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An incredibly delicious recipe for Barbacoa, resulting in the most flavorful, meltingly tender, fall-off-the-bone meat. Make it with beef or lamb and slow-roast it in your oven, use a slow cooker or your Instant Pot. Video.
Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. – Martin Luther King Jr
Here’s another recipe from our recent trip to Oaxaca, Mexico – tender, flavorful Barbacoa! This Oaxacan version has a secret ingredient that we learned about, we believe elevates this classic Mexican dish, even further!
But first, What is Barbacoa?
Barbacoa if unfamiliar is a traditional Mexican dish made with beef, lamb or goat, cooked low and slow for hours over an underground fire, until meltingly tender and succulent. Typically larger, tougher cuts of meat are saved for this slow-cooking process, which transforms them into tender, flavorful morsels.
We’ve created what we think is the best barbacoa recipe that can be baked in the oven, cooked quickly in your instant pot or cooked low and slow in a slow cooker. The rich and flavorful marinade made of dried smoky chilies and aromatics, and a secret ingredient (oranges!) renders the meat tender, juicy and falling off the bone.
Instant Pot Barbacoa | 60-Sec Video
Why you’ll love this Barbacoa recipe
- The secret ingredient. What makes this Barbacoa recipe so flavorful and tender is the Barbacao marinade; fresh orange juice is the secret ingredient that tenderizes the meat even further- a little something we learned while down in Oaxaca, Mexico.
- It’s Adaptable! Use beef or lamb, use a whole roast or smaller pieces. Use your oven and slow roast it, or make it in your slow cooker or an instant pot.
- Great for meal prep. It’s the perfect recipe for Sundays when time is ample. Use the flavorful barbacoa meat during the week for tacos, quesadillas, burrito bowls, enchiladas and burritos, or freeze leftovers for another time.
This week I’m partnering with American Lamb, to create a flavorful lamb recipe, to kick off Cinco De Mayo Season. For those of you who are new to cooking a lamb roast, think of it the same way you would a beef roast or pot roast. For example, swapping out lamb shoulder or for beef chuck roast is a simple way to take the recipes you already make and another layer of flavor, richness and complexity. In this recipe I’m using local and sustainably raised, bone-in lamb shoulder.
What Kind of meat is Barbacoa Made of?
- Lamb– lamb shoulder ( pictured here), lamb leg, lamb roast or lamb stew meat.
- Beef: beef chuck roast, beef brisket, beef shoulder, beef stew meat
- Goat: Shoulder or leg
Barbacoa Marinade Ingredients
- Chilies: Dried chilies -ancho chillies, chipotles, guajillo chilies or chili negros. Canned chipotle peppers plus 2-3 tablespoons of the adobo sauce ( you can always add more at the end of cooking if not sure)
- Fresh garlic
- Stock: beef broth or beef stock or chicken stock, or use bouillon cube and water
- Fresh Orange (or sub fresh lime juice)
- Spices: cumin, coriander, chili powders, oregano, cinnamon, ground cloves – use ground spices, or toast whole seeds and grind for maximum flavor.
- Apple cider vinegar, or white vinegar
- kosher salt and black pepper
Step one: Season your roast with salt and pepper, scoring the fat. Brown the roast really well on all sides to seal in those flavorful juices and to create a delicious crust.
Step Two: Make the flavorful Barbacoa Marinade!
Dried ancho chilies, chipotles, orange juice, garlic and broth all get blended to make the flavorful lamb barbacoa marinade.
Step three: Assemble the roast. Create a base for the Barbacoa with sliced onion and orange.
Nestle the seared roast overtop and add a few bay leaves.
Pour the Barbacoa Marinade over coating all sides.
Step four: Bake! Cover tightly with a lid and place on the middle rack of 325 F oven. Check after 3 hours. Continue cooking until the roast is very tender.
The Barbacoa will be done when the meat easily pulls apart with a fork. This took roughly 4 hours with this bone-in roast.
Step Five: Let cool. Shred beef discarding any fat. Place in an oven-proof serving dish and strain some of the barbacoa marinade to pour over the roast, keeping it nice and juicy.
Taste the Barbacoa and adjust salt and spice level. You can always add more chipotle “juice” for extra heat. If the barbacoa tastes bland to you, it most likely needs more salt. You want it just slightly salty to hold up to the tortillas. Place it back in the oven until ready to serve.
Store leftovers in an airtight container, in the fridge for up to 4 days or store in the freezer for 6 months. To reheat, bake covered at 350F until warmed all the way through (140F), microwave, or heat up in a large skillet over medium heat.
Ways to Use Barbacoa
- Use as a filling in enchiladas, burritos, tacos, or quesadillas.
- Create Burrito bowls with cilantro lime rice and pinot beans, tomatoes, cilantro, salsa or hot sauce, avocado, cheese and sour cream.
- Add to salads or make a delicious taco salad!
Can Barbacoa be made in a slow cooker?
Barbacoa can easily be made in a slow cooker. Cut the meat into 2-inch pieces (trimming off the fat), season with salt, mix with the marinade, and slow cook on low heat for 7-9 hrs. You can cook a whole roast in a slow cooker on high heat for 5-6 hours or until tender, depending on the size of the roast.
Instant Pot Barbacoa!
More often now, I use my handy dandy instant pot to make this Barbacoa recipe. It’s fast and easy with very easy clean up. See the recipe notes for instructions!
What to serve with Barbacoa
- Tortillas – corn tortillas or flour tortillas or homemade tortillas
- Mexican Slaw with Cilantro and Lime
- Cilantro Lime Rice
- Pinto Beans or Mole Black Beans or Refried Beans!
- Pico de Gallo
- Guacamole (three ways!)
- Fermented Hot Sauce – Simple and Delicious!
Enjoy! Let us know what you think of the recipe in the comments below- always appreciated. ❤️
A simple, delicious Oaxacan style Barbacoa Recipe made with lamb or beef in a flavorful Oaxacan marinade. Slow roast it in the oven, use a slow cooker or your instant pot.
- 4 lbs beef or lamb – shoulder roast, chuck roast, or use stew meat (cut into 2-inch pieces)
- 4 teaspoons salt (one teaspoon salt per pound of meat)
- 1 tablespoon pepper
- 1–2 tablespoons olive oil
- one large onion, sliced
- 2 oranges, divided
- 4 bay leaves
- 2–4 dried ancho chilies -or sub other dried chilies like chipotles, guajillo chilies or chili negros.
- 1–2 chipotle peppers (from a can) plus 2–3 tablespoons of the chipotle “juice” ( you can always add more at the end of cooking if not sure)
- 6 cloves garlic
- 2 1/2 cups chicken stock, beef stock, or use bouillon cube and water
- Juice from one orange (or sub 1/4 cup lime juice)
- 2 tablespoons ground cumin (or toast whole seeds and grind)
- 2 tablespoon ground coriander (or toast whole seeds and grind)
- 1 tablespoon chili powder
- 1 tablespoons dried oregano or Mexican epazote
- 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
- 1/4 teaspoon cloves
- 1 tablespoon vinegar (white or apple cider), more to taste
- Preheat oven to 325F. (See note for Slow cooker and Instant Pot)
- Make the marinade. De-stem the dried chilies, break them in half, and discard the seeds ( you don’t need to remove every single one, a few strays are totally OK). Break the chilies apart into smaller pieces and add to the blender (dry) with the remaining marinade ingredients. Blend until smooth, for a full minute.
- Generously season all sides of the meat with salt and pepper.
- Heat a skillet or dutch oven to medium-high heat and add oil. Sear the meat, patiently browning each side to create a deep-colored crust. DO NOT SKIP THIS STEP -it is the secret to sealing in the juices and creating good flavor.
- Once all sides are seared, nestle the seared meat in the dutch oven over a layer of sliced onion and oranges. Add bay leaves. Pour the marinade over top and give a stir to coat.
- Cover tightly and bake in a 325F oven for 3½-4 ½ hours. Bone in roasts may take longer. See notes on timing.
- Barbacoa is done when the meat pulls apart easily with two forks. Pull the meat off the bones and discard any fat. Shred into smaller pieces and place into an oven-proof serving dish.
- Strain 1-2 cups of the marinade and pour over the meat keeping it juicy.
- Taste the barbacoa and adjust salt and heat. If it tastes bland add salt.
- Keep warm in oven until ready to serve. I like to leave this uncovered so the meat gets a little crispy on the top.
Roasts: You can use bone-in lamb shoulder like you see here ( this is a 4 ½ pound bone-in roast). Or for ease and faster cooking, you can have your butcher cut the bone out and roll into a boneless “roast”. Or use a beef shoulder or chuck roast. Cooking times will vary based on weight and cut. Allow 3- 3 1/2 hours for 3-4 lb boneless roast. Allow 4-4 ½ hours for a 5-6 lb bone-in roast. I always plan for an extra hour, just in case.
Stew meat: For faster cooking, you can also use stew meat (cut into 2-inch chunks). Roast in a Dutch Oven until tender, 1-2 hours. Or use in a slow cooker or Instant pot ( 50-55 minutes)
Instant Pot: Make the marinade. De-stem the dried chilies, break them in half, and discard the seeds (you don’t need to remove every single one, a few strays are totally OK). Break the chilies apart into smaller pieces and add to the blender (dry) with the remaining marinade ingredients. Blend until smooth, for a full minute. Brown the meat. Season the whole roast with salt and pepper. Set Instant Pot to saute function. Add oil and sear both sides until deeply golden. Set the roast aside, or scoot aside, add ½ cup broth, scraping up any browned bits– this will prevent burn notice. Slice the onion and other orange and add these to the instant pot. Place the roast over top. Pour the marinade over top.. If needed, add a little more water to get the liquid to almost the top of the roast. Tuck in the bay leaves. Set to pressure cook on high heat for 80 minutes. (20 minutes per pound of meat) Naturally release. Shred with two forks, Adjust salt, vinegar and heat to taste. Place on a platter, straining some of the cooking liquid and pour over the top to keep it juicy. Garnish with cilantro, lime wedges.
Slow Cooker: You can also cook this in a slow cooker using stew meat (cut into 2-inch chunks). Season meat with salt and pepper mix, add the marinade, place in the slow cooker for 6-8 hours on low heat.
Epazote is a Mexican herb that really bumps up the flavor and authenticity of this recipe. It can sometimes be found at Mexican Markets. Or try growing it from seed!
- Serving Size:
- Calories: 351
- Sugar: 2.1 g
- Sodium: 756.8 mg
- Fat: 16.2 g
- Saturated Fat: 5.2 g
- Carbohydrates: 8.9 g
- Fiber: 2.8 g
- Protein: 40.5 g
- Cholesterol: 131 mg
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