Having grown up in the Bay Area, I’m pretty accustomed to eating some damn good Mexican food.  As a true fan of the cuisine, I consider myself blessed to live within minutes of the birthplace of the original Mission-style burrito.  So, with some of the best taquerías in the entire state literally moments from my apartment, it’s with great embarrassment that I am here to say I enjoy eating at Chipotle Mexican Grill every once in a while.  Don’t get me wrong, I would NEVER pass up a burrito from one of my favorite joints here in town, but when I find myself craving some good barbacoa, I always know where I can find some.

Even though we have a taquería on every corner here in San Francisco serving mounds of carnitas, al pastor, chile verde and carne asada, very few in fact offer a version of this dish.  Good barbacoa is succulent beef that is slow-simmered in a spicy broth flavored with tangy lime juice, smoky chipotle chiles and plenty of garlic until it’s practically falling apart.  Seasoned with just the right amount of herbs, vinegar and salt, Chipotle’s come pretty darn close to some of the best I’ve ever eaten.  So, cobbled together from a few imposter recipes and knock-offs floating around the internet, along with some good, old-fashioned cooking know-how, I am here to offer my rendition of the barbacoa I’ve come to love from this massive chain restaurant .  I typically have them throw the stuff in a burrito at the restaurant, but here I serve it in authentic Mexican fashion, mounded up on a griddled tortilla and topped with diced white onion, plenty of cilantro and a lime wedge for squeezing over the top.  Pass some good bottled hot sauce or some avocado-tomatillo salsa for another great accompaniment or whip up a batch of cochinita pibil or chile-braised pork and throw a taco party.


Slow-braising the beef is the essence of this simple recipe.  After you’ve made the adobo sauce in a food processor or blender,  make sure you dry all sides of the beef chuck before adding them to the oil in the pot.  I like to take my time when searing beef like chuck or short-ribs for braises.  Take care to brown the beef evenly without scorching or burning the fond at the bottom of the pot as this will contribute bitterness to the dish while it is simmering.  If necessary, I’ll brown the beef in two batches if I don’t have enough room to accommodate high heat searing without running the risk of steaming the meat its own juices.  Before placing the lid on the pot, cover it tightly with tin foil to create a nice seal — this will aid in the loss of moisture and liquid reduction over the long braising process.  Check the meat after a few hours or so to make sure there is sufficient moisture in the pot and add more stock if necessary to come about 1/3 of the way up the side of the beef. This dish can be completed through step 4 and refrigerated overnight.  If you decide to go down that route, store the meat separately  from any leftover braising liquid and reheat them together over low heat before serving.


  • 1/3 cup  cider vinegar
  • 3 tablespoons lime juice
  • 3-4 canned chipotle chiles
  • 4 cloves garlic, roughly chopped
  • 3 1/2 teaspoons ground cumin
  • 2 teaspoons dried Mexican oregano
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons table salt or 3 teaspoons Kosher
  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 4 pounds boneless chuck roast, excess fat removed
  • 3/4 cup chicken broth, plus more as needed
  • 3 bay leaves
  • 20 warm corn tortillas
  • Diced white onion, chopped cilantro and lime wedges for garnish


  1. Preheat the oven to 275°.
  2. Combine the cider vinegar, lime juice, chipotle chiles, garlic cloves, cumin, oregano, clove, black pepper and salt in the bowl of a food processor or blender and puree until completely smooth — about a minute or so.  Transfer the spice paste to a bowl and set aside.
  3. Dry the roast all over with paper towels, cut away any excess fat and slice the meat into 4 evenly sized pieces.  Heat the 2 tablespoons of oil in a very large pot set over high heat until it begins to shimmer.  Working in batches if necessary, sear the beef on all sides until deeply browned, about 10 minutes.
  4. Add the chile puree to the pot and stir until the beef is well-coated.  Add the chicken stock and bay leaves and bring the liquid to a boil.  Reduce the heat to a simmer, cover the lid with tin foil and add the lid to create a very tight seal.  Place the pot in the oven and braise the meat for 5-6 hours, removing the lid during the last hour or so to allow the simmering liquid to reduce slightly. Allow the beef to cool slightly, spoon off any easily removable fat from the braising liquid and then use two forks to pull/shred the beef into bite size pieces.
  5. Taste and adjust as necessary for seasonings.  Serve spooned onto warm corn tortillas topped with diced white onion, chopped cilantro and lime wedges for garnish.

Makes about 20 tacos

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    • mjf
    • March 2nd, 2010

    This sounds delicious. I enjoy your creativity. So many ideas. Your writing and photography make your offerings all the more tempting. Really fun to visit your blog. Thanks.

    • Janet in Phoenix
    • March 2nd, 2010

    Of all the blogs I have been on, yours is the one I always check first each day! Not only are the pictures incredible but I can not wait to see what delicious recipe I will be tryng next! Your writing, photos and recipes are wonderful! I know I will be making this very soon!

  1. Thanks Janet! I really appreciate the kind words.

  2. im trying this recipe asap. your food looks amazing!

  3. i’m making this tomorrow–looks awesome!

    • Jenny
    • March 11th, 2010

    I’m definitely going to make this at my next party! One question – why is the oven being preheated? Does the meat braise in the oven or on the stove?

  4. Jenny – Thanks for spotting my mistake! I forgot to mention that the pot should be placed in the oven after you put the lid on in order for it to be braised at a low, controlled temperature. You can gently simmer the beef on the stove top if you would like, but I find it’s easier to control the heat in the oven. Good luck.

  5. This looks AWESOME.

  6. This sounds so yummy. Wonder how it would work for a potluck…

  7. This looks so good i am adding it to my “to Try” list!!!

    check out my stuff at http://annasvirtualkitchen.blogspot.com/

    • Liesbeth
    • April 25th, 2010

    Looks real good, do you take the lid and the foil of for that last hour or just the lid?

  8. Liesbeth – Sorry for not making it clear enough in the recipe. Take both the lid and the foil off to allow the liquid to reduce a bit during the final hour or so of cooking.

    • Yen
    • May 4th, 2010

    Looks yummy. Where can I find canned chipotle chilies without adobo sauce? I looked everywhere at my local market but no luck.

  9. Hi Yen – I apologize for confusing you with the wording on this recipe. Here, chipotles packed in adobo from a can are perfectly fine. When I say “without adobo” I mean for you to scrape off any of the red sauce clinging to the smoked jalapeño before adding it to the dish. The only way I’ve seen chipotles sold without adobo is when they are dried. Hope this clears things up and let me know how your tacos turn out.

    • Yen
    • May 6th, 2010

    Thanks a lot for the clarification 🙂

    • Denise
    • May 27th, 2010

    I am having a graduation for my son with mostly friends and family about 70 people. I looked into taco carts but have persuaded into cooking since I am an okay cook. I want everything done in advance if I choose to cook. My son is insistant on carnitas and shredded beef tacos so I thought I would try your recipe. Do you have any idea how much meat I should buy for 70ish people? You think this is do-able? Thanks so much.

  10. Denise – You are a superhero for taking on a party of 70. If this were any other recipe, I might tell you that cooking for that many people might be a difficult solo act to pull off. However, this is indeed a great make-ahead recipe that is also easily scaled-up for big groups. I’d go with about 15 lbs of chuck for that many people. This will insure that everyone gets at least one nice-sized taco. If you’ll already be making carnitas, you might even be able to get away with a few less pounds and make the tacos a bit smaller. Good luck! Please let me know how everything turns out.

    • Mark
    • October 10th, 2010

    This look great and I cant wait to make this! One question though, could this be done in a crock pot say on Low setting for about the same amount of time and still come out ok??

  11. Just made this! Very flavorful, except you might want to mention that it’s quite spicy!

    • mattbsox@gmail.com
    • October 30th, 2010

    I lived in mexico city for 2 years. barbocaoa was extermely common always made of lamb not beef and slow roasted in bannana leaves.

    This looks good, is beef barbacoa an northern mexico thing or a claifornia mexican thing

  12. Visiting home from college this weekend and made this with black beans and rice for my family tonight – there was not a single bite leftover. I also added a cup of coffee to the pot before I put it in the oven; it worked quite well. Great recipe, the first of yours I’ve tried and it definitely won’t be the last! Awesome blog!

    • debbie
    • February 2nd, 2011

    how would i modify this yummy recipe to use in a slow cooker

    • Lindy
    • March 29th, 2011

    I was wondering the same thing about the crock-pot! I usually make roasts in it and use the left overs for shredded beef tacos. I think I am gonna try it…

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