hours, or on low for 6-8 hours, or until the beef is fork tender. It should easily break apart with a fork. It could take a bit longer to cook, depending on your slow cooker.
- Shred the beef with 2 forks and serve as desired.
NOTE: This recipe was updated on 12/9/22 to include new information, photos, and video. It was originally published on 1/29/20.