Sunday dinner: Barbacoa

My first encounter with barbacoa was at the place where most people first try it: Chipotle. The national chain offers barbacoa as a braised alternative to grilled steak. J. Kenji Lopez-Alt from Serious Eats describes it as such in an intro to his recipe:


With traditional barbacoa, the meat is likely to be cooked in a relatively bland broth, then subsequently removed, gently pulled, and mixed with a salsa or other seasonings. The broth can then be served as a hot soup to accompany the meal. But what we’re making here is a delicious beast unto itself: in our version the broth is what adds flavor to the meat, not the other way around. This means starting with a flavor packed base, and using much, much less of it so that its flavor is concentrated.

I was looking for something in between.

The basic ingredient list for homemade barbacoa is simple: chuck roast or steak, chipotles in adobo sauce, cider vinegar, cilantro, citrus juice and broth. Since I was feeding The Wife, I knocked out the peppers and increased my proportions of other ingredients.

Preparing barbacoa is about the slow process of braising, which meant one of two methods: oven or slow cooker. I was hoping to keep the heat of the house low and didn’t want to run the oven for multiple hours, so I opted for the kitchen electric that I revile so greatly.

All in all, this took nine hours from start to shredding.

WHAT WORKED: This recipe is an amalgam of four different barbacoa recipes that I found online. There was a lot of crossover, but the central components are similar. Anyhow, in this case, the slow cooker was what worked best. The chuck steak needed a good, long roast and my kitchen wasn’t hotter than the rest of the house.

WHAT DIDN’T: I should have worked a little chipotle in adobo in. The product was tasty, but could have used a little bit of heat.

WHAT DID THE MOTHER-IN-LAW SAY: “Good. This is different. I don’t usually eat things like this.”

WHAT DID THE WIFE SAY: “You should come over for dinner more. We eat like this regularly.”

WILL THIS MAKE ANOTHER APPEARANCE: Very likely. I like braising during the winter and this will make a nice alternative in the dead of January.

Slow cooker barbacoa
By Jared Paventi

  • 1/2 bunch cilantro, finely chopped
  • 1/2 red onion, chopped into large chunks
  • 1/2 head of garlic, chopped
  • 4 bay leaves
  • 2 tsp. ground cloves
  • 1 tbsp. kosher salt
  • Juice of 2 limes
  • Juice and pulp of one large orange
  • 1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
  • 2-3 lb. chuck roast
  • chicken or beef stock

In the bowl of the slow cooker, combine the cilantro, onion, garlic, bay leaves, cloves, salt, lime juice, orange and vinegar. Stir until well combined. Set the meat on top (you may need to cut the meat so it fits in the slow cooker). Add stock until the meat is submerged.

Cover the pot and set the slow cooker on the setting four hours or HIGH. Once finished, turn cooker off, then back on to eight hours or WARM. Cook at least six or up to eight hours.

With a slotted spoon, transfer the meat to a rimmed baking sheet. Using two forks, shred the meat until it is all pulled apart. Put in a bowl and top with some of the broth (I used a ladle and mesh strainer, then tossed in some of the onions and orange pulp for good measure).