Beef Barbacoa (Slow Cooker, Instant Pot, or Stovetop)

This Slow Cooker Beef Barbacoa makes the most amazing, tender, Mexican shredded beef that is perfect for tacos, enchiladas, burritos, bowls, and more! It’s spicy, it’s savory, and it can be made right in the crockpot, Instant Pot, or stovetop.

274 CAL 4g CARBS 13g FAT 35g PROTEIN 5

This Barbacoa Beef is fork tender, full of spicy and smoky flavor, and makes the very best tacos. It’s the perfect dish for an easy taco night at home and the leftovers couldn’t be more delicious. Honestly, it ranks up there with Birria and Machaca as one of our all-time favorite Mexican beef recipes.

One of my favorite Mexican meals is beef barbacoa. This slow-cooked Mexican beef dish is made with chipotle chili peppers (or fried chile peppers), garlic, onion, and spices. It has the perfect amount of spice and can be used in so many different Mexican dishes. 

The key to making this beef super flavorful is cooking it low and low in the barbacoa sauce so that it soaks up all the flavor. It’s aslo delicious with chicken, like in this Slow Cooker Chicken Barbacoa.

 My favorite way to eat it is in warm corn tortillas or oven baked crispy taco shells with cilantro, onion, and lime juice. 

I also always plan on leftovers for this dish since it makes an amazing burrito, burrito bowl (inspired by Chipotle’s beef barbacoa), or taco bowl. The rice soaks up all the delicious flavors in the sauce and then it’s a quick meal with some canned beans, guacamole, and veggies. 

Looking for more Mexican beef recipes? We also love these tri-tip tacos, Mexican shredded beef, and classic steak taco recipe.

What is barbacoa?

Barbacoa is a traditional Mexican dish that can be made with beef, goat, or lamb. Typically the meat is cooked over an open fire or in a pit for hours until the meat is super tender and flavorful.

Normally barbacoa is cooked with chipotle peppers or dried chili peppers (guajillo peppers and ancho chiles) to give the sauce tons of flavor. Unlike carne asada, barbacoa is a stewed or braised dish that is cooked low and slow. It should be brothy and sometimes is even served as more of a stew with tortillas on the side. 

This version is a simplified option that is more similar to the barbacoa you would find at Chipotle. It has tons of great flavor but does lack some of the fire-pit flavor you would get with super authentic barbacoa. 

Ingredients for homemade beef barbacoa including beef roast, spices, garlic, onions, cilantro, chipotle peppers, and toritllas.

Ingredients and Substitutions

Here is everything you need to make this meal. 

  • Beef: To keep things lean, I like to make this with lean top round roast or lean beef brisket. For a more authentic option, use a higher-fat cut of beef like chuck roast. You could also swap in lamb or goat. Just choose something that cooks low and low. 
  • Garlic and onion: Real minced garlic cloves and onion will add the best flavor to the sauce. 
  • Lime juice or vinegar: To break up the richness of the beef and sauce, the dish needs an acid. Use lime juice or apple cider vinegar. 
  • Chipotle peppers: This is where this recipe is a bit different than traditional recipes. To make things easier, I like to use canned chipotle peppers in adobo (smoked jalapeno peppers). They add the smokiness the recipe is missing since it isn’t cooked in a firepit and add a nice level of heat.  
  • Spices: Adobo sauce already contains a bunch of spices, so I keep things simple with ground cumin, oregano, kosher salt, and pepper. For a warmer flavor, add some ground cloves as well. Just be careful since the flavor is strong. You can also add 1-2 bay leaves. 
  • Beef broth: Since this recipe uses a leaner cut of beef, I like to boost the beef flavor by using beef broth. For a milder beef flavor, use chicken broth or vegetable broth. Some people also like to make this with Mexican beer instead of broth.

Shredded beef barbacoa in a slow cooker with chipotle chili sauce and two forks.

How to Make Barbacoa Beef: Slow Cooker, Instant Pot, and Stovetop

Make the barbacoa sauce (chipotles or dried chile peppers)

Start by adding the chipotle peppers, adobo sauce, onion, garlic, broth, cumin, oregano, and lime juice to a blender. Blend until nice and smooth. Taste and adjust the heat level and saltiness as needed. Remember the sauce will become more mellow when it cooks with the beef.

For a more traditional sauce, toast 3-4 dried guajillo peppers and 3-4 ancho chile peppers in a cast iron skillet. Then rehydrate them with 1 cup of water. Blend with 3-4 charred Roma tomatoes, garlic, and onion, and season with the spices below. 

Slow Cooker

Cut the beef into 2-3 large pieces. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. If you have time, sear the beef in a Dutch oven for the best flavor and texture. 

Add to the crockpot. Pour the sauce over the beef. Cook on low for 8 hours. Shred with a fork or chop into pieces. Cook an additional 10-20 minutes in the sauce to let the flavors combine. Enjoy!

Instant Pot

This recipe works very well in the Instant Pot as well. Start by searing the beef in a touch of oil on the Saute method until browned. Add the blended sauce and seal the Instant Pot.

Seal the Instant Pot and cook on manual mode for 45 minutes. Let naturally release for at least 10 minutes.

Shred the meat using two forks. If you have time, let the meat hang out in the sauce for 10-15 minutes per serving.


Start by cutting the beef into 4-8 chunks. Season them well with salt and pepper. Drizzle some vegetable oil into a Dutch oven or heavy-bottomed pot with a lid. Once hot, add the beef and sear for 2-4 minutes per side until it is nicely seared and browned.

Add the sauce to the pot and scrape up any charred bits on the bottom of the pan. Bring to a simmer on low heat. Once simmering, cover and cook for 1.5-2.5 hours until the beef is super tender and falls apart with a fork. Shred and let sit in the juices for 15-30 minutes.

Barbacoa beef tacos with red onion, cilantro, and lime wedges served in corn toritllas.

How to Serve Beef Barbacoa

There are so many different ways to use barbacoa beef. 

  • Barbacoa Tacos: Traditionally barbacoa tacos are served in fresh corn tortillas with diced white onions and cilantro since the cooking sauce serves as a salsa on its own. Add extra flavor with some crumbled queso fresco or cotija cheese. Cool down the spice of the sauce with some sliced avocado or homemade guacamole. Squeeze some fresh lime juice over the top of your tacos to cut the richness of the dish and add brightness. Although not traditional, you could also serve these in flour tortillas or make quesabirria tacos with barbacoa beef.
  • Stew: Serve the shredded beef in a bowl with the cooking liquid. Top with cilantro, onion, and fresh lime juice. Serve warm corn tortillas and radish on the side. 
  • Add pickled onions: Make some quick pickled red onions by soaking sliced red onions in lime juice for a couple of hours in the fridge. 
  • As an entree: For a traditional meal, make some Mexican rice and refried beans.
  • Burrito bowls: Make a Chipotle-style burrito bowl with some Cilantro Lime Rice, black or pinto beans, and all your favorite toppings.

Storage and Meal Prep

This recipe stores well and gets even more delicious after a night in the fridge when all the flavors have time to deepen. Store the meat with the cooking liquid for 3-4 days in the fridge. You can also freeze the cooked meat for up to 3 months in an airtight container. Let defrost overnight in the fridge.

This recipe is also great for meal prep since it can be served in so many different ways. Make tacos, quesadillas, burritos, tostadas, and burrito bowls. You can also turn this into stuffed peppers, enchiladas, and even a spicy pasta sauce. 

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