Beef Barbacoa

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Every bite of this tender, juicy, beef barbacoa is a fiesta of flavors! Wrap this flavorful Mexican beef in warm tortillas with your favorite taco toppings and a squeeze of zesty lime.

For those who love to use their crockpots, hop on over and grab my recipes for slow cooker beef machaca and this flavorful slow cooker beef stew, too. These dishes are perfect for those busy days when you want a delicious, hearty meal with minimal effort.

Pulled beef barbacoa served in a large bowl with lime wedges.


 

My Favorite Way to Make Barbacoa Beef

Taco night is kind of a big deal in my house. I love tacos, the hubs loves tacos, and the kids love tacos, too. 🌮 We have our favorite go-to taco recipes (hola, pork carnitas tacos), and this Slow Cooker Beef Barbacoa is definitely one of them! This Mexican pulled beef recipe is rich and spicy, with a burst of brightness from lime juice and chopped cilantro. It’s delicious wrapped up in a warm flour tortilla, and just as tasty in burritos, taco bowls, and salads.

Why You’ll Love Beef Barbacoa

  • Perfect for taco night. Beef taco lovers, rejoice. Slow cooker barbacoa is the best way to savor an authentic taste of Mexico. It’s make-ahead friendly and perfect for meal prep, and you barely have to lift a finger.
  • Rich, zesty flavor. This recipe shows you how to make beef barbacoa cooked low and slow for hours in the crock pot. The result is tender, succulent beef that pairs perfectly with warm tortillas and a squeeze of fresh lime.
  • Made right in your crockpot or slow cooker. Cooking beef this way makes it incredibly tender. It’s so easy to pop the ingredients in the slow cooker, walk away, and return hours later to the most delicious Mexican-style dinner.
  • Easy clean-up. Making this recipe in one pot means hardly any dishes to wash. What’s better than that?!
Close up of barbacoa beef tacos topped with with radishes.

What is Barbacoa?

Barbacoa, Spanish for “barbecue”, is an authentic Mexican pulled beef recipe. And despite the name, no, we’re not firing up the grill! I like to compare beef Barbacoa to a Mexican pot roast. The beef is seasoned with a flavorful blend of spices and then simmered in a smoky sauce over low heat until it becomes tender and easily shredded. I love using beef barbacoa for everything from tacos and tamales to enchiladas and quesadillas.

Ingredients You’ll Need

To make the most flavorful barbacoa beef, you’ll need several essential ingredients to bring out that authentic Mexican flavor. I’ve included a quick overview below. Refer to the recipe card at the bottom of this post for complete information.

  • Chuck Roast: I make my barbacoa with a 3-4 pound chuck roast, chopped into smaller chunks.
  • Onion: I use a large yellow onion, but white onions work just as well.
  • Garlic: Minced fresh garlic is best, but garlic powder can be used. You’d need about a teaspoon, or to taste.
  • Chilies: This fiery Mexican beef gets its flavor from a combination of zesty green chilies and chipotles in adobo sauce. You can adapt the amount of chili to taste.
  • Seasonings: You’ll need ground cumin for that distinctive Mexican flavor, dried oregano (even better if you can find Mexican oregano), salt and pepper.
  • Lime: Make sure to use freshly squeezed lime juice and not the bottled kind.
  • Apple Cider Vinegar: For a hit of bright acidity. I love the sweetness of apple cider vinegar, but red or white wine vinegar also works.
  • Broth: Beef broth brings out a rich, beefy flavor. If you’d prefer, you can use chicken broth instead.
  • Bay Leaves: I use them to add a subtle flavor to the dish. They enhance the overall taste of the barbacoa beef.
  • Cilantro: For garnish to serve over the shredded beef.

Equipment

  • Slow Cooker: This recipe will work in just about any size slow cooker or crock pot. If you’re scaling the recipe, make sure your cooker is large enough for it.
  • Meat Shredder Claws: I use my “claws” for everything from this beef barbacoa to slow cooker pulled pork. It makes shredding so much easier! Alternatively, you can use two forks to shred the beef after cooking. I have also used a food processor to shred meat.

What’s the Best Cut of Beef to Use? 

When it comes to slow cooking and braising, my favorite cut is a chuck roast, also called a shoulder steak or boneless chuck roast. This is an inexpensive cut that’s well-marbled and cooks up super juicy and flavorful after long hours over low heat. Chuck roast is cut from the shoulder area, and it’s slightly fattier than similar cuts, like brisket or round roast. 

Beef combined in a slow cooker with green chilies, onions, and bay leaf.

How to Make Beef Barbacoa

This barbacoa is one of those dump-and-go recipes that you can chuck into your slow cooker in the morning and let it cook all day. It’s SO easy.

  1. Add the ingredients to the slow cooker. Combine the pieces of chuck roast with onions, garlic, chilies, chipotle, and seasonings in the slow cooker.
  2. Add the marinade. Next, whisk together lime juice, vinegar, and beef broth, and pour this over the slow cooker contents. Toss in some bay leaves.
  3. Cook. Place the lid over the cooker and cook the barbacoa on low for 6-8 hours (or on high for 3-4 hours). After, remove the beef and place it onto a cutting board.
  4. Shred beef. Use your shredder claws or two forks to pull the beef apart. To finish it off, add the shredded beef back into the slow cooker to soak up all those spicy, rich juices.
Cooked beef barbacoa in the slow cooker.

Recipe Tips and Variations

Dinner doesn’t get much more hands-free than this beef! Here are some quick, final tips to ensure your slow cooker beef barbacoa lives up to its full juicy, tender potential:

  • Season generously. Don’t be sparing with herbs and spices. All those flavors combine and infuse every inch of this beef barbacoa.
  • Sear the beef. This part is optional. But if you’d like to really amp up the flavor and texture of the roast, sear the beef pieces in a skillet before adding them to the slow cooker.
  • Keep the beef moist during cooking. This recipe uses a combination of beef broth, cider vinegar, and lime juice. Feel free to change up the flavors of your sauce with different options, like orange juice, white wine vinegar, etc. The acidity in the liquid helps to tenderize the beef.
  • Save the cooking liquids. After tossing the shredded beef in the cooking juices, if there are any leftovers, don’t throw them out. Save any remaining cooking liquid and reduce it on the stovetop to make a delicious taco sauce. See the recipe card notes for details.
Close up of pulled beef barbacoa served in a large bowl with lime wedges.

Serving Suggestions

We use this beef barbacoa to make the most outrageously mouthwatering Mexican-inspired meals. Here are some of our favorite serving ideas:

  • Tacos. My favorite way to serve beef barbacoa is wrapped up in flour tortillas. Barbacoa tacos are delicious, topped with sweet corn salsa, sliced avocado fries, and cilantro. You could also top them with sliced radishes and fresh parsley
  • Rice. Serve your juicy shredded beef over rice or coconut lime cauliflower rice, quinoa, or mashed sweet potatoes.
  • More Mexican Dishes. If you’re in the mood for more Mexican recipes, barbacoa makes an excellent tamale filling! I’ve even used it as a filling in beef enchiladas or added it to quesadillas. Additionally, beef barbacoa is amazing in a rice-and-bean-filled burrito.
  • Bowls and Salads. For a filling beef taco salad, don’t miss the opportunity to have it over a salad with your favorite taco toppings! Barbacoa also makes a tasty addition to a burrito bowl.
Close up of barbacoa beef tacos topped with with radishes.

How to Store and Reheat Leftovers

Fridge. If you end up with leftovers of this slow cooker beef barbacoa, let the beef come to room temp and then place it in an airtight container with the juices. Refrigerate leftovers for up to 5 days (this beef is great for meal prep!). To reheat, warm the barbacoa with the juices in the microwave or in a skillet on the stovetop until hot throughout.

Freezer. Beef barbacoa freezes wonderfully. Store the cooled beef in airtight containers and keep it frozen for up to 3 months. Defrost leftovers in the fridge overnight and then reheat before serving.

Frequently Asked Questions

Is barbacoa the same as shredded beef?

While both beef barbacoa and shredded beef involve cooking the beef until tender and shredding it, beef barbacoa typically implies a specific method of cooking with particular seasonings and flavors, such as the ones used in this recipe, including diced green chilies, chipotles in adobo, ground cumin, and dried oregano. These ingredients impart a rich and complex flavor profile to the dish. Shredded beef, on the other hand, is a more general term for the texture and preparation of the meat, often slow cooked until tender and then shredded or pulled apart.

What does barbacoa meat taste like?

This barbacoa packs a flavorful punch with spicy chipotle peppers and Mexican spices. It’s not overly spicy, but the heat level can vary based on the chilies you use. Plus, the lime juice adds a refreshing tartness that balances the spiciness and the richness of the beef.

What’s the difference between barbacoa and carnitas?

Barbacoa and carnitas are both popular Mexican meat dishes, but they differ in their ingredients, preparation methods, and flavors. Barbacoa is typically made with beef, although it can also be made with lamb or goat. The meat is traditionally slow-cooked until tender, with spices such as chipotle chilies, cumin, garlic, and Mexican oregano. Carnitas, on the other hand, is made with pork, specifically using cuts like pork shoulder or butt. The meat is typically simmered or braised until tender, along with seasonings like garlic, citrus juices (often orange or lime), and herbs such as oregano and bay leaves.

Is the cooking time different if you double the meat?

Yes, if you double the amount of meat in a slow cooker recipe, the cooking time will typically need to be increased by about 25%, and maybe up to 50%. When you double the meat, you increase the volume of food in the slow cooker, which means it will take longer to cook all of the ingredients thoroughly. The exact increase in cooking time can vary depending on the type of meat, the size of the slow cooker, and the specific recipe you’re using. To check if the meat is done, just use an instant read meat thermometer so you don’t have to play the guessing game. A chuck roast needs to hit between 200˚F and 210˚F before it is ready to shred. Keep checking for tenderness and that the meat easily pulls apart.

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4.89 from 36 votes

Beef Barbacoa (Slow Cooker)

Tender, juicy, slow cooker beef barbacoa is a fiesta of flavors! It's perfect wrapped up in warm tortillas with your favorite toppings and a squeeze of fresh lime.
Prep Time: 10 minutes
Cook Time: 4 hours
Total Time: 4 hours 20 minutes
Servings: 10

Ingredients 

  • 3 to 4 pounds chuck roast, cut into 6 to 8 pieces
  • 1 large yellow onion, diced
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 can (4-ounces) green chilies
  • 2 chipotles in adobo, diced
  • 1 tablespoon ground cumin
  • 1 tablespoon dried oregano
  • teaspoons salt
  • ¾ teaspoon fresh ground black pepper
  • ½ cup beef broth, (try to use low-sodium beef broth whenever possible)
  • 2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
  • juices from 2 limes
  • 2 bay leaves
  • ¼ cup chopped fresh cilantro or parsley, for garnish
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Instructions 

  • In the bowl of your slow cooker combine the chuck roast pieces, onions, garlic, green chilies, chipotles, ground cumin, oregano, salt, and pepper.
  • In a small bowl, whisk together the beef broth, vinegar, and lime juice; pour the broth mixture over the ingredients in the slow cooker. Add bay leaves.
  • Cover and cook on LOW for 6 to 8 hours, or on HIGH for 3 to 4 hours. Cooked beef should be tender and should fall apart easily when shredded with a fork.
  • Remove the beef from the slow cooker and transfer it to a cutting board.
  • Using two forks, or shredder claws, shred the beef into bite-size pieces.
  • Transfer the shredded beef back into the slow cooker; stir everything together until completely incorporated.
  • Garnish with cilantro or parsley and serve.

Notes

  • I use chuck roast in this recipe because it is a well-marbled, flavorful beef cut suitable for slow cooking.
  • Season generously: Don’t skip on any herbs and spices to infuse the beef with robust flavors.
  • For enhanced flavor and texture, sear the beef in a hot skillet before transferring it to the slow cooker.
  • To keep the beef moist and tender during the slow cooking process, add flavorful liquids. I like lime juice, beef broth, and apple cider vinegar. You can also add orange juice. The liquid will help break down the collagen in the meat, resulting in melt-in-your-mouth tenderness.
  • When finished with the cooking process, reduce the liquid and use it as a dipping sauce or drizzle it over your tacos. Strain the cooking liquid and transfer it to a saucepan. Simmer the liquid on the stovetop until it reduces and thickens slightly.
  • Use the beef barbacoa to create mouthwatering tacos, burritos, and quesadillas, or enjoy it over rice. 

Nutrition

Calories: 262kcal | Carbohydrates: 3g | Protein: 27g | Fat: 16g | Saturated Fat: 7g | Cholesterol: 94mg | Sodium: 559mg | Potassium: 514mg | Fiber: 1g | Sugar: 1g | Vitamin A: 184IU | Vitamin C: 3mg | Calcium: 41mg | Iron: 4mg

Nutritional info is an estimate and provided as courtesy. Values may vary according to the ingredients and tools used. Please use your preferred nutritional calculator for more detailed info.

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75 Comments

  1. HT says:

    Hi! What is the timing you recommend for the stove top instead of the slow cooker? Thank you!

    1. Katerina says:

      Hi! I suggest cooking it covered on your stovetop over low heat for approximately 2.5 to 3 hours until the meat starts to fall apart. The meat should separate easily with a fork.

  2. Katie A says:

    This is the best and easiest barbacoa recipe

    1. Katerina Petrovska says:

      Thank YOU! I’m very glad you enjoyed it! 🙂

  3. Lia says:

    Delicious and easy! Barely any fat.

    1. katerina@diethood.com says:

      Thank YOU! I’m glad you enjoyed it! 🙂

  4. Amy says:

    It says multiple times pit prepped meat in crockpot but I see no where that it says how to prep the meat.

    1. Katerina says:

      The recipe card is located toward the bottom, right above the comments section. You can also click on “Jump to Recipe” found at the top of the post, underneath the title.

  5. Jessica P says:

    I just threw this in the crockpot for tacos tonight! Can’t wait to taste all these flavors mixed together

    1. Katerina Petrovska says:

      I hope you’ll enjoy it! Thank YOU! 🙂

  6. Teresa says:

    Absolutely no flavor at all!! Beef was tender but no flavor

    1. Katerina Petrovska says:

      You may not have added enough salt. Some people prefer more, some less. I suggest you add some salt, stir it around, taste it, and see if the flavor improves.

  7. renee says:

    Can I use lemon juice instead of lime juice?

    1. Katerina Petrovska says:

      You can, but the flavor won’t be as intended.

  8. Peyton says:

    Excited to try this tonight! I do not have bay leaves. Suggestions for replacements or is it fine to leave out? Looks delicious, thanks for the recipe!

    1. Katerina Petrovska says:

      Hi!
      You can add a couple teaspoons of dried thyme, instead.

  9. Sarah says:

    Hi! I made this recipe last week and it is really good, leftover too!! I am wondering approx how much meat would be in a serving? Thanks!

    1. Katerina Petrovska says:

      Hi! 😊
      A 4-pound chuck roast divided by 10 servings is 6.4 ounces per serving. Add in some of the extras that are in the recipe and you can round it off to maybe 7-ish ounces.

      1. Hadasa P says:

        Hi Katrina, would you follow the same cooking time if this is being made for 3 people? Thank you so much!

  10. Sue says:

    If I do this in the instant pot how long does it take plus what do I set it at

      1. Dan says:

        Going to try this recipe tomorrow. Looks simple and flavorful. Perfect dish to spice up a cold Minnesota winter day. Hoping it turns out as good as you look.LOL!