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Have you ever had the barbacoa beef at Chipotle? Their chicken is delicious, the fajita veggies are mouth-watering and I love the Mexican chorizo, but the Chipotle barbacoa? I’d say it’s the best of all (especially if you spring for the guacamole). If you’ve ever had it, you know. I bet you’ve wondered if it’s possible to cook slow cooker barbacoa meat at home, too. Good news: This beef barbacoa recipe is incredibly easy (just as easy as making pulled pork or fall-off-the-bone Instant Pot beef short ribs), and made with just ten common ingredients.
If you didn’t adore your Crock Pot before, you will once you make this Crock Pot barbacoa beef in it! It’s one of my favorite Chipotle copycat recipes and one of the best Mexican beef recipes I’ve ever made.
What Is Barbacoa?
Barbacoa is a traditional Mexican cooked meat with spices that is tender, flavorful, and usually served shredded as a filling or topping. Traditionally, a variety of meats can be used to make Mexican barbacoa — including beef (typically chuck roast or brisket), goat, or lamb.
Making authentic barbacoa beef requires three things: the right meat, the proper spices, and time to cook it so that the flavors develop. Traditional Mexican spices are combined with peppers in adobo, lime, and broth to make a marinade that slow cooks with the meat, while the long cooking time allows the flavors to meld and the meat to become tender and juicy.
What Does Barbacoa Taste Like?
Barbacoa meat tastes like tender, slow cooked shredded beef cooked in an adobo sauce with loads of flavorful Mexican spices. In other words, it tastes delicious.
Why You’ll Love This Beef Barbacoa Recipe
- Rich Mexican flavor with just the right amount of spice
- Juicy, melt-in-your-mouth, tender texture
- Super easy to make
- Just 10 minutes prep time
- Endless ways to serve it (see ideas below!)
Barbacoa Chipotle Ingredients
This section explains how to choose the best ingredients for barbacoa meat, what each one does in the recipe, and substitution options. For measurements, see the recipe card below.
Did you know that Chipotle publicly posts the ingredients list for every item on their menu? To make a copycat Chipotle barbacoa recipe at home, I started with a peek at what they include when they cook up their delicious barbacoa beef. It turns out that theirs only has eleven ingredients, plus water.
Here are the barbacoa ingredients in my recipe, very similar to Chipotle’s:
- Beef – Use beef brisket or beef chuck roast. These tougher cuts have plenty of fat and connective tissue (read: collagen), which means they turn into juicy, fall-apart tender barbacoa meat when slow cooked. (I get my beef here, because it’s grass-fed and gets delivered to my door.) You can trim off any huge chunks of fat if needed, but don’t cut off all of it, as it will ensure a flavorful barbacoa meat in the end. Cut the meat into large chunks, approximately 2 inches in size.
- Chipotle Peppers In Adobo Sauce – These add the classic heat and flavor! My version is a bit spicier than Chipotle’s original, so if you don’t like a lot of heat, you may want to reduce the amount of chile chilies in adobo sauce.
- Broth – Barbacoa meat needs a liquid to keep it moist. For a richer taste, use beef broth instead of water to make your slow cooker barbacoa beef. You can also use bone broth for even more flavor and nutrition.
- Apple Cider Vinegar – Adds a nice hit of acid to complement the rich beef, and also helps to break down the collagen in the connective tissues, so that the barbacoa meat becomes fall-apart tender.
- Lime Juice – Enhances the flavors of the spices used in this barbacoa recipe, and also helps break down the collagen along with the vinegar. You can use fresh lime juice or bottled for convenience.
- Herbs & Spices – Dried oregano, ground cumin, ground cloves, sea salt (or kosher salt), black pepper, and bay leaves.
How To Make Barbacoa
This section shows how to make this easy barbacoa recipe in the slow cooker, with step-by-step photos and details about the technique, to help you visualize it. For full instructions, including amounts and temperatures, see the recipe card below.
- Blend barbacoa sauce. Combine beef broth, chipotle chiles in adobo sauce, garlic, apple cider vinegar, lime juice, dried oregano, cumin, sea salt, black pepper, and ground cloves in a blender (everything except the beef and bay leaves). Puree until it’s a smooth sauce/paste consistency. A small food processor will also work if you don’t have a blender, or yours is not powerful enough.
- Prep meat. Cut the beef brisket or chuck roast into 2-inch chunks. Place them evenly into the bottom of the slow cooker.
TIP: For even more flavor, brown the meat first.
This is not required, and I skipped it for convenience. But if you have time, sear the beef chunks in a skillet over medium-high heat with a little oil, before placing them in the slow cooker. This will make the flavor even better! You may need to do this in batches if the beef won’t fit in your pan in a single layer.
- Combine. Pour the barbacoa sauce over the beef in the Crock Pot. Place two bay leaves on top.
- Slow cook. Turn on your slow cooker (Low is recommended, but High will work if you’re short on time) and go enjoy your day. Come back later to perfect slow cooker barbacoa beef.
- Shred. Use two large forks to shred the beef — this should be very easy if it has cooked for long enough. You can shred barbacoa in the slow cooker directly, or transfer to a bowl to shred and then place the shredded meat back into the juices in the Crock Pot. Serve it with a slotted spoon (see ideas for serving below).
VARIATION: Make This Barbacoa Recipe In The Instant Pot!
Follow these instructions for Instant Pot barbacoa:
- Brown the beef directly in the Instant Pot on the saute setting. (Optional step, which corresponds to my tip above about browning if you have time.)
- Blend the sauce ingredients the same way as described above and pour over the beef.
- Pressure cook for 60 minutes on the Manual setting (high pressure). Turn the vent to Venting for quick release.
- Shred. Remove the lid, discard the bay leaves, and shred with two forks.
Store leftover beef barbacoa in the refrigerator.
How Long Does Barbacoa Last In The Fridge?
Barbacoa meat will last for about 4-6 days in the fridge.
This beef barbacoa recipe is freezer-friendly, so you’ll be able to have it on hand to thaw for a quick dinner. Transfer the meat into a zip lock bag or airtight container, together with the liquid, and freeze for up to 4-6 months.
Reheat barbacoa in the microwave, in a 350 degree F oven, until warm. You can also reheat barbacoa in the Crock Pot on the Warm setting.
Ways To Use Barbacoa Recipes
This Chipotle barbacoa meat copycat can be served up in so many different types of Mexican recipes! Here are the most popular options:
- Salad – My favorite healthy way to serve homemade barbacoa beef is in a big salad, which is what I always order at Chipotle, too. My salad pictured above includes slow cooker barbacoa (of course), romaine lettuce, diced tomatoes, red onions, jalapeno slices, sour cream, guacamole, and fresh cilantro. Other popular additions include shredded cheese (cheddar or Mexican blend), and pico de gallo in place of the tomatoes and onions. You can also use meat from barbacoa recipes in taco salad.
- Burrito Bowl – Similar to the salad above, but you can add cilantro lime rice (I usually use either plain cauliflower rice or cilantro lime cauliflower rice) and/or your favorite beans (black beans, pinto beans, etc.) For a healthy version, follow my healthy burrito bowl recipe, and just swap the meat with this barbacoa recipe.
- Quesadillas – Fill your favorite tortillas with plenty of cheese (I love a mix of Mexican blend and Cotija) and the barbacoa meat. Grill in a tortilla press or on the stovetop. Flour or corn tortillas are classic options, but for healthy tortillas, try almond flour tortillas, coconut flour tortillas, or cauliflower tortillas.
- Tacos – There are endless ways to make barbacoa tacos! Use soft shells (some tortilla ideas above), crunchy cheese taco shells, jicama tortillas, or regular hard taco shells. My favorite easy combo is the beef barbacoa, thinly sliced avocados, red onion quarter moons, and cilantro — super simple but so flavorful and juicy that they don’t even need a sauce!
- Enchiladas – Mix the beef barbacoa with enchilada sauce, stuff into tortillas, roll up, and place into a baking dish, seam side down. Top with shredded cheese (such as Colby Jack or Mexican blend) and bake. I also have this low carb enchilada recipe, in which you can swap the chicken for barbacoa meat.
- Tamales – Use it in your favorite recipe, or swap it for the chicken in keto tamales.
- Toppers – Any of the above can benefit from adding fresh tomato salsa, pineapple salsa, queso (or queso fresco), shredded cheese, and sour cream, either as topping or for dipping, depending on the dish.
More Easy Mexican Recipes
If you like this Mexican barbacoa recipe, you’ll also love these:
Chipotle Beef Barbacoa Recipe In A Slow Cooker
Barbacoa Recipe (Chipotle Copycat)
Learn how to make the best barbacoa meat! You'll love this barbacoa recipe (Chipotle copycat) — it's easy, healthy and fall-apart delicious.
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Tap on the times in the instructions below to start a kitchen timer while you cook.
Combine the broth, chipotle chiles in adobo sauce, garlic, apple cider vinegar, lime juice, dried oregano, cumin, sea salt, black pepper, and ground cloves in a blender (everything except the beef and bay leaves). Puree until smooth.
Place the beef chunks in the slow cooker. Pour the pureed mixture from the blender on top. Add the (whole) bay leaves.
Cook for 4-6 hours on high or 8-10 hours on low, until the beef is fall-apart tender.
Remove the bay leaves. Shred the meat using two forks and stir into the juices. Cover and rest for 5-10 minutes to allow the beef to absorb even more flavor. Use a slotted spoon to serve.
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Serving size: 1/4 lb, or 1/12 entire recipe
Nutrition facts are provided as a courtesy. Have questions about calculations or why you got a different result? Please see our nutrition policy.
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