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Lamb Barbacoa – a simple delicious recipe hailing from the Oaxacan region of Mexico that results in the most flavorful, juicy, tender, juicy falling off-the-bone lamb- perfect for tacos and burritos!
Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. – Martin Luther King Jr
Here’s another recipe from our recent trip to Oaxaca, Mexico. Lamb shoulder is roasted “low and slow” in the oven in a rich and flavorful marinade made of dried smoky chilies and aromatics, until tender, juicy and falling off the bone. The secret ingredient in this Lamb Barbacoa is fresh orange juice with tenderizes the lamb even further. A little something we learned while in Oaxaca.
It’s the perfect recipe for Sundays, when time is ample. Use the juicy slow-roasted lamb during the week for tacos, burritos and Buddha bowls!
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.
For this recipe I’m using local and sustainably raised, bone-in lamb shoulder. Because local, American lamb doesn’t have to travel as far, the meat itself is fresher than imported lamb. Plus I love supporting our local producers.
Season with salt and pepper, score the fat and brown really well on all sides.
Make the flavorful Marinade!
Dried ancho chilies, chipotles, orange juice, garlic and broth all get blended to make the flavorful lamb barbacoa marinade.
Create a base for the lamb barbacoa with sliced onion and orange.
Nestle the lamb shoulder overtop and add a few bay leaves.
Pour the Lamb Barbacoa marinade over coating all sides.
Cover tightly with a lid and place on the middle rack of 325 F oven. Check after 3 hours. Continue cooking until lamb is tender.
The lamb barbacoa will be done when meat easily pulls apart with a fork. This took 4 hours with this bone in roast.
Pull apart the lamb, discarding any fat. Place in a oven proof serving dish and strain some of the marinade to pour over the lamb, keeping it nice and moist.
Taste the lamb and adjust salt and spice level. You can always add more chipotle “juice” for extra heat. If the salt tastes bland, it most likely needs salt.
Place it back in the oven until ready to serve.
Serve the lamb Barbacoa with warm tortillas, a fresh cabbage slaw, hot sauce, cilantro and onions.
Related : Cinco De Mayo Recipes!Print
- Prep Time: 30 mins
- Cook Time: 4 hours
- Total Time: 4 hours 30 minutes
- Yield: 8-10 1x
- Category: Main
- Method: roasted
- Cuisine: Mexican
Mexican Lamb Barbacoa – a simple delicious recipe from Oaxaca that results in tender, juicy falling off the bone lamb perfect for tacos and burritos!
- 3 –5 lb lamb shoulder ( bone-in or boneless, see notes)
- 1 tablespoon salt
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- one large onion, sliced
- one orange, sliced
- 3 bay leaves
- 2–4 dried ancho chilies -or sub dried chipotles, guajillo chilies ( milder) or chili negros- stems removed, seeds removed. No need to rehydrate.
- 1 chipotle pepper (from a can) plus 2–3 tablespoons of the chipotle “juice” ( you can always add more at the end of cooking if not sure)
- 4–6 cloves garlic
- 2 cups chicken or beef broth or water
- Juice from one orange
- 2 tablespoons cumin ( see notes)
- 2 tablespoon coriander ( see notes)
- 1 tablespoon chili powder
- 2 tablespoons dried oregano or Mexican epazote
- 2 teaspoons salt
- 1 teaspoon cinnamon
- 1 tablespoon vinegar ( white or apple cider)
- 1 tablespoons brown sugar or honey or maple
Preheat oven to 325F.
Score the fat on the lamb (see photos) Generously season all sides of the lamb shoulder with salt. Set on counter while you make the marinade.
To 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 OK). Break the chilies apart into smaller pieces and add to the blender ( dry) with the remaining ingredients. Blend until very smooth, for a full minute.
Heat a skillet or dutch oven to medium-high heat and add oil. Sear the salted lamb shoulder, 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 flavor!)
Once all sides are seared, place lamb shoulder in the dutch oven. Nestle the onion and orange slices all around it along with bay leaves. Pour the marinade over top and shake the pan to get the marinade to the bottom.
Cover tightly and bake in a 325F oven for 3½-4 ½ hours. See notes on timing!
Roast is done when meat pulls apart easily. Pull the meat off the bones and discard any fat. Tear 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 moist. Taste the lamb 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. Garnish with onions and cilantro if you like.
You can use bone-in lamb shoulder like you see here ( this is a 4 ½ pound bone-in roast). For ease and faster cooking, you can have your butcher cut the bone out and roll into a boneless “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.
Feel free to toast whole cumin and coriander seeds, then crush, for enhanced flavor.
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
Keywords: lamb shoulder recipes, lamb barbacoa, barbcoa recipes, how to make barbacoa, lamb barbacoa recipes, authentic barbacoa,
Hi. I was looking to smoke the lamb first for a few hours (maybe 3 hrs at 250) to catch some smoke flavoring. Then put in dish with marinade, cover and cook as stated in recipe. Do you think the smoke will add to flavoring, and combining cooking methods still come out tender to be able to shred meat?
Hi Chris, I think that sounds really tasty, and just guessing, but should turn out great.
Delicious! Used a lamb saddle (bones in)which I was gifted and had no idea what to do with. Put it in a slow cooker with this recipe and wow!
Glad you enjoyed this!
I seared the lamb and put it in the slow cooker for 3 hours on high and 4 hours on low, it was soooo tender and flavorful!!! Tacos and burritos were amazing, guest couldn’t get enough!!! Hoping to repeat with same results soon!!!
That is awesome Mark! So happy you all enjoyed!
Fantastic recipe, I first made it about two years ago and now I do it 3-4 years because it’s so delicious and comforting! I serve it as tacos with an avocado and lime crema and pickled red onions in flour tortillas.
So happy you like this Taylor! Thanks for rating it!
Hi – does this pick up heat from the chillies? Cooking for families and wondering if I need to do something else for the kids…
Hi Steven- this is moderately spicy. To cut this back- skip the chipotle pepper and just use the sauce from the can and maybe instead of anchos use 2 milder guajillo chilies. You can always add spice after cooking if you want it hotter- w/ ground chipotle or cayenne.
An amazing result. We did a lamb leg and it was like pulled lamb — delicious.
Awesome Bruce! Great to hear!
But did Irene (Mrs. B) like it?
Today is my third time cooking this, today for our NYE celebration with the in laws. It’s easy to prep and looks after itself while you go about your day…. One of my family’s faves! Not easy to find all the chillis in the Uk but have used dried ancho flakes and chipotle paste in the marinade.
Great to hear!
Can I cook this in the slow cooker?
Hi Laura- sadly, I’m not a slow-cooker expert. I’m sure it can be done, but not sure about timing.
I love this recipe. I’ve made it with lamb, beef, pork and chicken. It’s delicious and easy to make.
I’m so glad you enjoyed this Warren!
Made this with the lamb, and then did it again with beef short rib. Both turned out incredible. Great recipe!
Great to hear Sol!
Delicious! Loved the pairing of the orange flavour with the lamb, an absolute hit. Looking forward to making it again!
Thank you so much for this wonderful recipe. I’ve now made it three times, and it never fails. Great for having guests over because you can do it all beforehand and just reheat the meat. No stress at all and maximum impact! Kind regards from London 🇬🇧
Great to hear Sam! Appreciate this!
Hey I want to try this on the weekend. I can get dried ancho and chipotle but I can’t find New Mexico red chilli powder….what would be a good alternative for this? I hear it’s fairly mild?! Thanks
Yes,mild, just use chili powder. 🙂
Does it matter if the meat isn’t completely covered with liquid?
No it doesn’t matter. 🙂
I could not find a lamb shoulder this small so I have about 8 lbs in the oven right now. Is it okay to use other lamb cuts instead as this was rather challenging. Cutting it off huge bones to even fit in the oven and pan.
Yes absolutely! You can use lamb leg, or even lamb stew meat (shorten cooking time).
You don’t rehydrate the ancho chiles before blending?
No need here, blend them dry, they will hydrate while braising.
I just made this with a boneless leg of lamb. Cooked as directed. Unbelievable tenderness and flavor. The cooked oranges are delicious too.
Wow. Stunning. Made for tacos for guests and they were so impressed, they helped themselves to leftovers the next day! An excellent (and not time consuming) meal for lots of people, the gluten intolerant and flavors improve over time. A repertoire-must-have recipe
Excellent recipe. Made it using a leg of hogget (UK term for sheep that is between 12 month and 24 months, older that it is mutton.)
The spice marinade with Mexican chillis is great and the cooked orange is a delicious contrast to the unctuous meat.
Will certainly make this again.
Thanks so much
Thanks Andrew- great to hear!
Hi, did you cook the leg of lamb the same way she prepared the shoulder? I have a large bone-in leg I want to use!
Trying this out on my Weber grill with a little smoke. I will cover tightly with foil after a few hours after it takes on a little smoke!
Definitely thinking about cooking up the agua-chile and the lamb roast here soon.
I just read all of the comments, and mine are totally consistent with the best of them. Delicious. I’m making it again tomorrow for Christmas.
I’m curious about adding additional ‘depth’, but not heat, to the marinade. I can’t figure out what ingredient to add or add more of. It definitely makes a rich sauce as-is, but I’m wondering if adding something like chocolate or cocoa powder, or ??? would deepen it a bit more. Do you, or other readers have any suggestions?
Hi Scott you could absolutely try that…or a little soy sauce?
Hi Silvia — not sure if you will see this, but there are a lot of similarities between this recipe and J. Kenji’s carne asada recipe on SeriousEats. He had a similar question of how to achieve a deeper flavor in the marinade. His answer was fish sauce, not much at all. I’m making this for the first time in a couple days and I’m going to add in half a tablespoon. All of the fishy elements blend in with the chilis and spices so there’s really no noticeable fish taste, just more powerful umami flavor. You could also try worcestershire.
Fish sauce sounds like a great answer! Give it a go!
I’m looking forward to make this dish for Xmas Eve. I wonder if I can marinate the lamb overnight or is it better to cook it on the day?
Feel free to marinate overnight!
Thanks for this awesome recipe – made it twice before and was a huge hit. About to make it this weekend but going to try with some other lamb cuts I have in the freezer – lamb shank and lamb neck. Think that will still work? Thank you!!
The shank should be fine…not sure about the neck? Give it a try!
Wow don’t normally comment on recipes, however, this one turned out exceptional! Added a few different chili’s along with a lot of green chilis and can’t believe the flavors we got out of this. Glad I stumbled on your site and look forward to trying out a lot more.
Thanks Andy- glad you enjoyed.