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!

a grey plate filled with shredded barbacoa and two forks next to a white speckled plate with lime wedges and a knife on a marble surface

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.

Ingredients Needed

Here’s what you’ll need for the yummiest fall-apart tender barbacoa:

plates with barbacoa taco ingredients on a marble surface including chunks of chuck roast, garlic cloves, spices, limes, cilantro, bay leaves, salt, butter, and apple cider vinegar
  • 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:

woman's hand seasoning a plate full of chunks of bright red beef
slow cooker filled with chunks of seared beef and bay leaves
cast iron skillet on a marble surface filled with large chunks of seared beef with one being held by a pair of tongs
a grey plate filled with shredded barbacoa and two forks next to a white speckled plate with lime wedges and a knife on a marble surface
  1. Season the beef. Cut the beef into 8 large chunks, then evenly coat it with the spices. 
  2. 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.
  3. 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. 
  4. 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. 
  5. 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.
slow cooker filled with chunks of seared beef and bay leaves

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!

grey plate with two corn tortilla tacos filled with barbacoa and topped with sliced avocado, watermelon radishes, chopped cilantro, and lime wedges on a mabrle surface
What does barbacoa taste like?

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!

What kind of meat is barbacoa?

Barbacoa is made from beef. For this easy, home cook-friendly version of barbacoa, we opted to use chuck roast.

What is traditional barbacoa made from?

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!

How long do barbacoa tacos last? 

Barbacoa will last for 4-5 days in the refrigerator and up to 4 months in the freezer.

Easy Slow Cooker Barbacoa Beef Recipe

4.80 — Votes 5 votes
By Cassy
Prep: 10 minutes
Cook: 4 hours 30 minutes
Total: 4 hours 40 minutes
Servings: 6 to 8 servings
These slow cooker barbacoa tacos require little hands-on time, and are packed with flavor thanks to a bold blend of Mexican spices, lime juice, and apple cider vinegar!


  • 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.

Recipe Notes

For the jicama tortillas:
To make the jicama tortillas, slice a jicama into thin discs, then either place the jicama discs in a steamer basket over boiling water for 3 minutes or place them in a microwave-safe bowl with 2 tablespoons water, cover, and microwave on high for 3 minutes. They’re finished when their texture goes from brittle to flexible. Let cool, then drain over paper towels.
Instant Pot Version:
  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. After 60 minutes is up, let the pressure release naturally (about 20 minutes) and remove the lid from the pot.
  4. Once the barbacoa is done, follow the remaining instructions from Step 4 on.


Calories: 144kcal | Carbohydrates: 12.8g | Protein: 2.8g | Fat: 11.4g | Saturated Fat: 1.6g | Cholesterol: 2.8mg | Sodium: 446.3mg | Fiber: 5.2g | Sugar: 1.9g

Additional Info

Course: Dinner
Cuisine: Mexican
Servings: 6 to 8 servings
Calories: 144
Keyword: barbacoa, instant pot, slow cooker, tacos

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About the Author

Cassy Joy Garcia, NC

Cassy Joy Garcia, a New York Times best-selling author, of Cook Once Dinner Fix, Cook Once Eat All Week, and Fed and Fit as well as the creative force behind the popular food blog Fed & Fit.

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Recipe Rating


  1. Made this and loved it for tacos. Question, any advice when getting a chuck roast from the butcher. The one I got from Whole Foods was full of membranes, silver looking skin, and thick fat sections, so cutting it into small pieces in order to season and sear was more of a process than anticipated. Is this what is expected with all chuck roast cuts, or maybe this particular piece I got was just not well butchered? Are there certain questions I should ask at the butcher counter in the future? Thank you!

    Side note for others: I used leftover barbacoa in a breakfast bowl with roasted sweet potatoes, zucchini, cotija, and poached eggs and it was delicious (chef’s kiss).

    1. Hi Nikki! I haven’t run into that with a chuck roast, so you may ask your butcher for some help next time. I *think* they can remove the silver skin for you – it’s worth an ask, for sure!

    1. I think a regular vinegar would be too strong, Chrissy. Try subbing the apple cider vinegar with more lime juice instead!

  2. 5 stars
    Did this in my instapot on low (bc I have to choose between high or low)… So delicious and temder! I didn’t really make any modifications and would highly recommend, very flavorful and easy. Only change I would make is to make more for more leftovers.

    1. So glad you enjoyed these, Sophia! Thanks for sharing this with us!

  3. Hi! I just ordered Butcher Box for the first time and got a chuck roast. They send a 2.25 lb one, how could I make this work for the recipe instead of a 3 lb one? Would I need to adjust the time?

  4. Love this recipe. The spice combination is pretty incredible. The flavor of the barbacoa is deep rich and smoky. Its the clove with the chipotle chili pepper. Well Done Cassy Joy

    1. So glad you love this one, Krista! Thanks so much for sharing this with us!

    1. We don’t find this recipe particularly spicy, but if you’re worried about the spice, you can totally sub mild paprika in for the chili powder!

  5. Hi just, making my grocery list and I noticed in the slow cook version that it calls for chuck roast (beef) and in instapot version it says seasoned pork. I feel like both would be good with this recipt but wondering if pork is recommended for instapot version for some reason? Thanks 🙂

    1. It should say “chuck roast” instead of “pork” in the Instant Pot directions! So sorry about that!! It’s fixed now!

  6. I am curious if this would work with ground beef. I’m just trying to utilize what I have but want some tacos that are better than the average taco seasoning packet style. Was thinking of browning the meat and letting it simmer for a bit real low with all these spices. Think it would work?

  7. Hi! I want to try this in my instant pot! Any recommendations on the cooking time? And would I need extra fluid also? Thanks!

    1. You’d need to add 1 cup of water for the Instant Pot and press the “manual” button – high pressure for 75-90 minutes. Hope that helps!

  8. Hi Cassy! I am wondering what you would recommend if using a Dutch oven to cook this in as far as oven temp and cook time? Thanks and can’t wait to try it!

    1. I recommend a temperature of 300 F for about 1 hour per pound of meat. I hope that helps!