Crock Pot Barbacoa Tacos is one of my favorite things to serve at parties! This easy, make-ahead friendly recipe makes a huge batch of barbacoa that’s perfect for feeding a crowd or freezing for multiple meals.
This post is sponsored by Ohio Beef. As always, all opinions are my own.
Slow Cooker Barbacoa Tacos for a Crowd
With busy school nights on the horizon, quick and easy dinner recipes are at a premium. A few years ago, I shared how we get three meals out of one giant batch of Slow Cooker Pulled Beef. That post is still one of our most popular, which shouldn’t come as a surprise. Who doesn’t love getting three dinners out of one recipe?
Today, I’m coming at you with a new addition to this big-batch cooking strategy: Crock Pot Barbacoa Beef.
You’ve probably heard of barbacoa before (thanks Chipotle!), and it might even be your go-to taco order at your favorite Mexican restaurant. Now, with the help of your slow cooker, you can bring all that spicy, tender, fiery shredded beef to your own dining room table.
A few things to note before we dive in:
- This is not quite a Copy Cat Chipotle Barbacoa recipe. The flavors aren’t exact, but I actually like this recipe better. It’s a bit spicier and has a more complex flavor.
- This is a big batch recipe that makes a whole lot of barbacoa. It’s a great choice for parties, tailgating, and potlucks, or you can make it for a family of four and get 3 meals out of it. More on that (as well as tips for freezing!) below!
- Because it’s a big batch recipe, you’ll need a big crock pot to make it. I recommend this 6 quart slow cooker, but any 6 quart or larger machine will do.
What is barbacoa?
Barbacoa is a type of meat (usually lamb, beef, or goat) which is traditionally prepared in an underground oven and cooked until the meat is very juicy and fall-apart tender.
There is not a single “authentic” barbacoa recipe. Variations of this dish can be found throughout Mexico and the Caribbean, each using their own unique blend of vegetables, chiles, herbs, and spices to create a rich, flavorful meat to serve in tacos, burritos, flautas, or soups.
I wasn’t quite ready to dig up my backyard to cook barbacoa in the traditional sense, but the low and slow heat of a crock pot is the next big thing.
The marinade for barbacoa is a complex mixture of smoky heat, tangy citrus, and warm spices. Here’s what you’ll need to make it:
- Canned chipotle peppers in adobo– Many barbacoa recipes use dried chilies, but I love the ease and smoky heat of chipotle peppers in adobo. My recipe calls for a full can, but if you want to make it more mild, only use a half a can.
- Apple cider vinegar– This adds the tang that keeps things interesting.
- Lime juice– We’ll use the juice of four whole limes to add notes of fresh, puckery citrus.
- Garlic– A WHOLE HEAD OF IT.
- Cumin, clove, and oregano– Cumin is a grounding spice, adding depth and roundness, while clove adds an unexpected warmth.
- Cilantro– With so many rich, warm flavors, cilantro adds a welcome brightness to the blend.
- Bay leaves– A classic for stews and soups, bay leaves add a subtle bitterness.
- Beef broth– I almost exclusively use Better than Boullion’s beef broth concentrate. It tastes great, and takes up minimal space in the fridge so I always have it on hand.
What type of beef is best for barbacoa?
As mentioned earlier, traditional barbacoa can be made with many different kinds of meats, but I prefer to use beef. It’s more readily available and affordable than other meats, plus it tastes delicious! Beef is also a great source of protein and B vitamins, both of which improve focus and offer sustained energy for busy kids (and adults!)
You can use either brisket or chuck roast to make barbacoa, but I usually use roast. This recipe calls for 5-7 pounds of meat, so you’ll need two 2-3 lb. roasts to make this recipe.
How to Make Barbacoa in the Slow Cooker
Make the sauce:
Blend. In a blender or food processor, combine the chipotle peppers, cilantro, red onion, garlic, lime juice, vinegar, cloves, cumin, salt and pepper. Blend until the mixture is smooth.
Layer. Pour the sauce on the bottom of the crock pot and place the roast on top. Add bay leaves and pour beef broth over the roasts to cover.
Cook. Cook the mixture on high heat for 5-6 hours or low heat for 8-10. The longer you can cook it, the better. The meat should be very tender and shred easily when it’s done.
Shred. Remove the meat from the crock pot and place it on a cutting board. Shred with two forks, then return the meat back to the slow cooker. Keep the slow cooker on warm until ready to serve.
Easy Barbacoa Tacos
Once your barbacoa is made, the possibilities for eating it are endless.
On the first night, we usually keep things simple and make barbacoa tacos.
I prefer to make street style tacos, which are made with warm corn tortillas and topped simply with onion, cilantro, queso fresco and a squeeze of lime.
TIP: My favorite way to warm corn tortillas is to use tongs to hold them directly over a gas flame until they’re charred on the edges. You can also place them in a very hot, dry cast iron skillet until browned.
Other great topping options for tacos include:
- Fresh or pickled jalapenos
- Sliced radishes
- Shredded lettuce
- Diced tomatoes
More Leftover Barbacoa Recipes
Tired of tacos? Use leftover barbacoa to make Burrito Bowls!
Need even more beef recipes? Visit OhioBeef.org to get a plethora of tasty recipes and nutrition information for you and your family.
Save Time with Make Ahead and Freezer Tips
Make Ahead Instructions:
Prepare the marinade up to 2 days in advance, then simply add it to the crock pot with the beef and broth when you’re ready to cook.
Cooked barbacoa can be refrigerated then reheated in the microwave, stove top, or slow cooker. I love to do this for parties! It’s easy to throw everything in the slow cooker the morning of a tailgating party, set it on low, and then keep it warm until whenever folks are ready to eat.
How to Store and Freeze Barbacoa
- To store: Leftover barbacoa should be stored in a sealed container in the fridge with some of the juices. It will keep for 4-5 days.
- For soup: If you’re making a soup, pour the leftover juices into a large container and refrigerate overnight. Skim the fat off the top of the liquid before using it as a base for a rich Mexican Beef Stew.
- To freeze: Place cooked and cooled barbacoa in a sealed container or baggie. Freeze for up to 4 months. Thaw overnight in the fridge then reheat as normal.
For the barbacoa:
- 1 (7.5 oz) can chipotle peppers in adobo sauce (use 1/2 a can for less heat)
- 1 bunch cilantro, long stems removed
- 1 red onion, peeled and cut into large chunks
- 1 head of garlic, peeled
- Juice of 4 limes
- 1/3 cup apple cider vinegar
- 1 teaspoon ground cloves
- 1 teaspoon ground cumin
- 1 teaspoon oregano
- ½ teaspoon black pepper
- 1 Tablespoon kosher salt
- 5 dry bay leaves
- 5 to 7 pounds beef chuck roast
- 4 to 6 cups beef broth
For the tacos:
- Corn tortillas
- Diced onion
- Queso fresco
For the barbacoa:
- In a blender, combine the chipotle peppers, cilantro, onion, garlic, lime juice, vinegar, cloves, cumin, oregano, pepper, and salt. Blend until smooth.
- Pour the sauce into the bottom of a large (6 quart+) slow cooker. Layer the chuck roast (or roasts) on top. Top with bay leaves. Pour the beef broth over all, enough to cover.
- Cook the beef on high for 4-6 hours or on low for 8-10 hours. The longer you can cook it, the better. The meat should be very tender and shred easily when it’s done. Remove the roasts from the crock pot and place on a cutting board. Shred with two forks, then return to the crock pot to keep warm.
For the tacos:
- To warm the tortillas, use tongs to place them directly over a gas flame. Turn after about 1 minute, allowing a few charred spots to develop on each side. Alternatively, place them in a very hot, dry cast iron skillet, flipping after 1 minute. Remove to a plate and cover to keep warm.
- Load individual tacos with the barbacoa, then top with diced onion, chopped cilantro, and crumbled queso fresco. Serve with a squeeze of lime. If desired double up the corn tortillas so they don't break apart as easily.
For leftover, storage, and freezing instructions see the post above.
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Nutrition Information:Yield: 20 Serving Size: 1
Amount Per Serving: Calories: 437
Please note nutritional information for my recipes is calculated by a third party service and provided as a courtesy to my readers. For the most accurate calculation, I always recommend running the numbers yourself with the specific products you use.