This traditional Mexican beef barbacoa meat is flavor-packed and perfect for tacos! Using minimal ingredients with minimal effort, these barbacoa tacos / tacos de barbacoa are naturally gluten-free. Perfect for serving a large crowd or meal prep! (No need for a crock pot either!)
Mexican Barbacoa can seem like it would use lots of difficult to find and unique ingredients. However, you probably already have everything you need for this beef barbacoa recipe in your pantry and fridge!
Stewed beef meat cooks in a delicious sauce for a little over an hour. My favorite part? Stew meat is usually a lot cheaper in grocery stores, making this meal even better for large groups or even meal-prepping.
While I used this beef barbacoa for tacos, the meat is great in enchiladas or a DIY burrito bowl. I heat up the leftovers the next day with some brown rice and peppers for an easy lunch!
So when I first planned on making these slow-cooked beef barbacoa tacos I thought I had a Slow Cooker hiding in my kitchen cabinet. Thanks to my oddly shaped cabinets that were way too deep, I actually had a Rice Cooker! I'd already seasoned the stew meat to be cooked, so I quickly decided to use the same ingredients but in a pot on the stove.
Eating clean for the past five years, my favorite recipes were those that use simple, fresh ingredients. I’m a huge proponent of making easy dishes that don’t skimp out on taste. For lunch & dinner recipes like this one, I prefer only a few ingredients that pack huge flavor. For other simple, delicious taco dishes like Cauliflower Tacos Al Pastor or Seared Ahi Tuna Tacos & Cabbage-Carrot Slaw.
Highlights of this Recipe
This recipe is:
- Meal Prep & Large Crowd Friendly
- Gluten Free
- Dairy Free
What is Barbacoa?
Barbacoa is a traditional Mexican preparation of beef, lamb or goat that is cooked until juicy and tender. In the United States most often barbacoa meat is beef.
In the Mexican preparation, a huge oven is dug underground. Then wood is at the bottom and a large pot of water, vegetables and herbs on top. The meat is placed inside. The result is a tender, juicy cooked meat with a thickened soupy texture.
An authentic barbacoa recipe changes based on the region. Depending on the area of Mexico, vegetables, herbs and spices are different from fresh to dried chiles or even vinegars. Sometimes the meat is wrapped in maguey leaves (a member of the agave family) or even banana leaves.
Ingredients & Substitutions
- Beef - Use chuck roast, beef brisket or even beef stew meat.
- Red Enchilada Sauce - Store bought enchilada sauce is best for this recipe!
- Water or Beef Broth - Beef broth adds a heavier, but more intense flavor.
- Orange Juice - Preference is to juice fresh oranges, but substitute for store bought orange juice.
- Lime Juice - Use fresh limes or substitute for equal amounts of white wine vinegar.
- White Onion
TIP! Most authentic Mexican barbacoa recipes use dried chilies. To substitute and reduce time and effort for this recipe, I substitute for enchilada sauce.
Barbacoa Seasoning / Spice Mix
- Garlic Salt - Substitute for regular salt.
- Chili Powder
- Dried Oregano - Use Mexican dried oregano if possible.
What type of Meat to Use for Barbacoa
For the best stew (or meat cooked over a long period of time like barbacoa), you want to use a more collagen-rich beef. This is a tougher, stronger cut of meat. It requires cooking for a longer time and then transforms to the moist and tender texture we know as the softer stew meats.
Choose a cut of meat like:
- Beef Chuck Roast
- Beef Brisket
- Stew Meat
Avoid low-collagen, tender meats like tenderloin or thin steaks like flank. These types of meats will become dry and tough after cooking for a long time.
STEP ONE: Season the beef and brown all sides of the meat.
STEP TWO: Cook garlic and onion in the pot.
STEP THREE: Add in barbacoa beef and final ingredients.
STEP FOUR: Simmer for 1.5-hours.
STEP FIVE: Shred the beef and cook in the sauce for additional 5-15 minutes to thicken and soak up flavor.
STEP SIX: Enjoy in a warm corn tortilla topped with freshly squeezed limes.
Best Toppings for Beef Barbacoa Tacos / Tacos de Barbacoa
- Fresh cilantro
- Diced tomato or pico de gallo
- Diced red onion or pickled onion
- Lime wedges
- Avocado Lime Crema or Sour Cream
- Cotija Cheese
- Thin sliced radishes
Frequently Asked Questions
Mexican barbacoa is typically goat, beef, or lamb. In the United States it’s more common to have beef barbacoa than the others.
Barbacoa meat is like shredded beef with an enchilada type red sauce surrounding it. The meat is tender and juicy with little to no spice.
Yes! If your grocer has prepared and cut stew meat then definitely use that in this barbacoa recipe.
Carnitas are the Mexican version of pulled pork and only pork. Barbacoa is the method of meat being slow cooked until tender and then shredded. Barbacoa can be goat, beef or lamb.
Leftover Barbacoa Recipes
Looking for what to do with extra barbacoa?
- Add to quinoa for a Mexican Breakfast Bowl
- Pair with Mexican Avocado Salad
- Use in Enchiladas
- Meal Prep Burrito Bowls for the week
More Taco Recipes
- Seared Ahi Tuna Tacos & Cabbage-Carrot Slaw
- Easy Grilled Swordfish Tacos
- Vegan Cauliflower Tacos Al Pastor
- Fried Tilapia Tacos with Kale-Carrot Slaw
Slow-Cooked Beef Barbacoa Tacos
- 2.5 LB Chuck Roast
- 2 TBSP Avocado Oil (or other neutral oil)
- ½ White Onion (diced)
- 4 Garlic Cloves (minced)
- ¾ Cup orange juice, freshly squeezed (3 oranges or substitute for storebought juice)
- ¼ Cup Lime Juice (3 limes)
- 1 Cup Red Enchilada Sauce
- 2 Cups Water or Beef Broth
- 12 Corn Tortillas
- 2 TSP Garlic Salt
- 2 TSP Paprika
- 2 TSP Cumin
- 2 TSP Chili Powder
- 2 TSP Dried Oregano
Stew the Beef Meat
- Cut the chuck roast into even 1 inch cubes. Remove as much of the fat as possible.
- Pour spice mix onto large cubes of beef and make sure beef is evenly coated. (You can use a large baking dish)
- Heat 2 TBSP avocado oil in a large pot on the stove over medium heat. Sear the beef cubes until all sides are browned. Make sure to sear in groups so as to not overcrowd the pot. If you notice the bottom of the pot gets dry, add some more oil. Once all pieces are browned, place beef on a plate or in a bowl to the side.
- In the same pot (keep the browned bits), add diced onion and cook for 2-3 minutes. You can add oil if the pot is a bit dry. Turn down the heat to medium.
- Stir in the minced garlic.
- Pour in orange juice and lime juice and scrape the browned bits of the pan while mixing together.
- Add the enchilada sauce and water to the pot.
- Add the cooked beef meat and all of the juices back into the pot. Stir to make sure it is completely mixed together.
- Bring heat back up to medium-high until liquid is boiling.
- Place the lid on the pot and turn down the heat to a low simmer.
- Simmer for 1 hour and 15 minutes. Stir the liquid and meat around 1-hour into the simmer.
- After simmering for 1 hour and 15 minutes, your meat should be super tender. If you press the meat with a wooden spoon, it should break apart into pieces.
- While keeping the sauce simmering, remove the beef cubes using tongs and into a prep bowl. Take two forks and shred the beef chunks. If there are any pieces of fat that didn’t cook off, you can remove it from the beef.
- Raise heat to medium-high, add the shredded beef back to the pot. Cook for 5-10 minutes, letting the sauce thicken up and the beef soak up the sauces.
Build the Tacos
- Heat corn tortillas over the open flame, about 30-seconds each side. Alternatively, heat up in the oven under the broiler or microwave in a damp paper towel.
- Generously add the barbacoa beef to the tortilla.
- Add garnishes of pickled red onions, jalapeño, cilantro or avocado slices.
- Serve warm