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Barbacoa Tacos

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Inside: Calling all tacos lovers! This delicious recipe for authentic Mexican barbacoa tacos will quickly become one of your favorite Mexican recipes.

Barbacoa tacos with cilantro and onions

If you are looking for a truly authentic mexican dish, look no further. This traditional barbacoa recipe is one of the most delicious recipes you will find and it is always a hit whenever I make it. You can make it in a slow cookers, which is the method I will show you today, but you can also make it in an instant pot or another pressure cooker to make it more quickly.

The first time my husband (then my boyfriend) visited me in Mexico, this Mexican barbacoa recipe was one of his favorites. They say a way to man’s heart is through his stomach, and that was definitely the case for us! Now, many years later, the whole family loves barbacoa and we make it often.

The marinade for this recipe is what makes for truly tender beef which is perfect for taco night.

What is Barbacoa?

Authentic barbacoa is a very traditional Mexican meal consisting of shredded meat, and a tasty marinade made from a base of dried chiles. Barbacoa meat almost always makes an appearance at birthdays, baptisms, weddings, sports events, and more.

To be honest, it’s pretty easy to come up with a “reason” to make it. Although it may seem complicated, it really is a pretty easy recipe to make if you follow the instructions closely (see the recipe card below).

Even though there are many different ways to serve this easy barbacoa recipe, my favorite is with tacos. Letting the meat marinate for a longer time gives it extra flavor, which is why I recommend marinating it over night if you can, so plan accordingly.

So what makes barbacoa so delicious? It’s simple – the combination of dried chilies and spices makes for very flavorul meat and is one of my favorite things to make.

What do you serve with authentic Barbacoa?

Like I said, above, my favorite way to serve this authentic barbacoa beef recipe is in a tortilla as a taco, but you can also serve it as a standalone dish with some tasty Mexican side dishes. I almost always serve it with a creamy poblano pasta, homemade salsa, and freshly made tortillas.

molcajete salsa

If you are making it with tacos, all you need to do is get some corn tortillas, warm them up, and add the barbacoa meat, fresh cilantro, salsa, fresh lime juice and diced onions. You will not believe how delicious this is, so next time you want to make tacos, this homemade barbacoa should be high on your list.

This meat is very versatile, so you can also serve it in a burrito bowl with black beans, sour cream, cilantro lime rice and a flour tortilla on the side. I have also seen people use this delicious barbacoa beef in taco salads. The important thing is to make the meat right, and then you can really use your imagination for how to serve it!

How to Prepare The Dried Chilies For Barbacoa

On the internet, you can find tons of different barbacoa recipes, and you will also find that lots of people will complain that it is not the original way that it is supposed to be made. While I do believe that it is fine to make it in different ways, all authentic Mexican barbacoa recipes have to have dried chilies.

Have you ever asked yourself what those dried chilies that you see at the grocery store are used for? If so, I have the answer for you. Dried chiles are an important part of Mexican cuisine and form the base for many salsa and marinades. I am going to show you below how to prepare them so that you will be prepared to make this recipe and more!

dried chiles ready to cook

I know that using these chilies in a recipe may seem intimidating at first. Don’t worry though. After reading this post, you will be an expert at preparing chiles for this recipe and more. To soften the dried chilies, first you need to take out the seeds and the stem.

Once removed, add them to a pot or pan with 1 cup of water, 3 cloves of garlic, 1 tomato, and 1/4 of a large onion. Then let boil for 5-7 minutes before draining the excess water. At this point, the chiles are ready to be used in your recipe. See, that wasn’t so hard, was it?

preparing dried mexican chiles for barbacoa

How do you make this recipe?

As I said above, you can make this recipe in an instant pot, slow cooker, over the stove, in the oven, in a dutch oven, or even over an open fire. The cooking process is basically the same regardless of the method, so keep reading to find out how to make it.

You will use about two pound of beef. I like to use beef brisket, but you can also use beef chuck roast, or another cut of beef like beef cheeks.

Then, you will need to make the marinade, which is the key to having flavorful meat and which consists of the following ingredients:

  • Juice from 3 Oranges and 2 Limes
  • 1l4 large onion (a red onion or white is fine).
  • 4 cloves of garlic
  • 2 tbsp of black pepper
  • 2 tbsp of oregano
  • Dried thyme
  • 1 tbsp of cumin
  • 1/3 cup of white vinegar

Combine all of the above ingredients, mix well and pour over the meat in a large bowl. Cover and marinade over night if you can, but at least for an hour or two.

When ready to cook, you will add the meat to the slow cooker and cook on high heat for about 3 hours or until fork tender. After that, it is time to make the barbacoa sauce for the final part of the process. The sauce includes these ingredients:

  • 2-3 bay leaves
  • Fresh thyme
  • Avocado leaves (optional)
  • 3 clove of garlic
  • salt, pepper, cumin, and oregano to taste
  • 10 guajillo chiles
  • 1/4 onion
  • 1 tomato
  • juice from 1 orange and 1 lime
  • 2 tablespoons of white vinegar
  • beef stock or water

Prepare the chiles as shown above, cooking them with the tomatoes, garlic, and onion in a cup of water. Next, add the mixture to a blender and add 2 tablespoons of white vinegar, salt, black pepper to taste, and 1/4 cup of beef stock or water and the rest of the ingredients shown above.

Once everything has been blended together, pour the entire mixture through a strainer directly onto the shredded beef (cooked separately – see recipe below) and let it cook for at least two additional hours).

barbacoa sauce going through a strainer

That wasn’t so hard now was it? Believe me, the sauce makes all the difference between a sub-par barbacoa and an authentic barbacoa recipe. Also, don’t worry – the dried chilies aren’t very spicy at all, so this is not a spicy recipe.

If you like it spicy though, be sure to accompany it with a delicious salsa verde.

Let me know in the comments below how this turns out for you!

Check Out These Other Authentic Mexican Recipes

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4.23 from 98 votes

Barbacoa Tacos


For the Marinade

  • 2 Pounds of Beef I usually use brisket, but it is common to use other meats such as cheekmeat as well
  • Juice from 3 oranges and 2 Limes
  • 1/4 large onion
  • 4 cloves of garlic
  • 2 Tbsp of black pepper
  • 2 Tbsp of Oregano
  • Dried Thyme
  • 1 Tbsp of Cumin
  • 1/3 Cup of White Vinegar

To Cook the Meat

  • 2-3 bay leaves
  • Fresh Thyme
  • Avocado leaves optional - you can find them in the Hispanic section of your local supermarket
  • 3 cloves of garlic
  • Salt Pepper, Cumin, and Oregano to taste
  • 10 Guajillo chiles or California chilies as you will find them in the US.
  • 1/4 Onion
  • 1 Tomato
  • Juice from 1 orange
  • Juice from 1 lime
  • 2 tablespoons of white vinegar

For the Tacos

  • Tortillas
  • Lime
  • Finely chopped onions
  • Finely chopped cilantro
  • Salsa Verde


  • Combine all of the marinade ingredients and pour over the meat. Put in the refrigerator over night.
  • Place the meat in a slow cooker, and dispose of the marinade.
  • Add juice from 1 orange, mixed with the juice from 1 lime and a small amount of white vinegar. Then add the salt, pepper, cumin and oregano, and finally the bay leaves, the thyme, and the avocado leaves .
  • Cook on the high setting of your slow cooker for 3 hours or until fork tender.
  • Shred the meat, and return to the slow cooker
  • In a small pot, cook the chilies, the tomatoes, the garlic, and the onion in one cup of water (as shown in the post), blend together and pour through a strainer directly onto the shredded beef. It helps to use a wooden spoon to push down on the mixture so that as much liquid as possible comes out of the strainer. You can use some additional water if the mixture is too thick to strain. 
  • Cook on the low setting for 1-2 more hours.
Tried this recipe?Mention @mylatinatable or tag #mylatinatable!

4.23 from 98 votes (85 ratings without comment)
Recipe Rating

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Wednesday 22nd of November 2023

How many avocado leaves do we use? I’ve noticed a few people asking the same! I’ve never cooked with them before and I don’t want to mess this up. I can’t wait to try this recipe, thank you!

Brittany B

Saturday 15th of July 2023

I have made this in the slow cooker and it was delicious. Any suggestions for instant pot times? I'd like to make it for a Taco Cook-off I am attending!

Nicola B

Monday 20th of November 2023

@Brittany B, I have made her Birria tacos, which is 3 lbs of beef in a pressure cooker/instant pot, and I cook for 40min. I don’t know how long for the second part where you add the sauce in an cook for an additional 2hrs in a low setting. Hope that helps


Monday 5th of June 2023

When you cook the tomato do you just cut it up in chunks? It doesn't really specify..


Wednesday 31st of May 2023

Not sure if you are still around to answer my question. I live 6 months of the year in Mexico and can’t find the correct Spanish words for beef chuck or brisket to try and find it in the stores there. How do I ask for the correct meat in Spanish while I am in Mexico?


Friday 26th of May 2023

How many does this feed and can you use skirt steak

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