How To Make Barbacoa In Crock Pot [COMPLETE GUIDE]

Barbacoa is a delicious Mexican dish that is slow-cooked with tender and flavorful meat. Traditionally, it is made by slow-cooking a whole animal, such as a cow’s head or a goat, in an underground pit. However, making barbacoa in a crock pot is a convenient and easy alternative for those who may not have access to a pit. In this article, we will guide you through the process of making barbacoa in a crock pot, from selecting the ingredients to troubleshooting common issues.

Quick Answer: How Long To Make Barbacoa In Crock Pot

Cooking barbacoa in a crock pot requires slow and low heat to ensure the meat becomes tender and infused with flavors. As a general guideline, it takes approximately 6 to 8 hours on low heat or 3 to 4 hours on high heat to make barbacoa in a crock pot. However, the precise cooking time may vary depending on the size of the meat and the heat settings of your specific crock pot. It is important to check the meat periodically and adjust the cooking time accordingly to achieve the desired tenderness.


Choosing the right meat is crucial to make a flavorful and tender barbacoa. Traditionally, barbacoa is made using tougher cuts of meat, such as beef cheeks, chuck roast, or beef brisket. These cuts have a higher fat content, which adds richness and moisture to the dish. When selecting the meat, look for cuts that are well-marbled and have a good amount of fat running through them.

Additionally, consider the size of the meat. Smaller cuts, such as beef cheeks or beef chuck roast, will cook faster and may require less time in the crock pot compared to larger cuts like beef brisket. The size of the meat will also determine the amount of seasoning and liquid needed, so keep this in mind when planning your barbacoa recipe.


Before you start cooking your barbacoa, it is important to properly prepare the meat for optimal flavor and tenderness. Follow these steps to prepare your meat for the crock pot:

  1. Trim excess fat: While some fat is desirable for flavor, too much fat can make the dish greasy. Trim any excess fat from the meat using a sharp knife.

  2. Season the meat: Using a combination of spices and herbs will enhance the flavor of your barbacoa. A traditional barbacoa seasoning includes ingredients such as chili powder, cumin, garlic powder, onion powder, oregano, and salt. Rub the seasoning mixture onto the meat, ensuring it is evenly coated.

  3. Sear the meat (optional): Searing the meat before slow-cooking it in the crock pot can add a caramelized crust and depth of flavor. Heat some oil in a skillet over high heat and sear the seasoned meat on all sides until browned. This step is optional but highly recommended.

  4. Prepare the marinade (optional): Some recipes call for marinating the meat in a flavorful liquid before cooking. This step is optional but can add an extra layer of flavor to your barbacoa. Common marinade ingredients include lime juice, vinegar, chipotle peppers in adobo sauce, and various spices. Combine the marinade ingredients in a bowl and pour over the meat. Allow the meat to marinate in the refrigerator for at least a few hours or overnight for maximum flavor.

Crock Pot Cooking Times For Barbacoa

As mentioned earlier, the cooking time for barbacoa in a crock pot can vary depending on the size of the meat and the heat settings of your specific crock pot. Here are the general cooking times to keep in mind:

  • Low heat setting: It takes approximately 6 to 8 hours on low heat to cook barbacoa in a crock pot. This slow cooking method allows the meat to become tender and infuse with flavors gradually.

  • High heat setting: If you’re short on time, you can cook barbacoa on high heat for approximately 3 to 4 hours. However, keep in mind that cooking on high heat may result in slightly less tender meat compared to cooking on low heat.

It’s important to note that these are rough estimates, and you should always check the meat for tenderness during the cooking process. Adjust the cooking time as needed to achieve the desired texture.

How To Make Barbacoa In Crock Pot

Follow these step-by-step instructions to make delicious barbacoa in a crock pot:

  1. Select the meat: Choose a cut of meat that is suitable for slow cooking, such as beef cheeks, chuck roast, or beef brisket. Ensure the meat is well-marbled and has a good amount of fat running through it for added flavor and tenderness. Consider the size of the meat based on your preferred cooking time.

  2. Prepare the meat: Trim any excess fat from the meat, then season it with a mixture of chili powder, cumin, garlic powder, onion powder, oregano, and salt. Rub the seasoning mixture onto the meat, ensuring it is evenly coated. Optionally, you can sear the meat in a skillet over high heat to add a caramelized crust.

  3. Prepare the marinade (optional): If desired, prepare a marinade using ingredients such as lime juice, vinegar, chipotle peppers in adobo sauce, and spices. Combine the marinade ingredients in a bowl, then pour it over the meat. Allow the meat to marinate in the refrigerator for at least a few hours or overnight.

  4. Prepare the crock pot: Place a slow cooker liner or grease the crock pot to prevent sticking. For additional flavor, you can line the bottom of the crock pot with sliced onions or garlic cloves.

  5. Add the meat and liquid: Place the seasoned meat into the crock pot, ensuring it fits snugly. Add a liquid of your choice, such as beef broth, water, or a combination of both, until the meat is partially submerged. This will help keep the meat moist during the cooking process.

  6. Cook on low heat: Set the crock pot to low heat and cover it with the lid. Cook the barbacoa for approximately 6 to 8 hours, or until the meat is tender and can easily be shredded with a fork. For a faster cooking time, you can use the high heat setting, but be aware that the meat may not be as tender.

  7. Shred the meat: Once the barbacoa is cooked to your desired tenderness, remove the meat from the crock pot and transfer it to a plate or cutting board. Use two forks to shred the meat apart, discarding any excess fat if desired.

  8. Strain and reduce the cooking liquid (optional): If you’d like to use the cooking liquid as a sauce or serve it on the side, strain it through a fine mesh sieve to remove any impurities. Optionally, you can then transfer the strained liquid to a saucepan and simmer it over medium heat to reduce and concentrate the flavors.

  9. Serve and enjoy: Serve the tender shredded barbacoa meat on warm tortillas with your favorite toppings such as onions, cilantro, lime juice, and salsa. If desired, drizzle some of the reduced cooking liquid over the meat for added flavor. Barbacoa can also be used in tacos, burritos, quesadillas, or enjoyed on its own with rice and beans.

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Troubleshooting Common Issues

Here are some common issues you may encounter while making barbacoa in a crock pot, along with troubleshooting tips:

  • Dry meat: If your barbacoa turns out dry, it may be due to a lack of moisture or overcooking. To prevent this, ensure that the meat is partially submerged in liquid during cooking. Additionally, don’t exceed the recommended cooking times, as overcooking can result in dry meat. You can also try increasing the amount of cooking liquid or reducing the cooking time.

  • Lack of flavor: If your barbacoa lacks flavor, it may be due to insufficient seasoning or marinating time. Ensure that you evenly coat the meat with the seasoning mixture and allow it to marinate for a sufficient amount of time. You can also adjust the amount of spices and seasonings to suit your taste preferences.

  • Tough meat: Tough meat can result from using cuts that are not suitable for slow cooking or not cooking the meat long enough. Ensure that you choose the appropriate cuts of meat and monitor the cooking process to achieve the desired tenderness. If the meat is still tough after the recommended cooking time, continue cooking it on low heat until it becomes tender.

Making barbacoa in a crock pot is a convenient and delicious way to enjoy this traditional Mexican dish. By selecting the right meat, properly preparing it, and following the recommended cooking times and techniques, you can achieve tender and flavorful barbacoa. Experiment with different seasonings and cooking methods to create a barbacoa recipe that suits your taste preferences. So grab your crock pot and get ready to indulge in a savory and succulent barbacoa feast!

Achieving Perfect Texture

Barbacoa is a traditional Mexican dish that originated from the Caribbean in the pre-Hispanic era. It is typically made by slow-cooking meat, traditionally beef or lamb, over an open fire or in a pit. The unique cooking process results in a tender, juicy, and flavorful meat that is perfect for tacos, burritos, or even on its own. While the traditional method requires time and effort, you can recreate the same delicious barbacoa in your crock pot with minimal effort.

One of the defining characteristics of barbacoa is its melt-in-your-mouth texture. The meat should be so tender that it easily shreds with a fork. Achieving this texture in a crock pot requires a combination of low and slow cooking along with the right cut of meat.

The best cut of meat for barbacoa is beef chuck roast or beef brisket. These cuts are well-marbled with fat and have a higher collagen content, which ensures that the meat remains moist and tender during the extended cooking process. The fat and collagen slowly break down during the long cooking time and contribute to the richness and flavor of the dish.

To achieve the perfect texture, it is essential to cook the meat on a low heat setting for a long period. This allows the collagen to break down fully, resulting in tender and succulent meat. Set your crock pot to the low heat setting and cook the meat for around 7-8 hours. The slow cooking process will ensure that the meat reaches the ideal texture.

Flavor Infusion

Barbacoa is known for its rich and bold flavors. While the traditional method involves marinating the meat in a variety of spices and seasonings, the crock pot method allows for the flavors to infuse into the meat during the cooking process.

To infuse intense flavors into your crock pot barbacoa, start by creating a marinade. The marinade typically consists of a mixture of spices, herbs, and citrus juices. Some commonly used ingredients include dried chilies, cumin, garlic, oregano, cinnamon, and lime juice. You can adjust the spice level according to your preference by adding more or less chili powder or chipotle peppers in adobo sauce.

To marinate the meat, simply pour the marinade over the beef in the crock pot, ensuring that it is evenly coated. Allow the meat to marinate for at least an hour or overnight for maximum flavor infusion. As the meat cooks on low heat, the flavors from the marinade will meld with the beef, resulting in a mouthwatering taste.


The tantalizing aroma of barbacoa can fill your entire home and make your mouth water long before you take your first bite. The aroma is a result of the slow cooking process and the combination of spices and seasonings used in the dish.

As the meat cooks in the crock pot, the delicious aroma will gradually fill your kitchen, making it hard to resist. The combination of spices like cumin, garlic, and oregano, along with the slow-cooked meat, creates a scent that is both inviting and comforting.

To enhance the aroma even further, you can add additional aromatic ingredients to the crock pot. For example, you can add a few bay leaves or a sliced onion to the pot before cooking. These ingredients will release their natural aromas as they cook with the meat, enhancing the overall experience. The irresistible aroma of barbacoa will undoubtedly make your taste buds tingle with anticipation.

Cooking Techniques

While the slow cooking process in a crock pot is the primary cooking technique for barbacoa, there are some additional techniques you can utilize to further enhance the flavor and texture of the dish.

  1. Searing the meat: Before placing the beef in the crock pot, consider searing it on a hot skillet. Searing creates a crust on the exterior of the meat, which adds depth of flavor and enhances the overall appearance of the barbacoa. Simply heat some oil in a skillet and sear the meat on all sides for a couple of minutes before transferring it to the crock pot.

  2. Deglazing the skillet: After searing the meat, there will likely be browned bits stuck to the bottom of the skillet. These browned bits, known as fond, are packed with flavor. To capture these flavors, deglaze the skillet by adding some liquid, such as broth or water, and scraping the bottom with a wooden spoon. The deglazed liquid can be added to the crock pot to further enhance the taste of the barbacoa.

  3. Basting the meat: During the cooking process, you can baste the meat with the cooking liquid to ensure that it remains moist and flavorful. Every few hours, use a spoon or ladle to pour some of the cooking liquid over the meat. This will help to maintain the moisture and allow the flavors to penetrate deeper into the meat.

  4. Resting the meat: Once the meat is done cooking, remove it from the crock pot and let it rest for a few minutes before shredding. Resting allows the juices to redistribute, resulting in a moist and tender final product. Simply place the meat on a cutting board and cover it loosely with aluminum foil. Allow it to rest for about 10-15 minutes before shredding.

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These additional cooking techniques will take your crock pot barbacoa to the next level by adding complexity and depth of flavor.

Crock Pot Tips For Barbacoa

When making barbacoa in a crock pot, it’s important to follow a few tips to ensure the best results. These tips will help make your cooking process more efficient and your barbacoa even more delicious.

  1. Choose the right size crock pot: The size of your crock pot should accommodate the size of the beef you are using. It should be large enough for the meat to fit comfortably with some space for the cooking liquid. If the crock pot is too small, it may overcrowd the meat and result in uneven cooking.

  2. Trim excess fat: While marbling fat is crucial for adding flavor and tenderness to the barbacoa, excessive fat can make the dish greasy. Trim off any large chunks of fat from the beef before cooking to ensure a balanced and flavorful dish.

  3. Use low heat: The low heat setting on your crock pot is essential for achieving the tender texture of barbacoa. Avoid the temptation to use high heat or shorten the cooking time as this will result in tough meat.

  4. Avoid lifting the lid: It may be tempting to check on the progress of your barbacoa by lifting the lid. However, lifting the lid releases precious heat and extends the cooking time. Trust the slow cooking process and resist the urge to peek.

  5. Skim excess fat: After the barbacoa is cooked, there may be a layer of fat on top of the cooking liquid. Skim off the excess fat before shredding the meat to reduce greasiness.

Creative Crock Pot Barbacoa Recipes

While the traditional barbacoa recipe calls for beef as the main ingredient, you can experiment with different meats and flavors to create unique variations of this classic dish. Here are a few creative crock pot barbacoa recipes to try:

1. Pork Carnitas Barbacoa

Switch up the traditional beef for succulent pork carnitas. To make this variation, simply substitute pork shoulder or pork butt for the beef chuck roast. The rest of the recipe remains the same. The result is tender, flavorful pork carnitas that can be used in tacos, burritos, or even as a topping for nachos.

2. Barbacoa Tacos Al Pastor

Add a twist to your barbacoa by infusing it with the flavors of tacos al pastor. To achieve this, incorporate ingredients like pineapple juice, chipotle peppers in adobo sauce, and a touch of cinnamon to the marinade. The combination of sweet, spicy, and smoky flavors will take your barbacoa to a whole new level of deliciousness.

3. Chipotle-Lime Barbacoa

For a bold and tangy flavor, try a chipotle-lime barbacoa. Add chipotle peppers in adobo sauce and freshly squeezed lime juice to the marinade. The chipotle peppers provide smoky heat, while the lime juice adds a zesty kick. This flavor combination is perfect for tacos, burritos, or even in a rice bowl.

4. Barbacoa With Coffee And Chocolate

For an unexpected twist, infuse your barbacoa with the rich and complex flavors of coffee and chocolate. Add a shot of espresso or strong brewed coffee, along with some cocoa powder, to the marinade. These ingredients will add depth and richness to the dish, creating a unique and indulgent barbacoa experience.

Feel free to experiment with different ingredients and flavor combinations to create your own signature crock pot barbacoa recipe. The possibilities are endless!


Making barbacoa in a crock pot is a convenient and easy way to recreate the traditional Mexican dish at home. By following the techniques and tips outlined in this article, you can achieve the perfect texture, infuse intense flavors, and fill your home with the irresistible aroma of barbacoa. The slow cooking process in the crock pot results in tender and juicy meat that can be enjoyed in tacos, burritos, or any other creative dish you can imagine. So grab your crock pot and get ready to make a mouthwatering barbacoa that will impress your family and friends.


What Cut Of Meat Should I Use To Make Barbacoa In A Crock Pot?

The best cut of meat to use is beef cheek or chuck roast. These cuts are flavorful and become tender when cooked slowly in the crock pot.

What Ingredients Do I Need To Make Barbacoa In The Crock Pot?

To make barbacoa in the crock pot, you will need beef cheek or chuck roast, dried guajillo chili peppers, ground cumin, ground cloves, dried oregano, garlic cloves, apple cider vinegar, lime juice, onion, and beef broth.

How Long Does It Take To Cook Barbacoa In The Crock Pot?

It takes approximately 8-10 hours on low heat to cook barbacoa in the crock pot.

Can I Make Barbacoa In A Pressure Cooker Instead Of A Crock Pot?

Yes, you can make barbacoa in a pressure cooker. Cook the meat for approximately 60-90 minutes in the pressure cooker until it is tender.

What Are Some Serving Suggestions For Barbacoa?

Barbacoa can be served as a filling for tacos, burritos, or as a topping for nachos. You can also serve it with rice and beans or on top of a salad for a healthier option.