Mexican Barbacoa and Traditional Mexican

The word “barbacoa” is Mexican in origin and refers to a whole animal or a cut of meat cooked slowly over an open fire. Traditionally a barbacoa referred to a fire pit dug into the ground but today it can mean any kind of barbecued or even steamed meat.

Slow-cooked cow head, or “barbacoa de cabeza” is a famous Mexican food in the north of the country. Most Mexican barbacoa recipes do not use marinades or sauces while the meat is cooking, although sometimes a sauce is added when the meat is ready.

In pre-Mexican times, fish, turkey, beans and game were cooked over open fire pits for many hours. The Spanish introduced sheep, goats, pigs, chickens and cattle, and these were cooked in the same way.

Barbacoa in the United States

A barbacoa is usually made with cow head parts, such as cheeks, in the United States. Goat meat is more common in northern Mexico and pork is popular in the Yucatan region. In central Mexico, lamb is the most popular choice for barbacoa.

Recipe for Beef Barbacoa

This is a South Texas style recipe, since a chuck roast is used rather than a cow head or cow cheeks. The combination of chili, oregano, garlic and black pepper enhances the flavor of the meat and the slow cooking makes the beef so tender it literally falls off the bone.

Transferring the beef from the hot oven into a paper grocery bag mimics the traditional barbacoa effect, in that steam and heat work together to make the beef tender and delicious.

You will need:

  • 3 lbs bone-in chuck roast
  • 1 tablespoons dried oregano
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons black pepper
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons garlic powder
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons chili powder

How to make it:

Combine the oregano, pepper, garlic, salt and chili powder and rub the mixture all over the chuck roast. Put some soaked wood chips close to the heating element of a water smoker, then put three quarts of boiling water in the water pan. Smoke the beef between 225 and 275 degrees F for four hours, checking the water level in the smoker halfway through the cooking time and topping it up if necessary.

The beef should have an internal temperature of between 160 and 170 degrees F when it is ready. Put the chuck roast in a baking pan and seal aluminum foil over the top. Bake it for an hour and forty five minutes at 325 degrees F, then take the foil-wrapped package out of the oven and put it in a big paper grocery bag or two overlapping medium ones.

Fold the bag over to make a seal, and then leave the beef in there for forty five minutes. Take the meat out of the roasting pan and shred it into small pieces. Serve with hot flour tortillas, salsa and guacamole.