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Mexican Barbacoa Recipe

Real deal barbacoa beef! So tender and juicy after slow cooking in the oven. This is grandpa’s Mexican barbacoa recipe for beef cheek tacos at home!

Overhead shot of 3 barbacoa tacos on a white plate

Authentic Mexican Barbacoa Recipe

Ok, so it’s not QUITE authentic…

Traditionally barbacoa is meat that has been slowly steamed in a pit in the ground.

I don’t know anyone who’s digging holes in their backyard anymore, so this is authentic as it gets for modern times!

This dish makes a tasty change to the authentic carne asada tacos we frequently eat.

Platter of shredded beef cheek barbacoa with cilantro garnish

Barbacoa is a method, which means various protein can be used (goat, lamb, etc) and numerous cuts of meat.

Recipes and ingredients will vary greatly from region to region, person to person.

This Mexican barbacoa recipe comes straight from my husband’s grandfather – muchas gracias, Grandpa! Te queremos!

Before we were married I would go visit on Sundays when he would make a HUGE pan of barbacoa for the family.

He would start it the night before so it would be ready Sunday morning and the aroma that filled the house would drive you wild.

We would run down to the corner store for some Mexican corn in a cup to eat with our taco lunch and watch football.

Grandpa’s barbacoa is famous and if you make this you’ll soon see why!

The meat is fall apart tender, succulent and the flavor of the beef is the star of the show.

In the past he would roast a whole cow’s heads, but those can be a bit difficult to find if you don’t have a special butcher.

To make this easy, we use just the beef cheek, which is readily available.

3 barbacoa tacos on a black plate topped with salsa, cilantro and onion

Cheek Meat Barbacoa

If you’ve never tried beef cheek before then you are in for a treat!

The meat is so rich and tender. The flavor is similar to beef roast (not liver or other organs) so I know you will like it.

Cheek meat contains a lot of fat which breaks down when cooking.

This serves to both flavor the meat and also tenderize it.

If cheek meat is not available, you may substitute chuck roast.

You can also try cow tongue if you’re feeling adventurous. It’s delicious!

Like I said before, this Mexican barbacoa recipe is extremely simple, so that the flavor of the beef can shine through.

Only four ingredients are needed to prepare this barbacoa recipe: beef cheek, garlic clove, salt and pepper.

No other ingredients are needed for mouthwatering delicious barbacoa!

3 barbacoa tacos on a black plate topped with salsa, cilantro and onion

How Much Barbacoa Should You Make?

The recipe at the bottom of this post is calculated for 2.5 pounds of meat which yields about 15 tacos.

Here are the instructions for 1 pound of meat which you can easily triple, quadruple, etc. depending on how many people you need to serve.

One pound will yield approximately 6 tacos.

  • 1 lb beef cheek meat
  • 1-2 cloves of garlic (use 2 if they’re on the small side)
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt or ¾ teaspoon table salt
  • ¼ teaspoon black pepper

The method of preparation is important, so continue reading.

How to Make Barbacoa

Rinse the beef cheek in cold water and pat dry with a paper towel.

Place the cheeks on a large piece of heavy duty aluminum foil.

Add the cloves of garlic and season with salt and pepper.

Raw beef cheeks season with salt, pepper and cloves of garlic

If the seasoning is not enough, you can add more after it has cooked and you’ve tasted it.

Arrange the pieces with the fat side facing up.

Fold up the edges of the foil creating an airtight packet. There should be no leaks.

Large foil packet in 13x9 glass baking dish

Grandpa said you can double wrap it with another piece of foil to be sure there’s no leakage, but he’s adamant about it being heavy duty foil and not the regular kind. I don’t argue with success.

Place the foil packet in an oven safe baking dish.

The material of the dish may have an effect on how fast it cooks. Glass cooks faster than metal.

How to make barbacoa in the oven:

Bake at 350°F for 75 minutes per pound of meat. (For example, 3lbs = 3 hours 45 minutes).

At this point you can remove the dish from the oven and carefully open the packet.

Test the doneness by shredding a small portion with a fork.

Most of the fat should be melted and the meat should fall apart and shred easily.

If not, close up the foil and continue cooking longer, about 15 minutes per pound or until tender.

Roasted beef cheek fresh from the oven

Remove and discard any large chunks of fat.

You may discard the garlic or mash it into the sauce if you love garlic.

Transfer the meat along with its juice from the foil packet to the baking dish.

If there is excessive fat, this can be skimmed from the broth, but fat equals flavor.

Taste and add additional salt and pepper if necessary.

Shredded beef cheek in baking dish for Mexican barbacoa recipe

Barbacoa Tacos

Finely shred the beef and serve with hot tortillas.

We prefer corn tortillas or homemade flour tortillas.

Cilantro, onions and lime are the toppings of choice – they really balance out the richness of the meat.

Don’t forget your favorite pico, hot sauce or some guajillo chile salsa!

If you enjoyed this Mexican Barbacoa Recipe, please leave a 5-star rating or friendly comment below!

Overhead shot of 3 barbacoa tacos on a white plate

Mexican Barbacoa Recipe

Yield: 15 tacos
Prep Time: 5 minutes
Cook Time: 3 hours
Total Time: 3 hours 5 minutes

Amazingly succulent authentic Mexican Barbacoa recipe for beef cheek tacos!

Ingredients

  • 2 1/2 lbs beef cheek meat or chuck roast
  • 2-3 cloves of garlic
  • 2 1/2 teaspoons salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon black pepper

Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 350°F.
  2. Rinse the beef cheek in cold water and pat dry with a paper towel.
  3. Place the cheeks on a large piece of heavy duty aluminum foil.
  4. Add the cloves of garlic and season with salt and pepper.
  5. Arrange the pieces with the fat side facing up.
  6. Fold up the edges of the foil creating an airtight packet. There should be no leaks. Double wrap if necessary.
  7. Place the foil packet in an oven safe baking dish and bake at 350°F for 3 hours.
  8. Test for doneness by shredding with a fork. Most of the fat should be melted and the meat should fall apart and shred easily. If not, close up the foil and continue cooking longer, about 15 minutes per pound.
  9. After meat is cooked, remove and discard any large chunks of fat. You may discard the garlic or mash it in if you love garlic.
  10. Transfer the meat along with its juice from the foil packet to the baking dish. If there is an excessive amount of fat, this can be skimmed from the broth, but fat equals flavor.
  11. Taste and add additional salt and pepper if necessary. Finely shred the beef and serve with hot tortillas. 

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Nutrition Information:
Yield: 15 Serving Size: 1
Amount Per Serving: Calories: 252Total Fat: 17gSaturated Fat: 7gTrans Fat: 0gUnsaturated Fat: 8gCholesterol: 77mgSodium: 411mgCarbohydrates: 0gFiber: 0gSugar: 0gProtein: 24g

Nutritional information provided is an estimate only. Please consult the labels of ingredients you use for more accurate results.

Did you make this recipe?

Leave a comment below! Or tag @kitchengidget on Instagram with the hashtag #kitchengidget

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Nancy Hubble

Thursday 24th of September 2020

Perfect! Thank you for this simple authentic recipe.

Danelle

Thursday 20th of August 2020

I can’t wait to try this! It gave me a chuckle, because I do in fact know a lot of people who still dig holes and put their food! It must be a regional thing (I live in southwest AZ) I on the other hand am for too lazy, so I will be trying your method. Thank you!!

Rebekah

Friday 21st of August 2020

That's so cool! We just moved to southeast AZ so I wonder if they do it here too?! Definitely not in the midwest. :-)

Ben

Wednesday 3rd of June 2020

THIS IS SPOT-ON!! I grew up near the border in San Diego...and this is how Barbacoa tastes!! Thank your Papi for not messing this up by adding cumin, paprika, dried chiles, cinnamon, orange juice, or any other Anglo or TexMex things...and for NOT using Chuck Roast or brisket! (Like Chipotle's or other American restaurants do).

To those who say this recipe is bland? The flavor should be all meat--and this recipe gives you exactly that!

Rebekah

Thursday 4th of June 2020

Thanks so much!

Shari D Scott

Tuesday 21st of January 2020

Hi there! I have cooked cheeks for barbacoa a few times, and I thought I would try your recipe. Always before I boiled the meat a few times to remove most of the blood. I tried it your way and found that I had to cook it much longer than you mentioned, but that might have been my pan - I used a stone casserole dish. I also noticed that the meat had a great deal of gristle in it. I've never seen that before in cheek meat...was this just a poorly cut package or have you had this occur occasionally?

Rebekah

Tuesday 21st of January 2020

I've never experienced gristle before! Blood has never been an issue either, usually just rinsing the meat cleans it up.

Pat

Tuesday 14th of January 2020

Can I use another piece of meat for this? It's hard to find beef cheek in Ohio.

Rebekah

Tuesday 14th of January 2020

Yes you can use beef chuck roast.