Slow cooker Barbacoa Beef is tender beef slow cooked with authentic spices for delicious shredded flavorful beef. It can be used in so many ways from barbacoa tacos to adding on salads.
Pass on ordering Chipotle barbacoa and make this delicious Mexican food at home. This easy beef barbacoa recipe is effortless in a slow cooker. As it slow cooks the homemade barbacoa becomes incredibly tender and loaded with smoky flavor. This Mexican beef can be used in so many different ways making it a versatile recipe for serving groups, meal prepping, freezing ahead and more.
What makes this skinny?
There is no vegetable oil or fats used in the preparation of this slow cooker barbacoa recipe.
Though beef has more calories than leaner proteins, the robust flavorful meat is filling, perfect for any Mexican recipes and more. A ½-cup portion is satisfying especially when paired with lots of fresh vegetables on a barbacoa taco or burrito bowl.
What is barbacoa?
This beloved Mexican dish is typically made with long cooking beef combined with earthy spices to create a tender, flavorful shredded beef. Traditional barbacoa is made a pit in the ground covered with leaves (an underground oven effect) where it is allowed to steam for a day. It has been adapted by home cooks for a fast 'slow' cooking method such as our recipe today.
Barbacoa can be made with different types of meat usually tougher cuts of meat that do well with long cooking methods to make them tender. In Mexico it can be made with beef (including beef cheeks,) lamb meat, goat or mutton. In the United States the type of meat is usually made with beef.
The seasoning sets this dish apart. Each home chef has their own version. The value of slow cooking is the sauce behaves like a marinade infusing the meat with delicious flavor as it cooks. It's not necessary to separately marinate the meat.
Our recipe is moderately spicy. The Variations and Pro Tips sections have suggestions if you prefer it less spicy.
Recipe Ingredients Notes
Beef chuck roast. This is a classic cut of beef to make barbacoa in the US. With slow cooking it becomes tender and flavorful. You'll need 3 pounds cut into 7-8 large pieces. Trim any large pieces of fat on the roast.
Chipotle peppers and Adobo sauce. This is a smoky, spicy chile peppers and sauce that provide wonderful earthy flavor. The chilies are canned and the sauce in with them. Use 2-3 chilies and scoop out 1 tablespoon of the sauce from the can. You can find this in the international section of the grocery store.
Note: if gluten-free be sure to check the ingredients. I've run into some brands that include wheat.
How to Make Slow Cooker Barbacoa - Step-by-Step
STEP 1. Make the sauce
In a blender combine beef broth, chipotle chiles, adobo sauce, apple cider vinegar, lime juice, garlic, oregano, cumin, salt, black pepper and cloves. Blend until smooth and pureed.
STEP 2. Cook
Place the beef chunks into the slow cooker (6 quart slow cooker recommended). Pour the sauce over the beef pieces and turn to coat.
Add the bay leaves (submerge them in the sauce)
Cook on low for 8 hours or high for 4-6 hours until the beef is tender. Remove bay leaf.
STEP 3. Shred
Remove the pieces of beef, place on a cutting board and use two forks to shred the meat. Return it to the slow cooker and coat with sauce.
STEP 4. Serve
Remove beef with a slotted spoon and serve as desired.
Want it less spicy? Reduce the chipotle pepper to using only 1 and reduce the adobo sauce to 2 teaspoons. This will still provide great authentic flavors just with less heat.
Want it spicier? Use 3-4 chipotle peppers and 2 tablespoons of adobo sauce.
Chipotle pepper substitutions. If you can't find them you can add a few shakes of chipotle hot sauce instead. OR ½ teaspoon EACH of smoked paprika and cayenne pepper.
Use the marinade on chicken or pork! The sauce or marinade is delicious on chicken and pork too. Substitute boneless chicken breasts or thighs and cook until tender. Check after 2-3 hours to check if they are tender enough to shred.
A trick to lessen the heat. Did you know dairy products reduce the heat in spicy food? If you find the barbacoa too spicy for your taste add some low fat sour cream or non fat Greek yogurt. This will add some creamy flavor and cool down the dish too.
How to eat beef barbacoa
- Any way you'd use shredded meat
- On salads (similar to Salpicon)
- Burrito bowls with some rice (regular or cauliflower rice), pico de gallo, a bit of guacamole and a squeeze of lime juice.
- Barbacoa tacos with corn tortillas (consider street taco size to make more tacos that are slightly smaller), some diced red onions or pico de gallo and fresh cilantro on top.
How to Store
Store prepared beef with the cooking liquid in an airtight container or zip-top bag for up to 4-5 days in the refrigerator.
Frequently Asked Questions
Yes! Allow the shredded beef to cool slightly. Place in an airtight freezer safe container or zip-close freezer bag (squeeze out as much air as possible before sealing). Freeze for up to 3 months. Thaw in the refrigerator. Reheat on the stove top or in the microwave.
Traditionally, beef, lamb or goat is used when making barbacoa in Mexico. When made by home cooks in the USA, typically some type of beef roast is used – chuck roast, brisket or other types of beef roasts that can be slow cooked in a crock pot (round roast, rump roast, etc) can also work.