Slow cooker, Weeknight dinner
comments 8

Slow Cooker Beef Barbacoa

Diane is my tortilla maker; we buy masa harina from our local mexican grocery, and she turns it into great tortillas. She’s even got the kids helping! They love “mommy tortillas” so much, that we’ve had to go from one batch, to a double batch, to a triple.
*Of course, you could just buy your tortillas at the grocery store. If you have that local mexican market, then you can probably get acceptable to good corn tortillas. Just don’t buy them at your local grocery store. Ugh. If you have to get your tortillas from your local grocery store, get flour tortillas.
**Oh, and if you’re going to use this in crunchy taco shells, I won’t judge you.
Back to today’s recipe – this is one of the things we make to fill those tortillas that the kids love so much. There aren’t many recipes that involve less effort. There is about 10 minutes worth of hands on time. Sprinkle the seasonings on the meat, plop it in the slow cooker, wait 6-8 hours, and shred. If your slow cooker has a “keep warm” function this is perfect for making in the morning before you leave for work; you’ll get home and have a wonderful meal ready to go.

Even better, use the time you save to make yourself some fresh tortillas. There’s nothing better than a warm corn tortilla, a little shredded beef, some onion, and cilantro. Mmmmm.

Recipe: Slow Cooker Beef Barbacoa

Cook time: 10 hours


  • Slow cooker (I used an All-Clad 6 quart slow cooker; see it here)


  • 3 lb boneless beef chuck roast
  • 1 tsp kosher salt
  • 1 tsp chile powder
  • 1/2 tsp garlic powder
  • 1 tsp cider vinegar
  • water (enough to come halfway up the meat)

1. Prep the meat: Sprinkle the salt, chili powder and garlic powder evenly over the chuck roast, and place in the crock pot. Sprinkle the cider vinegar over the meat, then add water to the crock pot to come halfway up the side of the roast.

2. Cook the meat: Cook on high for 6 hours (or low for 8-10 hours).

3. Defat and reduce the sauce: (Optional, but worth the time if you have it) Remove the roast to a platter, then defat the sauce (I pour it into a gravy separator and let it sit for a few minutes). Put the defatted sauce in a saucepan, bring to a boil, then reduce the heat and simmer until thickened, about 10 minutes. Set aside.
*If you don’t have the time, just use some of the liquid from the crock pot as the sauce. It’ll be a little fatty, but I’ve done it many a time when I’m in a hurry.

4. Shred the meat: Let the meat rest for a few minutes to cool (while you’re making the sauce, say), then shred with your fingers, removing any fat or gristle you come across. Moisten the shredded meat with the sauce. Serve, passing the extra sauce at the table.

*Use a different cut of meat: The one I often do is to use a Boston Butt roast instead of the chuck roast – then you call it Pork Deshebrada. (Add a tablespoon of brown sugar to the spices you sprinkle on in this case). Lamb shoulder would be traditional as well. You could also use chicken thighs or legs; just cook them for less time (4 hours on high, 6-8 on low) and discard the skin when you’re shredding the chicken.
*Liven up the sauce: Slice an onion and sprinkle it over the top of the meat, and add a 14.5oz can of diced tomatoes with the water. It will make defatting the sauce a little more difficult, but the extra flavor is worth it.

*Serve with corn tortillas, sliced onion, cilantro and salsa(recipe here).
*And…your choice of lime wedges, sliced avocado, sliced fresh or pickled jalapeno, hot sauce, and a side of slow cooker beans (recipe here) or refried beans.
*Oh, and margaritas, of course.
*Leftovers freeze well – I usually put aside half in a rubbermaid container, pour the leftover reduced sauce over it, and freeze it for an even quicker second meal. Just add tortillas and salsa.

Inspired by:
Mexican Everyday by Rick Bayless

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Filed under: Slow cooker, Weeknight dinner


Hi! I’m Mike Vrobel. I’m a dad and an enthusiastic home cook; an indie cookbook author and food blogger with a day job, a patient spouse, and three kids who would rather have hamburgers for dinner.


  1. Um, no. Barbacoa is the cooking technique [Wikipedia]. Barbacoa de cabeza is the barbacoa using the head.

    You should be calling me out for not digging a pit in my back yard…but even then, this has become a generic term for slow cooked meat.

  2. In Texas and Northern Mexico Barbacoa specifically refers to slow-cooked meat from the HEAD of a cow. Traditionally the head would be wrapped in maguey (century plant agave) leaves and buried in a pit with hot coals. Other more contemporary slow-cooking techniques are used now. However, if you served tacos in Texas and called the filling Barbacoa, it better be cheek/head meat. Certainly NOT chuck roast.
    I am sure it is delicious. It’s just not Barbacoa…

  3. @Dave:

    I have this one: Presto 07046 Big Griddle .
    I love the extra large size of this griddle – 18″ x 24″. The tilt and drain feature is annoying – it tends to tilt when I don’t want it to. Other than that, it has worked very well for me for years. I can squeeze 12 burgers (or 6 inch tortillas) on the large flat top.

    Alton Brown recommends the Broil King PCG-10 Griddle, and the All Clad Electric Griddle looks gorgeous. They are both better build quality than my Presto, but they also have a lot less surface area. Like I said, I love extra space on a griddle, so I’m sticking with the Presto.

  4. @Mike:

    I tend to stick to flour tortillas for store-bought; I’ve been spoiled by my wife’s homemade corn tortillas, and store bought corn tortillas are a pale substitute. (The exception is if you have a good Mexican grocery or tortillaria making them fresh that day.)

    For flour tortillas, if I’m grilling, I spread them out on the grill and grill them for about a minute a side. I do the same thing with my electric griddle if I’m not grilling.

    The other way I reheat them is to wrap them in two damp paper towels, then put that in an open zip-lock baggie, then microwave for two minutes. This steams them in the bag. (If the bag they came in seems heavy enough, I use that as the outer plastic bag.)

  5. Mike:

    I am curious if you have a recommended method for warming store bought tortillas, whether corn or flour? I have searched your site and have not seen this discussed, other than via the grill for fajitas.


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