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
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.
What is Barbacoa made from?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
- 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!
Barbacoa Recipe FAQs
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.
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.
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.
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:
- Tacos Al Pastor
- Carne Asada
- Chili Lime Chicken Tacos
- Blackened Fish Tacos
- Cheesy Taco Soup
- Chicken Fajitas
- Smothered Chicken Burritos
See all of my Mexican Recipes HERE.
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Tools Used in This Recipe
Slow Cooker Barbacoa Meat
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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.
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