Howdy, folks! Thank you for stopping by the website and for trying out my traditional barbacoa recipe. For as long as humans have eaten beef, they’ve been slow cooking it in ovens of all types – clay, mud, stainless steel – you name it. The most traditional method involves wrapping seasoned meat in large leaves and placing it on hot coals in a hole in the ground. That’s exactly how I’m going to teach you to cook this traditional barbacoa today.
The unique flavor of barbacoa comes from the cow’s cheeks. This type of meat is very well marbled but can be tough. Barbacoa is a slow-cooked meal because it takes several hours at high temperatures to bring this cut of beef to fork tenderness.
The cheek has such a unique flavor that you really can’t substitute other cuts and get the exact same flavor. Most barbacoa that you’ve eaten has probably been chuck roast or similar, but once you’ve had the traditional cheek meat barbacoa, you’ll never forget the difference. It is delicious.
To prepare the cheek for slow-cooking, I like to cut the larger chunks of fat off of the meat. All of the fat that is on this piece of meat will render, so depending on the ratio of fat to meat, you may want to leave it all on. If you like leaner meats, go ahead and cut the large pockets of fat right off. This meat does not require any slicing or dicing, because when it’s finished, you’re going to be able to pull it apart with a fork. The silky texture of this meat really can’t be replicated with any other part of the cow.
Spice it up!
Now, cheek meat is really tough. To start, use a natural tenderizer. Lime juice will help break down the connective tissues. The night before you are going to slow-cook the meat, rub well with lime juice and cover over with generous amounts of taco seasoning on one side and my Mesquite Seasoning on the other. Season well, cover, and let sit in an ice box for 12-24 hours.
Tip: To tenderize tough meat, marinate in lime juice for at least 12 hours.
To add even more flavor, we’re going to roast the peppers used in barbacoa before we begin the cooking process. I’m using one jalapeno to add a kick, an Anaheim to add the green chile taste, and a poblano for a warm smoky flavor. Roast until blistered. Peel the skin off, slice the stem off, and you’re ready to go. Throw them in the Dutch oven just as they are – you don’t even need to slice them.
Tip: Put a little water in a plastic bag, add the roasted chilies, and close it up tight. The bag will steam the chilies and naturally separate the outer membrane from the meat, allowing you to easily peel away the skin when you’re ready to use the peppers.
Traditionally, large tropical banana leaves are wrapped around the meat to protect it from the direct burn of the coals and from the ground dirt that is used to encase the heat to roast the barbacoa. Cacti, or nopales, is a high-protein plant that is much easier to find in the southern United States of America than banana leaves.
Tip: Burn off all of the stickers from the cactus before you cook with it.
The cacti that grow wide and flat are known as the prickly-pear variety down here in Oklahoma. The natural shape of the cactus makes it perfect to use as a bumper in the Dutch Oven. What do I mean by “bumper?” Lay the cactus down on the bottom of the oven to protect the meat from the hot metal. When you’re done cooking, you’ll be able to mash the cactus up with the peppers and the meat to make a delicious, traditional barbacoa flavor.
Bring the Heat
About 45 minutes before you’re ready to put the barbacoa into the oven or a hole in the ground, remove the meat from the ice box and let it warm to room temperature. Place the cactus in the bottom of the Dutch Oven. Add onion, garlic, beef broth, and the roasted peppers. Add some more of my Mesquite Seasoning over the top, and we’re ready to go in the ground.
Tip: Anytime you’re cooking in the ground, add a layer of foil under the lid of the Dutch Oven. This protects the food from dirt and ash.
If you’re cooking in a hole in the ground, start by digging about twice the depth you need. Two Dutch Ovens deep will do you just fine. This way you can add a layer of coals on the bottom and on the top. Leave about 1″ of space around the sides of the Dutch Oven. This will preserve the heat we have inside. Cover with a large piece of sheet metal or a hub cap, whatever you have. Seal the edges up with some dirt, and let it cook around five hours.
Mash and serve
In five or six hours, the meat inside that Dutch Oven is going to be fork tender. Mash with a fork or wooden spatula until the meat and peppers are all bite-sized. Top with avocado, cheese, sour cream, salsa, or all of the above.
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Barbacoa – Cowboy Kent Rollins
- 3 to 4 pounds beef cheek meat
- Kent Rollins’ Mesquite Seasoning or any all-purpose seasoning
- Kent Rollins’ Taco Seasoning or your favorite taco seasoning
- 1 nopale cactus leaf
- 2 white onions sliced
- 1 jalapeno pepper blistered
- 2 anaheim peppers blistered and peeled
- 2 poblano peppers blistered and peeled
- 1 serrano pepper
- 4 garlic cloves
- 1 to 2 cups beef broth
- 8 corn or flour tortillas
- Queso fresco
- Kent Rollins' Salsa or your favorite salsa
- Rub the meat with lime juice and generously season one side with Kent Rollins’ Mesquite Seasoning, or your favorite all-purpose seasoning. Rub in well, turn over and season well with Kent Rollins’ Taco Seasoning, or substitute.
- Cover and place in the fridge for at least 3 hours. Remove from the fridge about 45 minutes before cooking, to allow to warm to room temperature.
- Burn the tines from the napoles (cacti) and then scrape with knife to clean.
- In a deep 12-inch Dutch oven or slow cooker, lay the napoles (cacti) on the bottom. Place the meat next, cover with the onions, jalapenos, serranos, poblanos, Anaheims, and garlic cloves. Pour in the beef broth.
- In a slow cooker, cook on high heat for at least 6 hours or on low heat for around 8 to 10 hours, or until the meat is fork tender and easy to shred. Chop all the ingredients up together.
- If cooking in the ground, dig a hole that is 2 inches wider than your Dutch oven and twice as deep.Be sure and cover your dutch oven with aluminum foil before you place the lid on.
- Cover the bottom of the hole in the ground with at least 3 inches of coals, and set the Dutch oven directly on top of them. Place a heavy layer of coals on the lid.Cover again with foil and lay dirt around the top and edges to seal in the heat. Cook for about 2 ½ to 3 hours.
- When finished, carefully remove the dirt from the top, lift the oven out of the ground, and sweep the coals and any dirt from the lid. Remove the final layer of foil, and chop all the ingredients up together.
- Serve on a tortilla topped with Queso fresco and salsa.