Slow-Cooker Barbacoa

By Laura Mack
July 27, 2016

Savory and spicy, this Slow-Cooker Barbacoa (Mexican-style shredded beef), fairly melts in your mouth. It’s an easy recipe any time of year, but especially in the summer when you want to keep things simple and avoid heating up your kitchen. It takes just 10 minutes to prepare and simmers away for 6 to 8 hours without any attention from you. For those of us who follow a low carb, paleo, and/or primal lifestyle, it doesn’t get any better than this!

One of the best things about our slow-cooker barbacoa, besides its fantastic flavor, is its versatility. It’s simply wonderful on its own, garnished with your favorite toppings, such as sour cream, shredded cheese, and avocado. For a tasty side dish, add plain cauliflower rice or our Mexi-Cauli Rice. The shredded beef is also a terrific filling for lettuce wraps or in a ‘taco’ salad. Barbacoa is even delicious for breakfast, tucked inside a hearty omelet with a little melty cheese. 

The prep for this dish is straight-forward and fast: cut the beef into 2” chunks, place in the bottom of the slow-cooker, then toss with dry seasonings. Combine the liquid ingredients with the garlic, chipotle chiles and adobo sauce, and pour over the beef. Top with bay leaves and onion halves and it’s ready to cook. The onion halves, along with the bay leaves, will be removed and discarded at the end, so I slice the onion in half, peel off the skin, and leave the root ends intact so they don’t fall apart as easily when I remove them after cooking.

The chipotle chiles in adobo sauce are a key ingredient in this dish. If you’re not familiar with them, they generally come in a small can and are widely available in most grocery stores. I use two whole chipotles (minced) and a tablespoon of the adobo sauce for moderate spiciness. If you like things less spicy, use half those amounts. Tip: I puree the remaining chipotles and adobo sauce and keep it on hand for spicing up other dishes. It can be divided up into small portions and frozen for use as needed. An ice cube tray works great for this.

Although it may seem odd, I frequently add fish sauce to non-Asian dishes. It adds a savory depth of flavor (‘umami’). Despite the name, good fish sauce (I like Red Boat brand) doesn’t add a fishy flavor, so don’t worry about that! However, if you don’t have fish sauce on hand, or don’t want to use it, just leave it out.

Depending on your schedule, the barbacoa can be cooked on the high setting for about 6 hours, or on the low setting for about 8. To check if it’s done, remove a piece of beef to see if it shreds easily with two forks. If not, return it to the pot and cook for another 30 to 60 minutes. When the meat is done, remove and discard the bay leaves and onion. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the beef to a rimmed baking sheet. Shred into bite-size pieces using two forks. Skim the fat from the remaining cooking juices and discard.

The cooking juices are packed with flavor and can be used to drizzle on the shredded beef, or saved for another purpose. I like to make a simple soup by taking any leftover juices and adding water (to taste), plus some of the barbacoa, a little cauliflower rice, and sliced green onions to make a simple soup. Garnish with sour cream, spiced pepitas, and more green onions. Yum!

As you may already be aware, Chipotle restaurants are known for their barbacoa, which is quite good. I don’t eat out often but, as chain restaurants go, many of their selections are low carb friendly (their nutritional information is available online), and the quality of their ingredients appears to be above-average. My favorite Chipotle creation is a salad topped with their barbacoa, veggies, cheese, salsa, and sour cream. (I avoid their salad dressing because it’s ‘carby’ from added sugar.) However, I’ll admit that I prefer our slow-cooker barbacoa to Chipotle’s. Not only do I find mine tastier, I enjoy knowing exactly what’s in my food, not to mention the cost savings!

This slow-cooker barbacoa is an ideal make-ahead dish. It will keep for up to 5 days in the refrigerator and freezes beautifully. I often divide any left-over barbacoa into portion-size servings and freeze in zip-top bags (doubled) for 4 to 6 months. To reheat, remove from bags and transfer to microwave-safe dish. It shouldn’t take more than a few minutes on high, but times will vary based on your microwave and the size of your portions.

If you like spicy, beefy goodness as much as I do, give this slow-cooker barbacoa a try. You won’t be disappointed!

Slow-Cooker Barbacoa (Paleo/Primal)

Author: Laura Mack
Recipe type: Main
Cuisine: Mexican
Prep time:  10 mins
Cook time:  6 hours
Total time:  6 hours 10 mins
Serves: 8

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Savory and spicy, this slow-cooker barbacoa (Mexican-style shredded beef), fairly melts in your mouth. It's an easy recipe any time of year, but especially in the summer when you want to keep things simple and avoid heating up your kitchen. It takes just 10 minutes to prepare, and simmers away for 6 to 8 hours without any attention from you.


3 pounds chuck roast, boneless, cut into 2" cubes

1 tablespoon ground cumin

1 tablespoon dried oregano

1 teaspoon ground ancho chile powder (can substitute regular chile powder)

½ teaspoon ground cloves

1½ teaspoons fine sea salt

1 teaspoon ground black pepper

2 ounces / ¼ cup apple cider vinegar

2 ounces / ¼ cup water

2 teaspoons fish sauce (optional, but adds great savory flavor)

1 tablespoon chopped garlic (about 6 cloves)

2 medium chipotle chiles in adobo sauce, minced, plus 1 tablespoon sauce

2 medium bay leaves

1 medium onion, pleed and cut in half with root ends intact

Optional garnishes: sour cream, shredded cheese, avocado, salsa, green onions, cilantro, spiced pepitas


  1. Place beef chunks in a slow cooker. Stir together spices in a small bowl, then add to beef and toss to coat chunks. Combine vinegar, fish sauce, garlic, and chipotles in a small bowl and pour over beef. Top with bay leaves and onion halves. Cover and cook until beef pulls apart easily with two forks, about 6 hours on high setting or about 8 hours on a low setting.
  2. Remove onion and bay leaves and discard. Using a slotted spoon, transfer beef to rimmed sheet pan. Using two forks, shred the beef into bite-size pieces. Skim fat from juices (cooking liquid). Discard fat and serve juices with beef, if desired, and toppings of your choice. Great with mexi-cauli rice or in a salad or lettuce tacos.


Nutritional info* for one serving: 364 cal, 29.3 g total fat (73%), 1.4 g total carbs, 0.6 g fiber, 0.8 g net carbs, and 22 g protein.

*I use Living Cookbook 2015, along with package information and data from, to calculate the nutritional information for my recipes. Thus, I can make no guarantees as to the accuracy.

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