Beef barbacoa is more than just a meal; it’s a culinary journey. The slow cooking process used in this recipe tenderizes the beef to perfection, ensuring each bite is succulent and full of flavor. The unique blend of dried peppers, spices, and a hint of sweetness from brown sugar creates a sauce that complements the beef beautifully. Its robust aroma will fill your home, making it a meal that’s as enjoyable to cook as it is to eat. This recipe is not just convenient for busy moms; it’s also a way to introduce new flavors to your family’s table.

Why You’ll Love This Recipe

  • Minimal prep for stress-free cooking.
  • Rich, deep, and authentic Mexican flavors.
  • Great for tacos, burritos, or as a main dish.
  • Loved by adults and kids alike.
Close up view of tacos filled with Mexican beef Barbacoa.

Beef Barbacoa Ingredients & Substitutions

  • Beef Chuck Roast: The star of the dish, known for its rich flavor and tenderness when slow-cooked. Substitute with brisket if chuck roast is unavailable.
  • Dried Peppers: Guajillo and ancho peppers provide depth and mild heat. Can’t find them? Use any dried mild chili.
  • Chipotle in Adobo: Adds a smoky kick. A small amount of smoked paprika can be a substitute.
  • Cider Vinegar & Brown Sugar: Balance the heat with a touch of sweetness and acidity. White vinegar and honey are good alternatives.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is barbacoa?

Barbacoa is a dish that’s traditionally prepared over an open fire. Barbacoa means barbecue in Spanish, which reflects the traditional cooking method. That said, contrary to popular belief, this recipe actually originated in the Caribbean before making its way to Mexico.

Today, it’s often seen in Mexican restaurants. This dish was originally made using lamb, goat, or the head of a cow (beef cheeks). The meat is coated in spices and seasonings and a light broth, and then cooked low and slow for hours. 

Can I make beef barbacoa in a slow cooker?

Absolutely! Follow the same preparation steps and cook on low for 6-8 hours.

Can I make this in an instant pot?

Certainly! Use the sear setting to sear seasoned roast. Make sauce and pour over meat. Cook on the beef/stew setting for about 70 minutes.

Can I use a different cut of beef?

Yes, brisket is a great alternative.

Is it spicy?

It has a mild to medium heat. Depending on the chipotles you use, the spice can get a bit warm. You can cool things down by adjusting the amount of chipotle to suit your taste and serve with a dollop of sour cream. 

How long does it take to cook beef barbacoa to perfection?

The suggested braising time for beef barbacoa is a minimum of 3 hours, but it’s important to note that this is just a starting point. Depending on the specific cut and size of your meat, it can take up to 8 hours to reach the ideal internal temperature of 203°F, which is the point where the meat becomes easily shreddable. The varying cooking times are due to differences in meat texture and density, so it’s essential to adjust the cooking duration accordingly for the best results.

How to Rehydrate Peppers

The sauce for this recipe uses dried guajillo and ancho peppers. These peppers are easily found in most supermarkets in the specialty foods section. You can also find them at a Latin American specialty store, or even online. They can be intimidating to work with if you’ve never done it before, but they are actually super easy! For this recipe, you’ll need to rehydrate your peppers. Simply: 

  • Place them into a bowl or jar and cover them with water. 
  • Let them soak for 1 to 4 hours (or overnight) before using in the recipe. 

If you need to speed up the process of soaking your peppers, pour boiling water over them and let them sit for at least 30 minutes. The heat will help soften them faster.

Meat Options

Barbacoa is a versatile dish that can be prepared using various types of meat, each bringing its unique flavor and texture to the recipe. While we’ve chosen beef chuck roast for its availability and excellent results, don’t hesitate to experiment with other meats based on your preference or what’s readily available to you.

  • Lamb: Known for its rich, slightly gamey flavor, lamb is a traditional choice in some regions. It pairs beautifully with the robust spices and slow cooking process, resulting in tender, flavorful meat.
  • Goat: Another traditional option, goat meat offers a leaner alternative with a distinct taste. It absorbs the flavors of the barbacoa sauce exceptionally well, providing a unique culinary experience.
  • Beef Variations: Apart from chuck roast, consider brisket or beef cheeks. Brisket, with its marbled fat, becomes incredibly tender and flavorful when slow-cooked. Beef cheeks, though less common, are a delicacy in barbacoa cooking. They’re known for their rich, gelatinous texture that melts in your mouth.

The beauty of this recipe lies in its flexibility. The cooking times remain largely the same across these different meats, making it easy to switch based on what you have on hand or your dietary preferences. Each meat choice offers a delightful variation to the traditional beef barbacoa, inviting you to explore and enjoy different facets of this beloved dish.

Make Beef Barbacoa a Complete Meal With…

Serve with warm corn tortillas, fresh cilantro, diced onions, and a squeeze of lime for an authentic experience. It’s perfect for family dinners, weekend gatherings, or a festive potluck.

Other Serving Options:


  • Meat Not Tender: If the meat isn’t falling apart, it needs more time. Cooking low and slow is key.
  • Sauce Too Thick: Add a bit more water or broth to reach the desired consistency.
  • Not Flavorful Enough: Adjust seasoning after cooking, adding more salt or spices as needed.

Tips From the Chef

  • Sear the Meat: This step adds depth to the flavor.
  • Don’t Rush: The longer it cooks, the more tender the meat.
  • Balance the Flavors: Taste and adjust the seasoning before serving.
Mexican beef Barbacoa.

Barbacoa Readiness Indicators

  • Texture: The meat should be incredibly tender and should easily fall apart or shred with minimal effort using a fork.
  • Color: Look for a rich, deep brown color in the beef, indicating it has absorbed the flavors and is thoroughly cooked.
  • Sauce Consistency: The sauce should be slightly thickened, clinging to the meat without being overly watery or too thick.
  • Internal Temperature: For those who prefer using a meat thermometer, the internal temperature of the beef should reach around 190-200°F, ideal for tender, slow-cooked meat.

Make Ahead & Meal Prep Ideas

  • Prep Ahead: Marinate the meat overnight for enhanced flavor.
  • Batch Cooking: Make a large batch and store portions for future meals.
  • Quick Assembly: Shred the meat and store separately from the sauce for easy reheating.

Storage & Reheating Instructions

  • Refrigerator: Store in an airtight container for up to 3 days.
  • Freezer: Freeze in portions for up to 3 months. Thaw in the refrigerator.
  • Reheating: Gently reheat on the stove or in a microwave, adding a bit of water if needed.

More Recipes Inspired by the Flavors of Mexico

Watch the video below where Caytlin will walk you through every step of this recipe. Sometimes it helps to have a visual, and we’ve always got you covered with our cooking show. You can find the complete collection of recipes on YouTube, Facebook Watch, or our Facebook Page, or right here on our website with their corresponding recipes.