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Just like your favorite meat from Chipotle, this copycat beef barbacoa is a simple way to enjoy a flavorful, restaurant-quality meal at home. Best of all, the easy dinner is made in the Crock Pot for tender, succulent shredded beef with minimal effort! Serve it in soft tacos or burritos, pile it high on a rice bowl, pair it with a crisp green salad, or use it on top of nachos. Always a crowd pleaser!

Overhead image of a plate of beef barbacoa on a wooden dinner table

How to Make Beef Barbacoa | 1-Minute Video

Barbacoa Beef

Whether you serve it in tacos or quesadillas, on a salad or atop a rice bowl, this spicy beef barbacoa recipe is sure to be a hit with the whole family! It’s a simple dump-and-run meal that simmers in the slow cooker all day, while you go about the rest of your business. There’s nothing to stir or fiddle with, and when the meat is done it will be fall-apart tender and juicy. This dish tastes spicy, tangy, sweet, and a lot like the delicious barbacoa beef from Chipotle…but even better!

Overhead image of a bowl of beef barbacoa with lime wedges and cilantro

What kind of meat is barbacoa?

Barbacoa is a way of cooking meat that originated in the Arawak-speaking Caribbean with the Taíno people. The term “barbecue” was derived from barbacoa. In modern day Mexico, barbacoa generally refers to meats (such as sheep, lamb, or goat) that are slow-cooked over an open fire or in a hole in the ground. The meat is known for its high fat content and strong flavor, and is often served with onions and cilantro (coriander).

Square shot of a plate of barbacoa beef tacos

What does beef barbacoa mean?

Mexican immigrants eventually brought barbacoa to the United States (largely by way of Texas). In this country, the term barbacoa refers to barbecue prepared with parts from the head of cattle (such as the cheeks). The easy barbacoa recipe that I’m sharing today (like many other similar recipes) is prepared using a beef chuck roast — a much more common, easy-to-find cut that works really well for the classic slow-cooking process.

Adding sauce to Crock Pot

Ingredients

This is just a quick overview of the ingredients that you’ll need for a delicious pot of barbacoa beef. As always, specific measurements and step-by-step cooking instructions are included in the printable recipe box at the bottom of the post.

  • Beef chuck roast: a boneless chuck roast (or a bone-in chuck roast, if you can find it) is the best meat for beef barbacoa. It has great marbling, making the roast tender and juicy when braised. Chuck roast is cut from the shoulder just above the short rib, so it’s tougher (and therefore more affordable) than those cut from the front part of the animal, like the sirloin or short loin. Beef brisket is a suitable substitute for the chuck roast.
  • Canned chipotle peppers in adobo sauce: these chipotle chilies yield a very spicy pot of barbacoa if you use the entire can. If you like spicy food, go for it! When preparing this dish for my family, I use just a little bit of the adobo sauce and a small amount of the peppers for a mild dish.
  • Onion and onion: add savory flavor to the dish.
  • Soy sauce and Worcestershire sauce: these both contribute salty, umami flavor.
  • Limes: for a fresh, acidic note that brightens up the rich beef.
  • Sugar: for a hint of sweetness that balances the rich, savory meat.
  • Oregano: for an earthy, fresh flavor. I like fresh herbs, but you can substitute with dried oregano when necessary.
  • Cumin, paprika, kosher salt, and ground black pepper: additional seasoning that flavors the meat.
Adding chunks of beef chuck roast to a slow cooker

How to Make Beef Barbacoa

Since a chuck roast requires a low-and-slow cooking method to become tender and succulent, we’re using the Crock Pot for our pulled beef barbacoa! You’ll love how easy this is, since you simply combine all of the ingredients and let the slow cooker do the rest.

  1. Combine all of the ingredients in a Crock Pot. In a slow cooker, stir together the chipotle peppers, onion, garlic, soy sauce, Worcestershire sauce, lime juice, sugar, oregano, cumin, paprika, salt and pepper. Add the large chunks of cubed chuck roast, then toss to coat the meat in the seasoning.
  2. Cook the Beef Barbacoa in the Slow Cooker. Cover the Crock Pot and cook the beef on LOW for 6-8 hours or on HIGH for 3-4 hours. You know it’s done when the meat is fall-apart tender.
  3. Shred the Meat. Transfer the meat to a big bowl and use two forks to shred. Stir the beef back into the juices in the Crock Pot and serve!
Square overhead shot of a bowl of shredded beef barbacoa

What to Serve with Barbacoa Beef

There are so many different ways to use pulled beef barbacoa. A traditional Mexican presentation includes serving the meat on warm corn tortillas with salsa, diced onions, chopped cilantro, and a squeeze of lime juice. Here, you’ll often find the meat stuffed into tortillas for beef barbacoa tacos, piled high on top of a salad, served in a bowl with rice and other toppings, or used in quesadillas, nachos, burritos, or enchiladas.

Beef Barbacoa Toppings

Close overhead image of shredded beef barbacoa soft tacos on a metal plate

Beef Barbacoa Sides

Horizontal side shot of beef barbacoa on a dinner table

Storage

  • Prep Ahead and Reheat: If you prepare the roast a day ahead, cover and refrigerate it overnight. The next day, skim off any solidified fat and reheat it gently in a warm oven or over low heat on the stovetop.
  • Store the leftovers with the juices in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 5 days.
  • Freeze the beef barbacoa with its juices in an airtight container for up to 3 months.
  • To reheat: warm the barbacoa in a slow cooker on the “WARM” setting until heated through, or place the beef with its juices in a saucepan on the stovetop over low heat. Cover and cook, stirring occasionally, just until the meat is warm. You can also reheat individual servings in the microwave for about 1 minute on high power.
Square overhead image of beef barbacoa on a plate with chips and pico de gallo

Barbacoa Beef Recipe Variations

  • Make it the traditional way by using beef cheeks instead of chuck roast.
  • Add 1-2 bay leaves to the slow cooker for even more flavor.
  • Barbacoa in the Oven: You can roast the beef in a Dutch oven instead of using the slow cooker. To do so, bake in the oven at 325°F until the meat reaches at least 200°F and easily shreds with a fork (approximately 3-4 hours).
Side shot of a plate of barbacoa beef soft tacos on a wooden table

Tips for the Best Beef Barbacoa Recipe

  • Using the entire can of chipotle peppers in adobo sauce yields a very spicy barbacoa. If you prefer a mild dish, you can use only a portion of the chiles or omit them altogether. You can also just use the adobo sauce for a sour-sweet flavor and a slightly less fiery smoky heat. Be aware, however — if you omit the chipotles in adobo, you’re also eliminating some great flavor. The chipotles are dried, smoked jalapeños, and the adobo is a tangy, slightly-sweet sauce. Together, the canned peppers and sauce give the barbacoa a ton of flavor! When preparing this dish for my family, I typically use some of the adobo sauce and just a small amount of peppers.
  • The meat is done when it’s fall-apart tender and shreds very easily with a fork. If the meat seems tough, continue cooking for a bit longer.
  • You might be tempted to add beef broth or other liquid to the slow cooker, but don’t! There will be plenty of liquid in the pot by the end of the long cooking time.
Overhead image of a table of barbacoa beef tacos

More Beef Recipes to Try

Overhead shot of a square featured image of a plate of beef barbacoa

Crock Pot Beef Barbacoa

5 from 8 votes
Prep: 10 minutes
Cook: 8 hours
0 minutes
Total: 8 hours 10 minutes
Servings 6 – 8 people
Calories 463.5 kcal
Just like your favorite meat from Chipotle, this copycat Beef Barbacoa is a simple way to enjoy a flavorful, restaurant-quality meal at home!

Ingredients
  

  • 2-3 lb. boneless beef chuck roast, trimmed and cut into 2-inch cubes
  • 1 (7 ounce) can chipotle peppers in adobo sauce, minced (SEE NOTE BELOW FOR A LESS SPICY DISH)
  • 1 cup diced onion
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • ¼ cup soy sauce
  • ¼ cup Worcestershire sauce
  • Juice from 2 limes
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh oregano (or 1 teaspoon dried oregano)
  • 1 tablespoon ground cumin
  • 2 teaspoons paprika
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • ½ teaspoon pepper
  • Optional, for serving: corn or flour tortillas, pico de gallo or salsa, queso fresco or other cheese, chopped fresh cilantro, chopped onion, lime wedges, tomatoes, sour cream

Instructions

  • In a 6-quart slow cooker, stir together chipotle peppers, onion, garlic, soy sauce, Worcestershire sauce, lime juice, sugar, oregano, cumin, paprika, salt and pepper. Stir in beef and toss to coat.
  • Cover and cook until beef is very tender; about 6-8 hours on LOW or 3-4 hours on HIGH.
  • Remove beef and shred with forks. Stir the beef back into the cooking juices. Use a spoon or tongs to serve.

Video

Notes

  • Using the entire can of chipotle peppers in adobo sauce yields a very spicy barbacoa. If you prefer a mild dish, you can use only a portion of the chiles or omit them altogether. You can also just use the adobo sauce for a sour-sweet flavor and a slightly less fiery smoky heat. Be aware, however — if you omit the chipotles in adobo, you’re also eliminating some great flavor. The chipotles are dried, smoked jalapeños, and the adobo is a tangy, slightly-sweet sauce. Together, the canned peppers and sauce give the barbacoa a ton of flavor! When preparing this dish for my family, I typically use some of the adobo sauce and just a small amount of peppers.
  • The meat is done when it’s fall-apart tender and shreds very easily with a fork. If the meat seems tough, continue cooking for a bit longer.
  • You might be tempted to add beef broth or other liquid to the slow cooker, but don’t! There will be plenty of liquid in the pot by the end of the long cooking time.
  • Barbacoa in the Oven: You can roast the beef in a Dutch oven instead of using the slow cooker. To do so, bake in the oven at 325°F until the meat reaches at least 200°F and easily shreds with a fork (approximately 3-4 hours).

Nutrition

Serving: 1/8 of the recipeCalories: 463.5kcalCarbohydrates: 8.5gProtein: 41.3gFat: 27.8gSaturated Fat: 2gPolyunsaturated Fat: 0.6gMonounsaturated Fat: 2.1gCholesterol: 85mgSodium: 665.5mgPotassium: 609.8mgFiber: 1gSugar: 5.8g
Keyword: beef barbacoa, crock pot beef barbacoa, spicy beef barbacoa recipe
Course: Dinner
Cuisine: American, Mexican
Author: Blair Lonergan

This recipe was originally published in July, 2020. The photos were updated in August, 2022.

blair

Hey, I’m Blair!

Welcome to my farmhouse kitchen in the foothills of Virginia’s Blue Ridge Mountains. Inspired by local traditions and seasonal fare, you’ll find plenty of easy, comforting recipes that bring your family together around the table. It’s down-home, country-style cooking!

Read More

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Comments

  1. This beef has amazing flavor but mine did not shred very well. Did I make a mistake by trimming the fat and cutting it into smaller pieces?

    1. Hi, Kim! No, I don’t think that you did anything wrong in cutting it into pieces or trimming the larger pieces of fat. When the meat is totally done, it should just fall apart on its own — you hardly have to shred it at all. It sounds like you maybe just didn’t cook it long enough? If you have a slow cooker that runs at a relatively low temperature, it might just need to cook a chuck roast for more than 8 hours. That’s my best guess, but I didn’t see it myself, so it’s hard to say.

  2. 5 stars
    This was delicious and so easy! My family loved it! It will definitely go in the dinner rotation. Thank you for a great recipe!

      1. 5 stars
        Excellent dish and so simple. I’m glad you warned us about the adobo being spicy. I used a couple of tablespoons of the adobo sauce and froze the rest of the chili’s in a ziplock. That sauce was the right amount of kick. Will recommend this recipe to friends for sure!

  3. 5 stars
    I made this about a month ago and we LOVED it. As a Texan living in South Carolina, it’s hard to find a Mexican dish this tasty. We loved it so much, it’s what I’m making for New Years Eve. Thank you!

      1. 5 stars
        This was amazing I used it to make taquitos. Everyone raved about them! I found it easier to shred with my fingers.

          1. 5 stars
            It was FANTASTIC! I had a recipe for smothered wet burritos. It called for ground beef/turkey with beans. I had stew meat that had to be used first though. I used this recipe & let it cook all day while we went apple-picking. After a long day, it was nice to have my son shred the meat while I made the sauce. Dinner was on the table in 30 mins with minimal work and it was SO, SO, SO DELICIOUS! Will definitely make again! Thank you!!

          2. Awesome! The stew meat is a great shortcut option, too — especially for those who don’t love cutting up raw meat. 🙂 Thanks for that idea, Kristie!

  4. 5 stars
    Making this for the second time with extra adobo sauce. I used the peppers but took the seeds out last time, this time I’m going all in. We had it before mixed in rice. My mom is on a keto diet so I’m using Swerve for a sugar substitute and she’s going to have hers with cauliflower rice. I’ll let you know how it goes!

    1. Sounds perfect, Tara! I’m so glad that you like it, and that you can make it work for your mom’s diet, too. Thank you!

    1. Hi, Ashley! Yes, I think it would work well, but I’ve never tested it that way, so I can’t offer specific cooking instructions/times. Let me know if you try it!

  5. 5 stars
    AMAZING!!! Followed directions exactly (except didn’t add a full can of chipotle in adobo sauce – chopped 4 chiles and used most of sauce). The meat was fall apart tender and was so very tasty – so much flavor. Whole family loved it – will definitely make again.