Inspired by the traditional Mexican slow-cooked dish, this Beef Barbacoa Tacos recipe is the perfect blend of smoky, spicy, and tangy flavors. It will transform your taco night into an unforgettable culinary experience.
Follow along as we share the secrets to creating these incredibly tasty tacos, complete with juicy, melt-in-your-mouth beef barbacoa and an assortment of delicious toppings that complement each other to perfection. Get ready to elevate your taco game and indulge in the rich, complex flavors of this beloved Mexican classic!
I’ve been noodling on making Beef Barbacoa Tacos for some time, and my dad’s 80th birthday seemed like the appropriate celebration.
what is barbacoa?
The history of Barbacoa is quite different from our modern-day translation of the recipe.
Barbacoa actually originated in the Caribbean, and it refers to a method of cooking whereby meat wrapped with garlic, onion, and cilantro is buried in a hole in which wood has been burned down to charcoal. The hole is then covered with dirt or sand, and then another fire is built on top. It takes a good 12-14 hours to cook the meat.
Fast forward, and today, beef barbacoa is a traditional Mexican dish that involves slow-cooking seasoned beef until it is tender and easily shredded. It is typically served in tacos, burritos, or alongside rice and beans.
Fun fact for the day: the term ‘barbecue’ is derived from ‘barbacoa.’
While the Beef Barbacoa Tacos on their own were outstanding, I have to say that the pickled red onions took the whole dish over the top. The combination of the subtly spiced beef with the crisp and brightly flavored onions is perfection.
what cut of beef should I use for beef barbacoa tacos?
For the most tender and flavorful beef barbacoa, it is recommended to use a well-marbled cut such as chuck roast or beef brisket.
can I make beef barbacoa in a slow cooker or instant pot?
Yes! You can make this recipe in a slow cooker or instant pot. Follow the directions through step 5 in the recipe.
For slow cooker step #6, add all ingredients to your crockpot and cook on low for 6-8 hours or on high for 3-4 hours.
For an Instant Pot at step #6, add all ingredients to your insert and pressure cook for 1 hour, then quickly release the pressure.
how long does it take to cook beef barbacoa?
The cooking time for beef barbacoa varies depending on the method used. In a slow cooker, it takes about 6-8 hours on low or 4-6 hours on high. In an Instant Pot, it takes about 50-60 minutes on high pressure, followed by a 15-minute natural release.
what toppings go well with beef barbacoa tacos?
Traditional and delicious toppings for beef barbacoa tacos include diced onions, pickled red onions, fresh cilantro, crumbled cotija cheese, sliced avocado, lime wedges, and your choice of salsa.
can I freeze beef barbacoa for later use?
Yes, beef barbacoa freezes well. Allow the cooked meat to cool, then place it in an airtight container or freezer bag. It can be stored in the freezer for up to 3 months. When ready to serve, defrost it in the refrigerator and reheat it on the stovetop or in the microwave.
how can I adjust the spiciness of the beef barbacoa?
The spiciness of beef barbacoa can be adjusted by modifying the amount of chipotle peppers in the adobo sauce used in the recipe. Add more for a spicier dish, or use less for a milder flavor.
ingredients for these beef barbacoa tacos
- Chuck roast: This well-marbled cut of beef is ideal for slow cooking. It will become tender and flavorful as it cooks. Cutting it into 2″ chunks helps it cook evenly and makes it easier to shred later.
- Oil: The oil is used for searing the beef chunks and helps create a nice crust. You can use vegetable oil, canola oil, or another neutral-tasting oil with a high smoke point.
- New Mexico or Guajillo chiles: These dried chiles add a deep, earthy flavor to the dish. New Mexico chiles are mildly spicy, while Guajillo chiles have a slightly sweeter taste. You can use either or a combination of both, depending on your preference.
- Chicken broth: The chicken broth provides a flavorful liquid base for the sauce and helps to tenderize the meat as it cooks. You can use homemade or store-bought broth or substitute with beef broth for a richer flavor.
- Tomato sauce: Tomato sauce adds acidity and depth to the dish. Choose a high-quality, unseasoned tomato sauce for the best results.
- Onion: Sliced onion imparts a mild, sweet flavor to the sauce. Use a yellow or white onion for this recipe.
- Garlic: Crushed garlic cloves bring a robust, savory taste to the dish. Fresh garlic is recommended for the most potent flavor.
- Ground cumin: This earthy, warm spice is a staple in Mexican cuisine and adds complexity to the dish.
- Ground cloves: A small amount of ground cloves brings a subtle, sweet-spicy flavor that complements the other spices in the recipe.
- Dried oregano: Dried oregano adds a slightly bitter, earthy note to the dish. Mexican oregano is preferred, but Mediterranean oregano can be used as a substitute.
- Chipotle chile in adobo: These smoked, dried jalapeños packed in a tangy, spicy sauce add a smoky, spicy kick to the beef barbacoa. Adjust the amount based on your desired level of spiciness.
- Red wine vinegar: Red wine vinegar brings acidity and brightness to the dish, balancing the rich flavors of the beef and spices.
- Juniper berries: Juniper berries add a unique, slightly sweet, and piney flavor to the dish. They can be found in specialty spice shops or online.
- Bay leaves: These aromatic leaves bring a subtle, earthy depth to the dish. However, make sure to remove them before serving, as they are not meant to be consumed.
- Cilantro: Fresh cilantro adds a burst of bright, herbaceous flavor to the tacos. Save some to use as a garnish for the finished dish, and be sure to wash and dry it thoroughly before chopping.
- Choose the right cut of beef. Opt for a well-marbled cut like chuck roast or beef brisket for the most tender and flavorful beef barbacoa.
- Customize the spiciness. Adjust the amount of chipotle peppers in adobo sauce according to your preferred level of spiciness. Add more for a spicier dish, or use fewer peppers for a milder flavor.
- Sear the beef before slow cooking. To add an extra depth of flavor, sear the beef on all sides in a hot skillet before placing it in the Dutch oven, slow cooker, or Instant Pot. This step will create a beautiful crust on the meat and help lock in its natural juices.
- Use fresh toppings. Fresh ingredients like diced onions, avocado, cilantro, and lime wedges can significantly enhance the overall taste of your beef barbacoa tacos. Use high-quality, fresh ingredients for the best results.
- Warm the tortillas. Before assembling your tacos, warm the corn or flour tortillas in a dry skillet or directly over an open flame for a few seconds on each side. This will make them more pliable and add an extra layer of flavor to your tacos.
- Offer a variety of salsas. Provide a selection of salsas with varying spice levels for your guests to choose from. This allows everyone to customize their tacos to their personal preference.
- Cook in bulk and freeze. Beef barbacoa freezes well, so make a larger batch and freeze the leftovers for quick and easy future meals.
- Serve buffet-style. Set up a taco bar with all the toppings, salsas, and tortillas for a fun and interactive dining experience. This also makes it easy for guests to customize their tacos to their liking.
- Pair with complementary side dishes. Serve Margaritas and Mango Habanero Salsa before dinner. Then, round your taco night menu with dishes like Mexican rice, refried beans, or a simple avocado and tomato salad.
- 4-5 pounds chuck roast, cut into 2" chunks
- 3 tablespoons of oil
- 4 New Mexico or Guajillo chiles; stems and seeds removed
- 2 cups chicken broth
- 2 cups tomato sauce
- 1 medium onion, sliced
- 6 medium cloves garlic, crushed
- 2 teaspoons ground cumin
- 1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
- 2 teaspoons dried oregano
- 4 chipotle chile in adobo, with 2 tablespoons adobo sauce
- 1/4 cup red wine vinegar
- 5 juniper berries
- 2 bay leaves
- 1 bunch cilantro
- Preheat oven to 275°F.
- Season beef with salt and pepper.
- Heat oil over high heat in a cast iron or heavy Dutch oven. Add beef in batches(don't crowd the pan) and sear all sides. Remove beef from Dutch oven and set aside.
- While your beef is searing, add dried chiles to a small pot with chicken broth. Bring to a boil, put the lid on the pot, and turn the heat off. Let chiles and broth sit while you prepare the rest of the sauce.
- Saute onion and garlic in 2 tablespoons of oil in the Dutch oven until translucent. Add cumin, cloves, and oregano and saute until fragrant. (at this point, your home will smell unbelievably fantastic!)
- Place chiles and the broth, the tomato sauce, the sauteed onion, garlic, and spice mixture, the chipotles in adobo, and red wine vinegar in a blender. BE CAREFUL to turn your blender on very slowly. Hot stuff in blenders tends to 'explode.'
- Put your beef back in your Dutch oven and pour the sauce over the top. Add juniper berries, cilantro, and bay leaves. Cover and put in the oven for 4 hours.
- At the end of the 4 hours, your meat should be pull-apart tender.
- Remove the meat.
- Pull out juniper berries, cilantro, and bay leaves.
- Defat your sauce and then reduce the sauce by half over medium heat.
- Pour back over your meat.
- I made my barbacoa 2 days ahead of time and then reheated it before serving, but you can make it the day off as well.
- I did not shred my meat; though it was so tender, it did fall apart very easily. I tried to keep some of my chunks a little bigger.
Serve with corn tortillas that have been warmed wrapped in tin foil in a low oven, pickled red onions, Cotija cheese, tomatoes and lettuce.
And, if these tacos sound delicious to you, be sure to check out my chile-braised short-rib tacos for another delicious recipe!
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