This easy slow cooker barbacoa is fall-apart tender and filled with flavor thanks to a combination of spices, lime juice, and apple cider vinegar. It is sure to be a hit in any home!
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This slow cooker barbacoa recipe comes to you straight from the Fed & Fit cookbook! This is not only one of my favorite recipes from the book, but one of my favorite recipes on the site – and one I reach for again and again. It is easy to make, requires little hands-on time, and is packed with flavor.
Here’s what you’ll need for the yummiest fall-apart tender barbacoa:
- Chuck Roast – you’ll need 3 pounds of chuck roast to serve 6-8 people.
- Spices – a combination of salt, pepper, cumin, chipotle chili powder, Mexican oregano, cloves, garlic, and bay leaves lend so much flavor to the beef!
- Butter – you’ll need 2 tablespoons butter or olive oil for searing the beef.
- Apple Cider Vinegar + Lime Juice – we’re using two types of acid in this recipe to provide the classic barbacoa flavor.
- Tortillas – you can use corn tortillas, flour tortillas, or even jicama tortillas for a lower-carb or grain-free option here!
How to Make Slow Cooker Barbacoa
The method for making this slow cooker barbacoa beef is super simple! Here’s how to do it:
- Season the beef. Cut the beef into 8 large chunks, then evenly coat it with the spices.
- Sear the beef. Next, melt the butter in a large skillet, or in your slow cooker insert if it is stovetop friendly! Once the butter is melted, sear the beef for about 3 minutes per side, or until browned.
- Add everything to the slow cooker. Place the beef in the slow cooker along with the garlic, bay leaves, lime juice, and apple cider vinegar.
- Cover and cook. Place the lid on the slow cooker, then set to cook for 4 hours on high or 8 hours on low, until the beef falls apart when pulled with a fork.
- Pull the beef apart + serve. Remove the beef from the slow cooker, then pull it apart with two forks. Serve the beef in warmed tortillas with the garnishes of your choice.
How to Make Ahead
If you’re looking to make this ahead of time, the good news is that the beef saves great and may taste even better the next day once the flavors have time to marry!
If you’re making it in advance, it’ll be best 1-2 days after cooking and I recommend storing it with the extra juices from the slow cooker. Once you’re ready to reheat it, place the beef on a sheet pan, then spoon some of the juices over the top of the beef and bake it at 400°F for about 10 minutes until it is slightly browned. You can also reheat it in a skillet over medium heat for about 3 minutes per side, or microwave it for 1-2 minutes until heated through.
The beef also freezes well! If you’d like to go this route, let the beef cool completely, then package it into an airtight container and freeze it for up to 4 months. To defrost it, you can either leave it in the refrigerator overnight or place the container in a bowl filled with cold water for about 1 hour. Once defrosted, you can reheat it using one of the methods above!
Frequently Asked Questions
Barbacoa has plenty of savory flavor thanks to Mexican spices like cumin, chili powder, and oregano along with a perfect punch of acidity from a combination of lime juice and apple cider vinegar. The beef itself is super tender thanks to slow cooking all day!
Barbacoa is made from beef. For this easy, home cook-friendly version of barbacoa, we opted to use chuck roast.
Traditional barbacoa often uses a cow’s head or beef cheeks that are cooked in an underground pit until tender. In some parts of Mexico, it is also made with goat or sheep. For the most part though, barbacoa these days is made from a rump roast or chuck roast – which is what we chose for this recipe since it is more readily available!
Barbacoa will last for 4-5 days in the refrigerator and up to 4 months in the freezer.
Easy Slow Cooker Barbacoa Beef Recipe
- 1 teaspoon fine sea salt
- 1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
- 1 tablespoon ground cumin
- 1 tablespoon chipotle chili powder use ancho chili powder or paprika for a milder option
- 1 tablespoon dried Mexican oregano leaves may also use regular oregano if needed
- 1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
- 1 3-pound chuck roast, cut into 8 large chunks
- 2 tablespoons salted butter or extra-virgin olive oil
- 4 cloves garlic minced
- 3 bay leaves
- 1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
- 1/4 cup fresh lime juice about 2 limes
- Corn tortillas warmed, optional, for serving
- 1 lime quartered, optional, for garnish
- Chopped fresh cilantro optional, for garnish
- Sliced avocado optional, for garnish
- Watermelon radishes optional, for garnish
- In a small bowl, mix together the salt, pepper, cumin, chipotle chili powder, oregano, and cloves. Dust the pieces of chuck roast with the spice mixture, making sure to coat all sides well.
- Melt the butter in a large frying pan or sauté pan over high heat. Once melted, add the beef in batches so that the pan isn’t overcrowded. Sear the beef for about 3 minutes per side, or until it develops a nice char. Transfer the cooked beef to a slow cooker and repeat with the remaining meat.
- Add the garlic and bay leaves to the cooked beef in the slow cooker. Pour in the vinegar and lime juice. Cover and cook for 4 hours on high, or until the beef falls apart when tested with a fork.
- Pull out and discard the bay leaves and then, working in the slow cooker, use two forks to shred the beef. Stir it in the juices.
- Serve the tortillas with shredded beef, garnished with lime wedges, avocado, radishes, and cilantro.
- Add 2 tbsps. oil to Instant Pot and press “sauté” to heat. Working in batches, add seasoned chuck roast and sear on all sides until light browned.
- Add garlic, bay leaves, vinegar, and lime juice and an additional 1/2 cup water, place the lid on the pot, cover, and make sure the valve is set to sealed. Press the “manual” button and set to cook for 60 minutes.
- After 60 minutes is up, let the pressure release naturally (about 20 minutes) and remove the lid from the pot.
- Once the barbacoa is done, follow the remaining instructions from Step 4 on.