The Unorthodox Epicure — Recipe: Beef Barbacoa

This ain’t the barbacoa you’ve had at Chipotle. Nope. This is legit.

If you’ve ever patronized a real Mexican restaurant on Saturday morning, you’ve probably had something close to this. But not quite.

The meat in this recipe melts in your mouth quicker than the ice at Sonic. And it has more flavor than the entire menu at your favorite Tex-Mex dive.

As my 20 loyal readers will tell you, I don’t brag much about my recipes. If I post them here, it means I love them. This is one of those recipes that you’ll love as well.

Serve it on tacos, baked potatoes, nachos — it doesn’t matter. This beef barbacoa is more authentic than your order at the local taqueria. And it’s so flavorful, you’ll want to slap your pàdre.

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Beef Barbacoa

Beef Barbacoa — Succulent. Tender. A Mexican delicacy.


5.0 from 2 reviews
Beef Barbacoa
Beef Barbacoa — Succulent. Tender. A Mexican delicacy.
Recipe type: Main
Cuisine: Mexican
  • 2½ lbs – Beef cheeks**, trimmed of most fat
  • 2 – Dried Ancho chiles, stemmed and seeded
  • 2 – Dried Guajillo chiles, stemmed and seeded
  • 4 – Garlic cloves
  • ¼ cup – Chopped onion
  • 1 TB – Salt
  • 1 TB – Vegetable oil (or fat rendered from cheek trimmings)
  • 1 tsp – Mexican oregano
  • 1 tsp – Ground cumin
  • ½ tsp – Ground coriander
  1. Place chiles in small saucepan and cover with water; bring to a boil, then reduce and simmer until chiles are soft, about 15 minutes.
  2. Set aside and allow to cool.
  3. Heat oil in a medium skillet over medium-high heat; add onion and garlic and cook until aromatic and slightly browned around the edges, about 3-4 minutes.
  4. Remove from heat.
  5. Place chiles, onion, garlic, oregano, cumin, and 1 cup of the chile cooking water in a blender; process until smooth.
  6. Meanwhile, place trimmed cheeks in a slow cooker, braising pot or pressure cooker; top with chile paste and enough water to cover everything — about 3-4 cups.
  7. Cook (using directions below).
  8. Serve on soft warm corn tortillas with freshly chopped onions and fresh cilantro.
Slow Cooker
  1. Cook on the 'low' setting for 6-7 hours.
  1. Bring mixture to light boil, then simmer covered for about 4 hours.
Pressure Cooker
  1. Process for about 45 minutes.
** - Chuck roast makes a fine substitute, but don't trim the fat until it has cooked.

Optional step: Place meat and broth in refrigerator overnight, skim fat, then rewarm.


  1. Kathryn Rocheleau says:

    Would you believe me if I told you I have absolutely all the ingredients to make this right now? (If you include chuck roast instead of cheeks.) This will be on the menu in the next couple of days for sure!

  2. Beef cheeks. 🤔
    Not in your local supermarket up here but I bet know where I can get them.
    What would be a possible substitution?
    Looks wonderful.

  3. With your recommendation, I have to give this a try. I have two barbacoa recipes on my blog. One I made up from researching many recipes and combined to what I thought made sense. And one from my Chef son in Arizona. They’re both very different. And it seems that when I’ve ordered it “out”, the flavor and texture is always different. I’m barbacoa confused.

    • adamjholland says:

      I’m not sure what folks tend to use for barbacoa in Colorado. Here, they use cheek and tongue (at authentic places). Most barbacoa is fairly simple, with very few spices cooked with the meat. I like that stuff, but adding a couple of chiles certainly enriches the flavor. — I’m no chef. But I’m a guy who’s been eating authentic Mexican food for 30-some-odd years. Pass along this recipe to your son. Would love his opinion. Does he specialize in Mexican cooking, by chance?

  4. Made me look, lol — LOVE Beef Barbacoa! You can brag any day you want, as long as you include the recipe, Adam. 🙂 As loyal reader #12 (or wherever I fall in the line up), I can always count on you for fantastic flavor. Thank you!

  5. Well, since it starts out with beef cheeks, I can only imagine it’s deliciousness!

  6. Mexican food is just the best! I love this recipe, can’t wait to make it for the whole family!

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