Smoked Beef Barbacoa
I don't really repeat recipes here unless I have a new technique or method that's worth replacing outdated content with. So its with a little hesitancy that I share this recipe for smoked beef barbacoa because in reality, it's the exact same recipe as a lamb barbacoa I made a few years back, just swapping out one protein for another. Still, the results were so good and different enough in flavor that I felt it deserved this second helping.
This recipe takes every opportunity to build in tremendous flavor, starting with the rub. I created a chili heavy spice mixture that I start off by toasted and grinding both ancho and guajillo chiles that combine to add notes of sweetness, smokiness, earthiness, and just a tad bit of heat.
Built up around those two centerpieces are layers of Mexican-influenced flavors including oregano, cumin, garlic, onion, chipotle, cinnamon, and some brown sugar. This outputs a rub that has a chili powder-like base with a lot of added complexity to give it a more full flavor profile.
The one big change from my previous barbacoa is obviously the meat. I wanted a huge chunk of beef chuck here, which has the right amount of fat to hold up to a long cooking process, breaking down slowly over time to create a shreddable end product. Without a butcher to call my own yet, I wasn't sure where to find this and decided on the large Mexican market, where communication of what I was looking for became difficult when I discovered it was cleaning day and the meats were not out on display for me to point to. With some work and help from other customers, I procured a seven-pound monster piece of chuck, which I now know to call "carne para barbacoa" when ordering, something so blatantly obvious it evaded me at the time.
I generously coated this giant piece of beef in the rub, being thankful I made some extra to get the job done. Then I transferred it to the smoker, which I had running at 250°F with a few chunks of hickory to impart a fairly robust smoke flavor against the strong beef.
My goal here wasn't to smoke to doneness, but to cook it long enough to impart a good smokiness. Most of the smoke flavor is absorbed in the first few hours of cooking, so three hours was all I thought I needed in the smoker to get what I was after.
The smoke portion of the recipe left me ample time to make the sauce, which is no quick proposition itself. Just like everything in this recipe, the sauce is designed for flavor, not time savings, which is a boon in the end. The sauce began with soaking an ancho and guajillo pepper until completely softened.
The came the searing of oxtails. This is another departure from the lamb barbacoa, but part of the original inspiration from J. Kenji Lopez-Alt. The idea here is that since chuck is not seared itself, the oxtails delver that important flavor element. I hadn't done it for the lamb previously because I figured the flavor of that meat was so strong and distinct, it didn't really need any additional help.
After the oxtails were well seared, I cooked a sliced white onion and garlic until they turned golden, followed by oregano, cumin, ground cloves, and cinnamon until fragrant—by now my kitchen was smelling pretty awesome.
I then added in chicken stock, vinegar, and chipotles and simmered the entire mixture for twenty minutes, in which time the liquid reduced by half, thickening up enough to coat a spoon.
Then a quick stint in the blender along with the soaked chilies and their soaking liquid finished up the sauce, ending with an intense earthy chili flavor with a faint smokiness and heat, which came mainly thanks to the chipotles.
When the three hours in the smoker were up, I transferred the beef to my dutch oven, added in the oxtails, and then poured on the sauce. I then set the entire thing in a 250°F with the lid slightly ajar and let it cook until completely tender. This part can be done in the smoker too, but I had swapped the beef for other items there, making the oven the ideal, and easier, method to finish up the cook.
It took a little over three hours until the beef reached a state where I could pierce it with a skewer with almost no resistance. At this point, it's done and can be pulled and served, but the meat becomes more tender and the flavor even better if you let the whole thing rest at least overnight in the fridge.
Once cool the next day, the meat was too firm to shred or pull, so I cut the chuck into slices about 1/2 and inch thick against the grain, thinking this would make ideal sized shreds of beef once the meat heated up and started breaking apart.
In the reheating stage, I failed to take a proper photo, so your stuck with this image with horrible color balance and before the beef was fully warmed through and broken down.
But you can see what the end result looked like here—super tender small shreds of delicious beef. Delicious is a bit of an understatement as this barbacoa had hugely immense flavor. The chuck alone brought a big wave of beefiness, but all the spices and sauce added an intensity of earthy chilies that paired great with the meat and got even better with the addition of the background smokiness and heat. To add to the overall excellence, I enjoyed the barbacoa stuffed into my homemade lard-laden flour tortillas and topped with onions, cilantro, and salsa verde. I can't say this recipe doesn't come without its work, but the fact that it's so good that I've not only made it multiple times, but decided to share almost the same recipe twice stands as a testament to how incredible this barbacoa is.
Smoked Beef Barbacoa
- Yield 12-14 servings
- Prep 1 Hour
- Inactive 8 Hours
- Cook 6 Hours
- Total 15 Hours
- For the Rub
- 1 tablespoon ancho chile powder
- 1 tablespoon guajillo chile powder
- 1 tablespoon dark brown sugar
- 1 tablespoon kosher salt
- 2 teaspoons Mexican oregano
- 1 teaspoon cumin
- 1 teaspoon garlic powder
- 1 teaspoon onion powder
- 1/2 teaspoon chipotle powder
- 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 1 boneless chuck roast, 6-7 pounds
- 3-4 chunks of a medium smoking wood, such as oak or hickory
- For the Sauce
- 4 cups homemade or store-bought low sodium chicken stock, divided
- 1 ancho chile, stemmed and seeded
- 2 guajillo chiles, stemmed and seeded
- 3 tablespoons vegetable oil, divided
- 1 pound oxtails
- 1 small white onion, finely sliced
- 4 medium cloves garlic, smashed and peeled
- 1 teaspoon dried oregano, preferably Mexican
- 1 teaspoon ground cumin
- 1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
- 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 1/3 cup apple cider vinegar
- 3 tablespoons finely chopped chipotles in adobo plus 1 tablespoon adobo sauce
- 2 bay leaves
- 1/4 cup freshly squeezed lime juice from 2 limes
- Corn or flour tortillas, onion, cilantro, tomatillo salsa, and limes, for serving
- To make the rub: Mix together salt, ancho chile powder, guajillo chile powder, cumin, oregano, onion powder, garlic powder, chipotle powder, and ground cloves. Season beef shoulder roast liberally with rub all over.
- Fire up smoker or grill to 250°F, adding chunks of smoking wood chunks when at temperature. Place beef in smoker and smoke for 3 hours.
- To make the sauce: While the beef is in the smoker, toast chilies in a large dutch oven over medium heat until fragrant, turning with tongs occasionally. Transfer to a small saucepan and cover with 2 cups of chicken stock. Bring to a boil over high heat, then reduce to a simmer and cook until chiles are completely softened, about 15 minutes. Set aside.
- Heat 1 tablespoon oil in now-empty Dutch oven over high heat until shimmering. Cook oxtails until well-browned on all sides, about 8 minutes total. Remove oxtails and set aside. Reduce heat to medium.
- Heat remaining 2 tablespoons of oil in now empty dutch oven over high heat until shimmering. Add in onion and garlic and cook until well browned, about 10 minutes. Add in oregano, cumin, ground cloves, and cinnamon and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add in remaining 2 cups of chicken stock, vinegar, and chipotles and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium and simmer until liquid is reduced by half, about 20 minutes.
- Transfer entire contents of dutch oven to the jar of a blender, along with soaked chilies and their soaking liquid. Puree until completely smooth, about 1 minutes. Set aside.
- Transfer beef to now empty dutch oven. Pour sauce over beef and add in bay leaves. Place lid on dutch oven slightly cracked, then transfer to smoker or a 250°F oven. Continue to cook until a metal skewer can be inserted into the beef with little to no resistance, about 3 hours.
- Transfer beef to a plate and discard bay leaves. Return dutch oven to stovetop and cook sauce over medium-high heat until reduced by half, about 5 minutes, skimming off any excess fat from surface. Stir lime juice into sauce.
- Meat can be pulled and returned to sauce for immediate serving, but for best flavor and tenderness, place beef in a large bowl and cover with reduced sauce. Refrigerate overnight or up to five days. When ready to serve, remove beef from liquid and cut into 1/2-inch slices. Place sauce and beef slices into dutch oven a bring to a simmer over medium heat. Gently fold beef until warmed through, thoroughly coated with sauce, and broken down into small pieces. Season with salt to taste. Serve on toasted corn or flour tortillas with onion, cilantro, tomatillo salsa, and lime.
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Mike Inspired by your lamb I made this with a Prime whole packer Brisket a month ago. It was one of the best things to come out of my kitchen. Luckily fewer guests showed up than expected and I got to eat leftover tacos for several days. They were FANTASTIC! I cooked the brisket until tender and sliced it rather than shredding it. Looking forward to making it again. Thanks for the great recipe.
David Instruction 1 of your recipe is for making the rub. The last item in the instructions is "ground cloves." But, the list of ingredients included in the rub does not include any type of cloves. The sauce calls for 1/4 tsp of Ground Cloves, and that is included in the instructions for the sauce. Since cloves are extremely ... aromatic,
I am wondering what measurement of ground cloves to use in the rub.
Meanwhile, the recipe is making my mouth water. I have to increase my chili inventory before I make this. Living in San Antonio, barbacoa is on the menu of every Mexican restaurant (& they are as prevalent here as pizzas are in Chicago). But, finding GOOD barbacoa is a different story. I have been looking for a GREAT recipe that uses a common cut of beef, and yours fits the bill & is making my mouth water!!! I am bookmarking your site for further research!
We want to make this for the Super Bowl this weekend. Do you happen to know how this recipe could be adapted for the green egg?
Dan Thanks for putting this recipe out there. I made this for a work potluck (A Taco Tuesday). Needless to say, my dish was gone instantly. I could have doubled it, but then everyone else would have had a lot more left overs to take home of their own dish. The only thing it was missing was a margarita.
I used 3 smaller chuck roasts smoked on a BGE with Hickory. The smokiness was prominent, but still didn't overpower the sauce flavor. This was a most excellent dish, and I will try the lamb next time! Luckily I have a small Mexican grocer in town for obtaining these chilies.
Jamie This recipe is amazing! I made it and my husband has asked for it basically every day since. Thank you for sharing.
Sara I made this over the weekend for a party, it was the first to go.
It was also pure torcher to make, because it smelled SO AMAZING the whole time.
I used 2x 3lb chuck roasts because those are the size they carry at the grocery store, and I smoked them with apple/cherry in a vertical propane smoker before braising. I just crammed them both into my 7 qt lodge enamel dutch oven, it was fine. I upped the number of chilies in the rub since i had more surface area. I also left out the chipotle in adobe and instead used a similarly canned chipotle sauce, so no seed surprises.
I did refrigerate it pulled in a large bowl over night and reheated it in a cast iron on the grill
Everyone was thrilled with how it tasted like it was going to be spicy, and then was just kind of intense and mildly warming.
Next time i'm going make as much as possible.
Seriously, great recipe.
Eddie Would you have to change anything if you use beef cheek?
HeyZeus 10/10 for deliciousness!
What I love about recipes like this is that they don't have to be really precise to be tasty. I made a few substitutions: I used beef ribs instead of oxtail due to the price difference, added more anchos because I didn't have any guajillos, used a bit more adobo sauce to make up for the lost spice from the guajillos, did a smaller chuck roast, about 3 lbs. I also smoked the meat the night before.
All in all it's an incredible recipe. I will be smoking chuck more often!
Josh @HeyZeus Great to hear you like the recipe and you're right, it's very adaptable to what you get you can get your hands on.