The Most Underrated Barba: Barbacoa

By and large, I’ve been impressed with the meat selection at Costco. We hit the bigtime here in Syracuse (more specifically, Camillus) in fall 2014 with the opening of our very own discount warehouse of goodness. I like their chicken thighs, had success with their beef briskets and pork shoulders, and made tortas with the sirloin flap steaks from a recent trip.

I’ve long been disenfranchised with Wegmans’ meat. It’s average quality at higher than average prices, and the company’s insistence on organic has driven out shelf space for some products (for instance, ground lamb and pork shoulders of less than 5 lbs.). If all were right in the world, I would buy my meat exclusively from a place like Side Hill Farmers, but that’s impractical living across town. So, I try to do as much as I can at Nichols since they have in-store butchers and everything is packed right there. If I’m going to going to buy meat in large quantities to use and freeze, which is now a possibility with my Foodsaver, I certainly will not do so at Wegmans. I’m more apt to do that at Costco.

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Costco puts an emphasis on the quality of their meats, but so does everyone else: Wegmans, Nichols, Wal-Mart, among them. It’s the balance of price and quality. Check out this 2013 piece from Beef, which focuses on the warehouse store’s quality/value equation:

The reason is simple. Costco’s beef program offers beef of outstanding quality at the lowest possible price. As with its other merchandise, Costco adds only 13% to what it pays for its beef. The result is that Costco offers incredible value (quality vs. price) in its meat cases, which also include fresh pork and lamb.

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So, controlled markup and quality product. It makes a lot of sense, particularly when you are comparing apples to apples. Or chuck roast to chuck roast. Speaking of which, I picked up 5 lbs. of chuck roast for about $4.50 per pound and put half of it into motion for a batch of slow-cooker barbacoa.

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WHAT WORKED: The ancho pepper sauce combined with the beer brings two flavors together as the cooking liquid. Ancho chilies have heat, but the most important thing they do is add a deep smoky and earthy flavor. I used a Dogfish Head 75-Minute IPA, which is an exceptional IPA made with maple syrup and one of my favorite DFH beers. The beer leaves a residual hoppy flavor that enhances the peppers.

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WHAT DIDN’T: When using your slow cooker, one must keep two things in mind: 1) The cooking insert is very hot. 2) After removing the cooking insert, remember that the metal lining of the cooker is very, very hot.

EASE OF PREPARATION: Medium

BEST FOR: A cook-ahead dinner or if you have time on a weekend day to get something going.

SERVE WITH: Tortillas and black beans for tacos or burritos, or cilantro-lime rice for something tortilla free.

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Barbacoa
  • 7 dried ancho chilies, stemmed, seeded and torn into pieces
  • 4 cloves garlic, peeled
  • 1 1/2 cups chicken broth
  • 1 tbsp. dried oregano
  • 1 tbsp. ground cumin
  • 1 tbsp. coriander seed
  • kosher salt
  • 2 tbsp. vegetable oil
  • 2 lbs. chuck roast
  • 22 oz. pale ale or India pale ale
  • 3/4 of 1 medium white onion, sliced

Add ancho chili pieces, garlic and coriander to a saute pan over medium heat. Toss together then flatten out in the pan into a single layer. Cook 5 to 10 minutes, or until the peppers become overpoweringly fragrant. Gently add broth to the pan and turn off the burner. Let the ingredients soak for 10 minutes. This is a good opportunity to set up your slow cooker and blender.

Bring your blender pitcher to your sink and gently pour in the contents of the saute pan, followed by the cumin and oregano. Add two three-finger pinches of salt, and puree until the contents of the blender take on a dark red color and the puree is smooth. Set aside.

Don't wash the saute pan! Put it back on the stove, this time over medium-high heat. Add the vegetable oil and bring it to a shimmer. Add the check roast to the pan and sear 2 to 3 minutes each side. Transfer the steak and any accumulated juices to the slow cooker. Add the onions to the pan and cook 10 minutes, or until they are golden but not totally browned. With about a minute to go in cooking the onions, add a dash of beer to the pan and use a wooden spoon to scrape up any browned-on bits. Transfer this mixture to the slow cooker as well.

Pour the ancho chili sauce over the top of the beef and onions, followed by the remainder of the beer (pour this slowly do it doesn't froth up too much.

Place the lid on the slow cooker and cook on either the 6- or 8-hour setting (your preference...I used the 6-hour).

Remove the meat from slow cooker and set on a clean, contained work surface like a lipped baking sheet.

Set a fine mesh strainer over a mixing bowl and strain the solids from the remaining cooking liquid. Discard the solid matter and set the liquid aside.

Shred the beef using two large forks. If necessary, employ a sharp chef's knife to cutaway and remaining large chunks of fat. Return the shredded meat to the liquid. Serve immediately with a slotted spoon.

OR, do what I did. Transfer everything to a plastic container and refrigerate overnight. Then, when you are ready to eat, preheat your oven to 350 degrees. Add the barbacoa to a 9x13 baking dish and reheat in the oven 20 minutes.

By Jared Paventi

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