Chipotle Beef Barbacoa (Slow Cooker)

This Chipotle Beef Barbacoa recipe is extremely tender, juicy, bursting with rich, spicy (customizable), complex flavors and SO EASY made in the slow cooker!  

This Chipotle Beef Barbacoa is about to become one of your favorite go-to slow Mexican meats!  It’s great for large crowds (think taco bar/Game Day!) or make ahead meals like tacos, burritos, nachos, salads, enchiladas and you don’t want to miss my Barbacoa Beef Taco Bowls with Hash Browns!   

Beef Barbacoa Recipe Video

Chipotle Beef Barbacoa in a crockpot.


Why this Beef Barbacoa works

I have SO many irresistibly yummy recipes I’ve been itching to share with you but were postponed because of holiday recipes.  I love the holidays, but I love blogging more when it’s not the holidays because my heart belongs to Asian cuisine (like yesterday’s Yellow Thai Curry Chicken I had been waiting months to share!) and Mexican fair like this Slow Cooker Chipotle Beef Barbacoa.  Can I get a HELLO DELICIOUS?!

What is Barbacoa Beef?

This Slow Cooker Chipotle Beef Barbacoa recipe is INCREDIBLE.  Yes, all caps.  I am yelling.  Shouting at the top of my lungs how sensational this Barbacoa is!  My modern spin on Barbacoa Beef is inspired by traditional Mexican Barbacoa in which meat (sheep, goat or beef) is slowly steam-cooked in underground ovens or covered pits until crazy tender and shreddable while still remaining wonderfully moist.

My slow cooker barbacoa is no exception.  This flavor exploding shredded beef is slowly braised for hours in your slow cooker until melt-in-your-mouth tender infused with a tangy, chipotle sauce.  Modern day barbacoa beef is known for its strong flavor and perfect balance of chipotle peppers, cumin, oregano and lime juice.  And that balance tastes INCREDIBLE.

Both Patrick and I are in love with this rich, intensely flavored Slow Cooker Chipotle Beef Barbacoa and YOU will not only love the full flavor but how simple it is to make! 

Just like my Slow Cooker Carnitas, Slow Cooker Mexican Chicken, Slow Cooker Chipotle Sweet Pulled Pork, Chicken Tortilla Soup and Slow Cooker Honey Lime Salsa Verde Chicken, this Slow Cooker Barbacoa Beef is a dump-it-and-forget-it meal.  Well almost forget it.  The aroma will fill your home with it’s full bodied chipotle smell that reminds you what deliciousness awaits.

Showing how to make Chipotle Beef Barbacoa in a black pot.

Barbacoa Recipe ingredients

The ingredient list below may look lengthy, but that’s because I used so many spices to flavor this easy barbacoa recipe!

  • Beef chuck roast: Boneless chuck roast boasts great texture and fabulous marbling, which translates into rich flavor. 
  • Vegetable oil: You need just a little oil for searing the roast before adding it to the slow cooker.
  • Red enchilada sauce: Buy your favorite enchilada sauce, or make your own at home.
  • Chopped green chiles: Use mild green chiles so the barbacoa meat doesn’t become too spicy.
  • Chipotles in adobo sauce: I would say 2 chipotle peppers is medium spicy.  If you don’t like spice or want to make it kid friendly then reduce to 1 or less chipotle pepper.
  • Lime juice: Freshly squeezed lime juice is best!
  • Apple cider vinegar: A few tablespoons of ACV perfectly complements the smoky, spicy flavor of the beef.
  • Brown sugar: You need a little sugar to balance out the heat in this dish.
  • Worcestershire sauce: Just a tablespoon is all you need to add some lovely umami flavor.
  • Liquid smoke: Liquid Smoke can be found next to the barbecue sauces in your grocery store and adds a wonderfully smokey flavor.
  • Dried herbs and spices: I used a mixture of cumin, oregano, chili powder, and more to flavor this Crockpot barbacoa.

Barbacoa Recipe variations

  • Make it spicier: Add another chipotle pepper, chili powder, or spicy green chiles to make this barbacoa beef spicier.
  • Make it saucy: If you would like “saucier” beef, add additional enchilada sauce when you serve it.
  • Serve buffet style:  Line up slow cooker barbacoa, rice, tostadas and/or tortillas along with all the favorite toppings (lettuce, pickled red onions, cilantro, avocados, jalapeños, sour cream, Cotija cheese or queso fresco etc.).  Let family or guests pile on all their favs.  
Showing how to make Chipotle Beef Barbacoa  in a crockpot fresh cooked.

How to Make Barbacoa Beef

To make this easy Slow Cooker Barbacoa Beef, we simply sear our meat to create the Maillard reaction resulting in rich, deep, complex flavor. Then, add ½ cup mild enchilada sauce, chopped green chilies, minced chipotles in adobo sauce, lime juice, cider vinegar, brown sugar, Worchestershire sauce, liquid smoke and our bevy of handpicked fiestalicious spices.

Cover and cook low and slow until the beef shreds easily with a fork. Remove beef to a cutting board, shred, and add back to slow cooker and toss with slow cooker juices. Cook on low for another 20 minutes for beef to absorb juices.

Shredded Chipotle Beef Barbacoa  serving with tongs.

How to make Barbacoa Meat tender

There are 4 factors to create the most tender beef roast, such as this slow cooker barbacoa:

  • Cut of meat. You have to start with the right cut of meat.  If you start out with a lean cut of beef, I cannot guarantee it will be melt-in-your-mouth tender.  Choose a chuck roast that is fresh, bright in color and contains lots of marbling because marbling = flavor and tenderness.
  • Searing the roast.  Searing the roast creates the Maillard reaction resulting in rich, deep, complex flavor and prevents the surface of the beef from becoming dehydrated.
  • Cooking for long enough.  Many people become frustrated when they check their barbacoa beef and it is not tender.  If this is the case, the roast simply needs more time to cook and tenderize, even 30 more minutes in the slow cooker can make the world of difference between an “okay” roast and a melt-in-your-mouth one. So, if your beef isn’t fall apart tender, be patient and roast on!
  • Shred and Soak. This one step will transform your slow cooker barbacoa experience!  Once tender, shred your roast into small sections then let it cook on low for 30 minutes.  This allows the spicy, rich broth to penetrate the meat and for the beef to become more flavorful, juicy and tender.
Close up of shredded Chipotle Beef Barbacoa

Beef Barbacoa tips

Two things to note about the ingredients.  I find 2 minced chipotles in adobo sauce (approximately 2 tablespoons) to be medium spicy and probably what most people will be comfortable while still being on the spicy side as Chipotle Beef Barbacoa is known for. If you are wanting to make this kid friendly, or don’t like much heat then I would use one or less chipotles in adobo sauce.

Another ingredient that sets this Slow Cooker Barbacoa Beef apart from other slow cooker recipes is the liquid smoke.  Liquid smoke adds an undeniably smoky flavor that helps this Chipotle Beef Barbacoa taste truly authentic.

Close up of Chipotle Beef Barbacoa in a bowl and serving spoons.

Can I Prep Mexican Barbacoa in Advance?

Yes! You can make the entire recipe as written, then reheat in the Crockpot later on. If you are not serving immediately, make sure to refrigerate the barbacoa beef IN its juices so it stays juicy.

How to store Barbacoa Beef

Store this chipotle barbacoa meat in an airtight container in the fridge. It will last up to 5 days.

How to Reheat Beef Barbacoa

You can reheat larger portions of this easy barbacoa recipe in the slow cooker or in a saucepan over medium-low heat. You can also gently reheat it in the microwave, but I prefer using the slow cooker or stovetop for such a nice beef roast.

How to Freeze Crockpot Barbacoa

Let the chipotle barbacoa meat cool compeltely, then seal inside a freezer bag WITH its juices and press out any excess air. Freeze on a baking tray so it freezes flat for easier storage. Frozen barbacoa will last up to 3 months.

What to serve with Barbacoa Meat

Now all that’s left to do is decide how to use your extremely juicy, rich Slow Cooker Chipotle Beef Barbacoa! Pile it on some Cilantro Lime Rice with Black Beans with some Tomatillo Avocado Ranch,  Homemade Salsa, Salsa Verde and/or Pico de Gallo. Or make the the best tacos, taco bowls (with hash browns!) burritos, nachos, enchiladas, oooooooooor quesadillas.

Serve any of the above Barbacoa Beef recipes with Corn on the Cob with Cilantro Lime Butter, Southwest Salad and Pina Colada Salad and you have a feast of fiestalicious proportions.

  • Beef Barbacoa Taco Bowls: You friends and family will love these taco bowls bursting with juicy, rich, spicy Beef Barbacoa, cheesy hash browns (drool), crispy lettuce, a medley of crunchy bell peppers, warm black beans, and cilantro corn all drizzled with tangy Avocado Ranch and showered with crunchy tortilla chips!
  • Beef Barbacoa Enchiladas: These shredded beef enchiladas are out of this world delicious and come together super quickly by using tender, flavorful Beef Barbacoa smothered in a rich tangy shortcut enchilada sauce.  You can make the beef ahead of time and even assemble the enchiladas completely ahead of time and refrigerate for an easy make-ahead dinner that everyone will LOVE! 
showing what to make with beef barbacoa by making taco bowls

Barbacoa Beef Recipe FAQs

What meat is Barbacoa?

Traditional Mexican Barbacoa is made with meats such as beef cheeks, lamb, pork, or goat, depending on the specific cultural and culinary traditions. This recipe, however, is a modern interpretation using easy-to-find, tender, succulent beef chuck roast.

What is the traditional way of cooking barbacoa?

The traditional way of cooking barbacoa is slowly steam-cooking the meat in a covered pit or underground oven. The meat is marinated with spices and seasonings, wrapped in leaves, and placed on hot coals. The pit is covered, and the meat is cooked low and slow for several hours or overnight, resulting in tender, flavorful meat. After cooking, the meat is typically shredded or sliced and served in various dishes. While the traditional method uses a pit, modern adaptations can also use slow cookers, ovens, or stovetop methods to achieve similar flavors and tenderness.

What part of the cow is beef barbacoa?

Beef barbacoa traditionally uses the cheeks from the head of the cow, which are known for their tenderness and rich flavor. However, different regions and culinary traditions may use other cuts from the head, such as the head meat or tongue. It’s worth noting that modern interpretations of barbacoa may also utilize other cuts of beef, such as brisket or chuck roast, depending on availability and personal preferences.

Is barbacoa always shredded?

While shredded barbacoa is a common way of serving the dish, it is not the only way. Barbacoa can be prepared and served in various forms, depending on regional preferences and personal tastes. Barbacoa can also be served sliced or diced. It can be enjoyed as a filling for tacos, burritos, or sandwiches, or incorporated into other dishes.

More Easy Mexican Recipes:

If you love Mexican food, you will also love: 

See all of my Mexican Recipes HERE.


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©Carlsbad Cravings by

This is the BEST Slow Cooker Barbacoa Beef I have ever tried!  Super tender, juicy, EASY and bursting with rich, complex flavors!  Great for large crowds or make ahead meals and makes the best tacos, burritos, nachos, salads, etc!

Slow Cooker Barbacoa Meat

This Slow cooker Mexican Beef Barbacoa is extremely tender, juicy, EASY and bursting with rich, spicy (customiazble), complex flavors!  Great for large crowds (think taco bar/Game Day!) or make ahead meals like tacos, burritos, nachos, salads, etc!  
Servings: 8 -12 servings
Total Time: 3 hours 10 minutes
Prep Time: 10 minutes
Cook Time: 3 hours

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  • 1 (3-5 lb) beef chuck roast trimmed of excess fat, cut into 8-10 pieces
  • 1 tablespoon vegetable oil

Slow Cooker Ingredients

  • 1/2 cup mild red enchilada sauce (use 10 oz. can if making my enchiladas recipe)
  • 2 4 oz. cans MILD chopped green chiles
  • 2 chipotles in adobo sauce (more or less to taste) minced (approx. 2 tablespoons)**
  • 2 tablespoons lime juice
  • 2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons brown sugar
  • 1 tablespoon Worchestershire
  • 1-3 teaspoons liquid smoke (depending on how “smoky” you like it)
  • 1 TBS EACH ground cumin, dried oregano
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 1 tsp EACH garlic powder, onion powder
  • 1/2 tsp EACH chili powder, smoked paprika
  • 1/4 tsp EACH ground cloves, ground cinnamon
  • 2 bay leaves


  • Heat one tablespoon vegetable oil in a large heavy bottom skillet over medium-high heat. Once very hot, add cubed beef and sear on all sides. Transfer beef to a 6 qt (or larger) slow cooker along with all remaining ingredients. Stir to combine. Cover and cook on HIGH for 3 ½ – 4 ½ hours or on LOW for 6-8 hours, OR until the beef shreds easily with a fork.
  • Remove beef to a cutting board (do NOT discard juices in slow cooker), shred, and add back to slow cooker and toss with slow cooker juices. Cook on low for 20 minutes for beef to absorb juices. Add additional hot sauce, lime juice or brown sugar to taste.
  • Remove beef with a pair of tongs to serving bowl or strain in colander so tacos, etc. don’t get soggy. If you would like “saucier” beef, add additional enchilada sauce.



Don’t miss the “how to make” recipe video at the top of the post!
**I would say 2 chipotle peppers is medium spicy.  If you don’t like spice or want to make it kid friendly then reduce to 1 or less chipotle pepper. ***Liquid Smoke can be found next to the barbecue sauces in your grocery store and adds a wonderfully smokey flavor. ****If you are not serving immediately, then refrigerate the barbacoa beef IN its juices so it stays juicy.

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Reader Interactions

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  1. Lily says

    Hello! Should the beef be fully cooked before you add it to the slow cooker? Thanks!

    • Jen says

      Nope, just seared. Enjoy!

  2. Lori K. says

    I just made this barbacoa recipe on 1/27/21 and it’s definitely a keeper! Wonderful, well rounded flavor & my husband thought it was outstanding as well. I took a chance & used hot enchilada sauce and it was perfect. Relatively speaking, it’s very little enchilada sauce in relation to the meat, so it did not taste too hot. Turned out perfect. This replaces my old recipe, which was very good. Thanks for a winner recipe! Yum!!

    • Jen says

      I like your style Lori by using the hot enchilada sauce – yum! I’m so pleased this recipe is a new favorite, thank you!

  3. Marie says

    This is my new favorite Barbacoa recipe! I had a craving for nachos with barbacoa, and this recipe delivered. I followed it exactly for a 5 lb roast.

    • Jen says

      Thanks Marie, I’m thrilled it’s your new favorite, thank you!

  4. Jillian says

    I’ve made this amazing recipe a few times now! Tonight, I’m making it for a bigger crowd! If I wanted to up the amount of meat to (let’s say) 8 pounds, would that work? Would I double the other ingredients? Same cooking time or longer?

    Thank you for this heavenly recipe!

    • Jen says

      I’m so pleased it’s a favorite! When doubling a recipe, I typically double all of the ingredients except the salt and the heat (maybe to 1 1/2 times) and then add more to taste at the end of cooking. And yes, it would require probably 2 hours longer cooking time (but don’t take my word, make sure to check it). Good luck!

  5. Lisa Kelly says

    This recipe looks sensational. I would like to know if you think brisket would work instead of chuck?

    • Jen says

      Absolutely! Brisket might take longer to cook in order to become tender but would still be tasty.

  6. Debbie says

    Will this work with a bottom of the round

  7. Katie says

    Can you partially smoke the meat 1st, instead of using liquid smoke?

    • Jen says

      I have never tried that but I don’t see why not! You may just need to reduce the overall cooking time.

  8. Connie says

    Hi Jen, Do you prefer cooking on low or high in the crockpot? Can’t wait to try this recipe!

    • Jen says

      Hi Connie, I always prefer cooking on low. Enjoy!

  9. Kathy See says

    This recipe is perfection! When I make it, I use the regular Rotel. I also make four batches of sauce. One I use, and the others I freeze for use the next time I want to make it. Works great. I hate to waste food and the Adobe are packed in Chipotle sauce (but there are many more peppers in the can. In the recipe I use not only the peppers but also the Chipotle sauce. It probably makes it spicier, but it tastes perfect. I’m only one person, so I freeze the leftovers in the Glad lunch containers (rectangle). When I feel like it, I remove from freezer and put in the microwave to defrost and heat! Makes 3 meals or so for me. Just plain perfect!

    What is your favorite recipe you’ve created?

  10. Kelly C says

    This was really good & super easy! I omitted the adobo peppers because we didn’t want it too spicy or “smokey” but put ≈3 Tbs of the adobo sauce in. I also omitted the liquid smoke, again because we didn’t want it “smokey”. I added chopped onions. I was scared about the fact that other recipes used broth and this one didn’t, that it would turn out dry. I’m sooo glad I didn’t add broth because it turned out SUPER juicy! Served it in soft taco shells with cilantro and pico de gallo. So delicious!

    • Jen says

      Thanks Kelly, that’s a win-win! I’m so pleased you loved it and your tacos sound fabulous!

  11. Jon says

    Which liquid smoke do you use? I have hickory and mesquite.

  12. Ilene says

    I made this with 3# of chuck roast in a 4qt slow cooker on LO for 6 hours. Used 1 can mild green chilis, 1 T chipotles in adobe sauce, & no liquid smoke. Don’t think I needed to get a can of chipotles to use only 1T. Quite spicy but we loved it. Made a taco bowl the next day & hubby said best bowl ever!

    • Jen says

      That’s what I like to hear, thanks for the glowing review Ilene!

  13. Tammy says

    This sounds amazing and finally a recipe with no onions, thank goodness, I can tolerate onion powder to a point but very much dislike onions. I will definitely be adding this to my list of foods to try.

  14. Diana Perry says

    I made the barbecoa for my work and it was a hit. They absolutely loved it and it was gone in 30 minutes. will make it again this week for them

    • Jen says

      I’m so pleased it was a winner, thanks Diana! I’m sure you’re everyones’ favorite brining in such delicious food!

  15. Cass says

    Thanks for the amazing recipe! Ive made your barbacoa a few times and it’s become one of our favorites. 🙂

    • Jen says

      Thank you so much, Cass! I am so happy this has become a favorite!

  16. Rachel Ducusin says

    Would this freeze well and if so, how long will it be good for?

    • Jen says

      Absolutely! It will freeze well for up to 3 months.

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