Barbacoa Tacos and Bonus Chili

A smoked and slow roasted barbacoa recipe, Americanized only by the use of a smoker and a readily available chuck roast cut. A bonus chili recipe from the roasting sauce is included.

I’ve spoken before about how our family’s cooking activities have “ruined” certain convenience items for us. In many cases, the recipes or techniques that we’ve developed at home, while they may take more time, result in a product far superior than what is commercially available. Things like burgers, barbecue, pasta sauce, and pesto along with a long list of other items are now foods we take the extra time to make from scratch because we value the end product.

The problem that arises with this is that on those days when we just don’t have time, our options for fast(er) convenience foods are quite limited. So when we are in need we have a short list of fast meals from home, and when away from home, the local branch of a certain foil-wrapped burrito chain is our go-to, and with good reason.

Last week however, Shaina presented me with a challenge: Use up the last of the beef roasts in the freezer before it was time to pick up our beef from the farmer and don’t make pot roast. So with those orders and our love of Mexican flavors I decided to try my hand at barbacoa, which is traditionally made from a cows head or whole sheep wrapped in leaves and slow-cooked in a pit with coals.

The resulting meat can then stewed in various sauces before being shredded and served on tortillas with onions, cilantro and lime. Modern times have resulted in a high degree of regional variations, and so this endeavor will parallel what we are accustomed to getting from the aforementioned burrito chain.

I tackled this project on a Saturday afternoon when we were getting the house and yard ready for winter (read: cleaning). I started with one chuck roast and one rump roast about three or four pounds each and rubbed them with a mix of salt, pepper, chili powder, oregano and garlic powder and let them sit while I fired up my smoker.

Once the smoker’s temperature stabilized at about 240° I put in the two roasts, replaced the cover and let them smoke for two hours as I raked leaves and added to my compost pile. I flipped them over and let them go for another two hours as I started a simmering liquid that the roasts will cook in once they’re pulled from their bed of coals.

After smoking, the roasts were ready to move to the oven. Into a roasting pan and covered with the sauce, they went in the oven at 350° for two hours and we headed out for our weekly shopping excursion. Once finished, they were then shredded and chopped for tacos.

We added the barbacoa meat, black beans, onions, cilantro, and the simmering sauce to warm tortillas. The meat was wonderfully smoked and infused with all the complex flavors from the chilies, vegetables and herbs, and was very tender from the slow cooking. The biggest problem I had was overconsumption because surely just one more taco wouldn’t be too much, would it?

The time commitment here is more than most meals, but the results are totally worth it, plus it makes several meals’ worth of food. We saved extra meat for two full dinners at a later date, making for exceptionally fast meals in the future.

What of the extra sauce? We saved that, too. It received special treatment: an extra 2 cups of stewed tomatoes, 4 cups of cooked beans (pinto and black are what we ended up using), a bit of the extra meat, and some extra simmering. We topped it with cheese, sour cream, and bits of green onions for an exceptionally easy and delicious chili night. The sauce also made enough for two chili meals, and half was added to our freezer. All told: 5 meals in one cooking session.

1 3-4 lb chuck roast
1 tablespoon black pepper
1 tablespoon oregano
1 tablespoon chili powder
2 teaspoons garlic powder
1 ½ teaspoon kosher salt
Simmer sauce
2 dried guajillo chilies
2 dried ancho chilies
½ 7-oz. can chipotle peppers in adobo
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 cup chopped celery
2 cups chopped onion
3 cloves minced garlic
1 14.5-oz. can of stewed tomatoes
1 cup chopped carrots
1 tablespoon fresh chopped rosemary
2 teaspoons fresh chopped thyme
To serve
small corn or flour tortillas
warm black beans
chopped cilantro
chopped onions

Mix together the rub ingredients in a bowl. Using your hands, rub into the chuck roast on all sides. Prepare smoker according to manufacturer’s directions and set temperature to about 240° F. Place the roast on the smoker. After two hours, flip meat and prepare simmer sauce.

Remove the seeds and stems from the guajillo and ancho chiles, place them in a medium saucepan and cover with water. Bring to a boil and simmer for ten minutes or until soft. Pour off all but 1 cup of water (reserving the rest of the water), add the chipotle peppers with adobo sauce and puree the contents into a thick sauce using a hand blender, adding some of the reserved water as needed.

In a large pot over medium high heat, warm the oil and sauté celery, the onion, and the garlic for five minutes. Add the rest of the ingredients as well as the chili puree and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer for 30 minutes.

After the meat has been smoking for another 2 hours (total of 4 hours), remove from the smoker and place in a roasting pan. Add the simmer sauce to the pan, cover and place in a 350° F oven for one hour. Open the lid, turn the meat over, and roast for an additional hour.

Remove from oven and allow the meat to rest covered for 30 minutes. Remove the cover, and shred and chop the meat. Serve on warm tortillas with the onions, cilantro, and the roasting sauce from the pan. Reserve the additional roasting sauce and 1 cup of meat for making chili, if desired.

To make chili:
Reserved simmering sauce
24 ounces stewed tomatoes
1 can black beans
1 can white pinto beans
1 cup diced barbacoa meat

Add the sauce, tomatoes, beans, and meat to a large pot. Simmer until heated through. Serve with chili toppings.

Makes 20 4″ barbacoa tacos (and 6 servings chili).
Copyright © Food for My Family.


  1. Looks delicious!! Gorgeous photos Shaina! 🙂

  2. This looks so incredible and I love that B&W pic of you, Ole!

  3. Wow. These looks all kinds of amazing!

  4. Wow, I need a few of these right now.

  5. This is awesome, Shaina! I love the photos!

  6. I. Am. In. Love.

  7. oh man, what time can I come over for dinner?! this looks incredible you guys!!

  8. This may have taken more time to prepare but you were not standing over the stove, chores were getting done while the roast cooked on its own and the result was a few future meals in the freezer. My kind of cooking.

  9. Wow looks awesome!!! We have a smoker and this recipe is going on the list to try!

  10. This looks like the best thing ever! I will be trying it asap!

  11. So I admit that I’m one of “those people” that prefers to pick up my barbacoa from Chipotle, but maybe I’ll give it a try with your recipe one of these days. I’m afraid that it might spoil me for life on the convenience food stuff though…

  12. One more taco is NEVER too much. I admit that I also have a bit of a co-dependency problem with a certain foil-wrapped burrito chain – next time you do some barbacoa, could you FedEx some to me?

  13. these sound so good!

  14. I LOVE unique tacos like this! I’ve yet to make my own though.

  15. Gorgeous photos and this recipe sounds amazing!

  16. pregnancy and mexican food are the perfect match, at least for me! such stunning photos!!

  17. These look delicious! I think really delicious food (food that’s good for you!) is always worth the time commitment. I love the bw series of photos too – so fun!

  18. I love the outcome of Shaina’s challenge to you – and that b&w photo of you is fantastic, Ole!

  19. Nice… this is my kind of taco. I can just imagine all that smokey flavor.

  20. I didn’t know about the traditional way to make barbacoa! I am very confident with your abilities at the smoker, Ole, and know this would be absolutely fabulous.

  21. These little tacos sound incredible and packed full of flavor…and, I love that you got five meals out of one day of work!

  22. Sounds great, what kind of wood did you smoke with? Can’t wait to try!

  23. I’m making these today….

    I can’t wait. I’m going to take some of the meat to lunch tomorrow with family to add to the other items on the mexican fiesta list of things we’re having with the family.

    the smoker is warming now. I’ll post back with the results.

    Thank you for this recipe!


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