There’s something about summer that makes me want to eat ALL THE TACOS. I think it’s because tacos are the ultimate summer food: a sunny deck, super flavorful handheld tacos filled with juicy, drippy barbacoa, a giant bowl of guacamole and chips, and a crisp and fruity drink in hand, preferably a margarita. And speaking of tacos, these barbacoa tacos are some of the best around, and so easy to make!
What is barbacoa?
Traditionally, barbacoa refers to a dish made with beef, goat, or lamb that’s been slow cooked over an open fire or steam cooked in agave leaves in a pit. Nowadays, barbacoa is made on the stove or in a slow cooker. Barbacoa originated in the Caribbean, but most people associate barbacoa with Mexican food.
Mexican barbacoa, if you haven’t had it, is sweet and tender, juicy, and super flavorful. It’s seasoned with dried chiles and spices and slow cooked until perfect. Barbacoa is served with tortillas, in tacos, burritos, enchiladas, quesadillas, flautas, and more. It’s also called barbacoa de res, which translates to barbacoa beef.
I absolutely love barbacoa. It’s my go to on the rare occasion when we go to Chipotle: I’ll always get the chipotle barbacoa in a burrito bowl, with extra guacamole. SO yum. But even more yum is this homemade barbacoa.
The perfect barbacoa
The best barbacoa is one where the beef is juicy, soft and tender. It needs to be coated in a savory red chile sauce that has just a tiny hint of spice and a huge hit of flavor.
What is barbacoa made of?
Barbacoa is made of beef, dried chile, garlic, onions, spices, vinegar, and beef broth. It’s amazing how such simple ingredients combine together to create a deeply flavorful, out of this world taste.
What is barbacoa meat?
For barbacoa de res, the meat is beef, and specifically beef brisket, aka the best cut of beef ever. Because barbacoa is essentially a stew, the best cuts of beef are ones that are ideal for stewing: chuck, brisket, shank, cheek, short ribs. We chose brisket, but any stewing meat will cook down beautifully. We listed a few other options in the recipe card.
Key barbacoa ingredients
- Dried guajillo chiles. Guajillo chiles are key. These sun-dried peppers are medium-mild and will add just the right amount of flavor to your barbacoa. You can find them in the Mexican aisle, they sell them in little bags. If you really can’t find them, you can sub a can of chipotle peppers in adobo but is barbacoa without dried chiles barbacoa at all?
- Mexican oregano. Mexican oregano is actually a bit different than the usual stuff you find in the spice aisle. Mexican oregano is actually a different plant altogether! Mexican oregano is indigenous to Mexico and has a more woodsy, citrus-lime earthy flavor compared to your typical oregano, which is Mediterranean oregano. You can find Mexican oregano in the Mexican aisle at the grocery store and if you can’t, you can sub regular oregano, but try and find some, it makes a difference.
- Cumin. Cumin adds a huge amount of flavor to barbacoa. It give the barbacoa a nutty, earthy, spicy, almost lemon-y aroma.
- Vinegar. Vinegar tenderizes the beef as well as adds brightness and balances out the richness of the meat. I used white vinegar but you can use apple cider too, if that’s what you have on hand.
How to make barbacoa
Making barbacoa de res is quick and easy:
- Soak the peppers. Soak the peppers in super hot water to rehydrate them. If you want to be extra, you can toast them over a low flame to coax out some extra flavor before soaking.
- Season the meat. While the peppers are soaking, season your meat generously with salt and freshly ground pepper.
- Make the marinade. Grab your blender and blend together the peppers, garlic, oregano, cumin, beef stock, and vinegar.
- Marinate overnight. Marinate as long as you can, or for at least 2 hours so the beef can get super flavorful. Don’t forget to season your beef with salt and pepper first.
- Make the stew. Sweat the onions to build up caramelization and sweetness, add the beef (you can sear it if you want, but we’re aiming for soft and tender meat) along with all the marinade, then top it off with extra beef stock, bay leaves, and cloves. Done.
How to cook barbacoa
- Instant pot barbacoa: Instant pot is where it’s at! You can make barbacoa any way you desire but the Instant Pot is my top pick. It’s fast and it locks in flavor.
- Slow cooker barbacoa: This is probably my second choice. Slow cookers are just so simple. Pop everything in, set it and forget it.
- Stovetop barbacoa: Stovetop barbacoa works too, but I find it’s more finicky to worry about your heat being too low or high. Still, since barbacoa is a very hands off dish, you don’t have too much to worry about.
How to make barbacoa tacos
- Shred the meat. When the beef is done cooking, take the beef out of the consomé and use a couple of forks to shred it up. It’ll be so tender that it’ll basically fall apart instantly. Spoon some extra consomé back on so it’s extra juicy.
- Warm the tortillas. You need warm tortillas for the best taco experience. Soft and pliable tacos are where it’s at. We like using a tortilla warmer but you can just wrap your tortillas up in slightly damp paper towels and pop them in the microwave for 30 seconds. Or you can char them on the stove for some crispy edges.
- Fill the tacos. Be generous and top up your tacos with beef and a little drizzle of the consomé that the beef cooked in.
- Top it up. Finish off your tacos with some toppings. Classic is chopped cilantro and onions, but you can go with anything you like. We added some pickled onions and sliced jalapeños. Don’t forget the hot sauce!
What should I serve with barbacoa?
Why you should make barbacoa
- You worship at the altar of Taco Tuesday
- You spend way too much money at Chipotle
- You want to meal prep barbacoa for the week
- You love tacos but are tired of the same old-same old recipes you’ve been making
- You’re on a keto diet and this is a keto barbacoa recipe! Minus the tortillas, of course
- You wish your favorite taco truck was nearby but they’re all the way across the city
- You want a bunch of barbacoa so you can put it in everything but especially flautas because nothing could be better than a crispy crunchy tortilla stuffed with juicy barbacoa slathered with guacamole, sour cream, and hot sauce.
Tacos filled with juicy, soft and tender beef coated in a savory red chile sauce that has just a tiny hint of spice and a huge hit of flavor.
- 2 lbs beef cheek, brisket, or chuck roast in order of preference
- salt and freshly ground pepper
- 3 dried guajillo peppers
- 6 cloves garlic
- 2 tsp dried oregano Mexican preferred
- 2 tsp cumin
- 1/4 cup beef stock low sodium preferred
- 1/4 cup vinegar
- 1 medium onion diced
- 3 bay leaves
- 6 whole cloves
- 1 cup beef stock low sodium preferred
- 4" corn or flour tortillas as needed, roughly 12-16
- fresh cilantro roughly chopped
- onions diced or pickled
- lime wedges
- jalapeños sliced
Bring a pot of water to a boil and then remove from heat. Soak your dried guajillo peppers for 15 minutes. Meanwhile, cube the beef and season all sides with salt and pepper. Set aside.
Add marinade ingredients to the blender. When the peppers are done soaking, hold them by the tip over the sink and use scissors to cut the stem off and allow the seeds to fall out, then add to blender. Blend into a smooth paste and rub all over the beef. Marinate for a minimum of two hours or up to overnight.
Set your Instant Pot on saute high. Add 1-2 tbsp oil, then saute the onions until golden and translucent (6-8 minutes).
Add the meat with the marinade, bay leaves, and cloves to the pot. Barely cover with beef broth, then set to high pressure for 45 minutes. If using a slow cooker or stovetop, saute the onions first on slow-cooker-high or stovetop-med-high, then add the rest of the ingredients and set to low heat for 4-6 hours, until the beef is tender and shreddable.
When the Instant Pot is done, allow a natural release, then remove the meat from the consomé and shred. Spoon some of the consomé onto the beef after you’ve shredded it.
Make the tacos: warm the tortillas and build the tacos: a generous amount of barbacoa beef, and toppings. Enjoy immediately.
Estimated nutrition doesn't include tortillas, toppings, or consomé.
Amount Per Serving
Calories 507 Calories from Fat 173
% Daily Value*
Saturated Fat 6.9g43%
* Percent Daily Values are based on a 2000 calorie diet.