Barbacoa was brought from the Caribbean to Mexico 500 years ago (via Bon Appétit). The traditional method for cooking barbacoa involves wrapping the meat in leaves of some sort and then burying it in a preheated stone pit and covering it up with dirt and rocks or bricks.
But don’t worry, Stephanie Rapone’s recipe for barbacoa is designed for the modern kitchen (no ditch-digging is required) and is much easier to cook. Her blog, Pantry to Plate, helps busy families share meals that are delicious and hassle-free, and this recipe spotlights her culinary vision.
Rapone developed this recipe for the oven, but you can also cook barbacoa in an Instant Pot (or other electric pressure cooker) or a slow cooker as well. This is an incredibly easy recipe. Basically, you layer the ingredients in a Dutch oven and pop it in the oven to braise a few hours. Once it’s done, you shred the beef, set it on a platter, and let everyone build their own tacos. So, not only is Rapone’s recipe perfect for a weekend family meal, it’s also great party fare for celebrating Cinco de Mayo.
Gather the ingredients for the best barbacoa you’ll ever make
Barbacoa can be made with beef, pork, goat, or as it’s sometimes even a whole beef head. Beef chuck roast is generally considered best for braises and stews, but Rapone also tosses beef short ribs (bone-in) into the mix. This is a clever addition because short ribs are deeply beefy-tasting, but they also have fat and collagen that melt when braised, which adds flavor and body to the barbacoa sauce. A real time-saver is Rapone’s shortcut of using frozen chopped onion instead of having to chop the onion yourself. Almost all of the other ingredients you’ll have on hand, except, perhaps, for the canned chipotles and canned green chiles, which you can pick up at any grocery store.
Season the beef, then layer the ingredients for this barbacoa
First, preheat your oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. As it’s heating, trim the excess fat from the chuck roast, then pat the beef dry with paper towels. Cut the beef chuck into six to eight large chunks. Keep the short ribs whole — the meat will separate from the bone during braising. Generously season the beef on all sides with two teaspoons of kosher salt.
Next, smash the whole garlic cloves with a chef’s knife on a cutting board, and peel off its skin. You don’t need to chop the garlic, since you’ll mash the softened garlic into the sauce later. Spread the cup of frozen chopped onion in the bottom of a Dutch oven. (If you’re using an Instant Pot or slow cooker, the preparation is exactly the same.) Lay the beef on top of the chopped onion, and add the remaining ingredients in even layers in this order: crushed garlic, chipotles in adobe sauce (you can keep them whole), green chiles, juice from the limes and oranges, apple cider vinegar, bay leaves, ground cumin, Mexican oregano (if you can’t find it in a store, use regular oregano instead), freshly ground black pepper, ground cloves, and finally, the chicken stock.
Braise the beef for the barbacoa
Cover the Dutch oven with its lid or a tight layer of aluminum foil, and put the pot in the oven,. Let the barbacoa braise for two hours. After two hours, remove the lid or foil and increase the oven temperature to 400 degrees Fahrenheit. Cook the barbacoa for 15 to 20 minutes or until the largest piece of beef chuck hits an internal temperature of 195 to 200 degrees Fahrenheit on an instant-read thermometer.
If you’re cooking the barbacoa in an Instant Pot, set it to pressure cook on manual for 35 minutes, then use the natural release for 15 minutes, followed by the quick release. If you’re using a slow cooker, once you’ve layered the ingredients, set it on low for eight hours. Don’t try to shorten the recipe’s cooking time, Rapone advised. "Let it do its thing, and it will be perfect!"
Let the fat separate from the sauce, then shred the beef
When the beef for your barbacoa is done, take the pot out of the oven, and using tongs, transfer the beef to a large casserole dish. Pick out the bay leaves, and remove and discard the short rib bones with your tongs. Let the beef rest 15 to 20 minutes while you turn your attention to the sauce.
Ladle the cooking liquid into a fat separator, large bowl, or glass measuring cup. Be sure to leave as much of the solids as you can in the pot because you’ll need them to finish the sauce. After the beef has rested, it will be easy to shred by using two forks or your fingers (if the beef isn’t still too hot). As you pull the beef apart into long shreds, remove any large globs of fat or connective tissue, and toss these bits into the trash.
Finish the sauce and put the beef back into the pot
Use a fork to mash the garlic and chipotles in the bottom of the pot. Return the shredded beef to the pot, and using tongs, mix the beef together so it gets evenly coated by the mashed solids. Taste the barbacoa, and if you think it needs more flavor, add a little salt and the other seasonings. Remember, you’ll be pouring the de-fatted cooking juices back in, so don’t overdo it, especially with the salt. You can always add more in when everything’s incorporated.
Skim or pour the fat from the cooking liquid into a disposable container — not down the drain! Alternatively, put the fat into a small bowl and let it cool, then toss the hardened fat in the trash. Begin adding the cooking liquid to the beef a quarter cup at a time, stirring until it’s well-mixed. Before adding another quarter cup of the liquid, taste the barbacoa, and when it reaches the flavor and seasoning level you like, stop adding the liquid. Rapone also recommends not dumping the cooking liquid down the drain either, since it will still have some fat that could clog your pipes.
Serve the barbacoa as tacos with toppings
Rapone told us that, traditionally, barbacoa is served as tacos, and she recommends using corn tortillas, chopped cilantro, sliced or pickled onion (white or red), radish slices, sliced avocado, lime wedges, and any type of salsa. "Actually," she said, "do what you love!" You could also skip the tortillas altogether and serve the barbacoa as a rice or cauliflower rice bowl.
Rapone’s barbacoa recipe gives you the freedom to create a meal you like that also has the bold flavors you’d expect from a Mexican dish. Rapone told us, "Leftovers are so delicious and versatile. I will freeze half of it and make it into enchiladas or nachos, which makes it an awesome weeknight meal." Whichever cooking vessel you choose for making this luscious barbacoa, it will do most of the work for you. With minimal effort, Rapone’s recipe for barbacoa will be the best you’ll ever make!
We developed this recipe for the oven, but you can also cook barbacoa in an Instant Pot (or other electric pressure cooker) or a slow cooker as well.
- 1 cup frozen chopped onion
- 1 ½ pounds short ribs, bone-in
- 3 pounds beef chuck roast
- 2 teaspoons kosher salt
- 4 cloves garlic
- 2 chipotles in adobo sauce
- 4-ounce can diced green chilies
- Juice from 2 large or 3 medium limes
- Juice from 1 orange
- 2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
- 3 bay leaves
- 1 tablespoon ground cumin
- 1 tablespoon dried Mexican oregano (or regular oregano)
- 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- ¼ teaspoon ground cloves
- ½ cup chicken stock
- Corn tortillas
- Chopped cilantro
- Sliced avocado
- Sliced or pickled onion
- Sliced radishes
- Lime wedges
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
- Trim the excess fat from the chuck roast and cut into 6 to 8 large chunks. Smash and peel the garlic cloves.
- Layer the ingredients as follows in a large pot or Dutch oven with a lid: On the bottom, place the frozen chopped onion. Layer the meat on top of the onion. Then evenly sprinkle with the salt. Add the rest of the ingredients in even layers: crushed garlic, chipotles in adobo (leave them whole), green chiles, juice from limes and orange, apple cider vinegar, bay leaves, ground cumin, Mexican oregano, black pepper, ground cloves, chicken stock.
- Cover the pot with a lid or a tight layer of aluminum foil, and cook for 2 hours. Then, remove the lid and turn the temperature up to 400 degrees Fahrenheit, and cook for another 15 to 30 min until the largest piece of chuck roast reaches an internal temperature of 195 to 205 degrees Fahrenheit.
- When the meat is done, transfer to a large casserole dish. Discard the bones from the short ribs and the bay leaves. Let rest for 10 to 15 min before shredding.
- While the meat is resting, ladle out the liquid into a fat separator or a large bowl or glass measuring cup. Leave as much of the solids in the pot as possible.
- While that separates, use a fork to smash the garlic and chipotles in the pot so that they even distribute when you add the meat back in.
- After the meat has rested for 10 to 15 min, shred, pulling out any large bits of fat or connective tissue. Once the meat is all shredded, mix back into the solids in the cooking pot. Taste and add more seasoning if needed.
- Skim or pour the fat off the cooking liquid, and add ¼ cup at a time, stirring to combine and tasting in between each addition until it reaches the flavor and seasoning level you like.
- Serve barbacoa as tacos with warm corn tortillas, cilantro, sliced or pickled onion, radish slices, avocado, lime wedges, and salsa.