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Slow Cooker Beef Barbacoa (15-Minute Prep)

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By: The Real Food Dietitians Posted: 9/27/22

Tacos, salads, burrito bowls, egg scrambles … the options are endless when it comes to how to serve this tender, perfectly seasoned slow cooker beef barbacoa. Whether it’s Taco Tuesday, a busy weeknight, or you’re craving a Mexican-inspired meal that’s full of flavor and possibilities, this recipe is the one you’ve been looking for. Best of all, it takes just 10 ingredients to make this mouth-watering, copycat, Chipotle Barbacoa recipe in the slow cooker.

Overhead view white plate with three hard shell tacos stuffed with slow cooker beef barbacoa and sliced radishes.

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The busy weeknight dinner solution

This Slow Cooker Beef Barbacoa is the ultimate dinner solution because it’s so simple to prepare and enjoy in a lot of different way. In less than 15 minutes you can have everything loaded into the slow cooker and cooking away. Then, 7-8 hours later, you’ll have a big batch of the most tender and flavorful shredded beef. It’s perfect for stuffing into tortillas and lettuce wraps or piling atop a bed of cauliflower rice, salad greens, or grain bowls. This recipe makes a big batch so you’ll have plenty of leftovers for an easy reheat-and-eat meal later. This is a perfect solution for when you just can’t wrap your brain around cooking dinner.

All ingredients for slow cooker beef barbacoa on baking sheet.

Ingredients to make this slow cooker barbacoa Recipe

All you need is a slow cooker, 10 ingredients, and 15 minutes of prep time to make this copycat Chipotle Barbacoa recipe that is sure to please.

  • Boneless beef chuck roast – we love chuck roast for this recipe because it results in incredibly tender and delicious shredded Barbacoa meat
  • Yellow onion
  • Garlic cloves
  • Tomato paste
  • Lime juice
  • Seasonings and spices – you’ll need ground cumin, dried oregano, ground cloves, ground chipotle pepper, bay leaves, fine salt, and black pepper. Save big and stock-up on spices and seasonings at Thrive Market!

Ingredients list with exact measurements can be found in the recipe card below.

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Shredded saucy beef barbacoa in black crockpot with tongs.
Tongs holding up serving of slow cooker beef barbacoa from white bowl of barbacoa.

How to make Slow Cooker Beef Barbacoa

It takes just three simple steps to make this recipe. Bonus: The slow cooker does the majority of the work!

  1. Make the sauce: Using a food processor or blender, combine the onion, garlic, tomato paste, and seasonings (minus the bay leaves) and give it a whirl until smooth.
  2. Add the ingredients to the slow cooker: Once the sauce is made, add the beef cubes to the slow cooker, pour the sauce over the beef, and stir to combine. Add the bay leaves, cover the slow cooker, and set the timer.
  3. Let it cook: When the meat is tender, remove the beef and shred it with two forks, then return the shredded barbacoa to the slow cooker and stir into the saucy liquid. As always, taste and add additional salt and pepper, if needed.

A must-have kitchen appliance

A trusy slow cooker is one of our team’s most used and loved kitchen appliances! Imagine having a dinner simmering slowly and perfectly, like this Slow Cooker Barbacoa recipe, and you don’t need to do a thing while it cooks. Pretty nice, huh? We have a ton of tested and perfected slow cooker recipes for you right here. 

Our Favorite Slow Cooker

For the complete directions, ingredient amounts, and nutrition analysis that lists calories, protein, carbohydrates, fiber, sugar, and sodium per serving, scroll down to the recipe card below.

White plate with three hard shell tacos filled with slow cooker beef barbacoa and fresh cilantro.

Tip!

Yes, You Can Make This Recipe Ahead

This slow cooker barbacoa is great for meal prep and making ahead of time. There are two ways you can make this recipe well before you’ll serve it.

  1. Prep up to the point of cooking: Prepare the sauce and add all of the ingredients to a gallon-size reusable zip-top bag. You can do this up to 2 days in advance. Store in the refrigerator and, when ready to cook, simply dump the contents of the bag into the slow cooker.
  2. Make the recipe entirely for an easy reheat-and-eat meal. If you’re looking for an incredibly easy dinner option you can prep this recipe entirely ahead of time for easy reheat-and-eat meals. Store the cooked barbacoa covered airtight containers in the fridge for up to 4 days (or in the freezer for longer storage).

Tip!

This recipe is freezer-friendly, too!

We are big fans of stocking our freezers with meals that are ready to go when we need them most. Make-ahead meal prep is one of our favorite time-saving, budget-saving, stress-saving kitchen hacks. There are two ways you can freeze this recipe.

Freezer-to-Slow Cooker: This Barbacoa recipe is the perfect freezer-to-slow cooker recipe. Prepare the sauce and add to a gallon-size reusable zip-top bag along with the raw beef cubes and bay leaves. Seal tightly, label, and place in the freezer. When ready to cook, allow the ingredients to thaw just enough so that you can transfer them to the slow cooker. You can do this by placing the bag in water for 10-15 minutes or transferring to the refrigerator 24-48 hours before cooking. Then, slow cook on the high setting until the beef is tender, about 7 hours.

Fully Prepare, Then Freeze: After the barbacoa is fully cooked, shredded, and cooled, store it in reusable zip-top freezer bags and freeze for up to 6 months. Reheat in the slow cooker, on the stovetop in a large saucepan, or in the microwave.

Three hard shell tacos filled with slow cooker beef barbacoa with sprinkle of fresh cilantro, radishes, and riced cauliflower.

Barbacoa Recipe: Frequently Asked Questions

Here are some FAQs about this delicious barbacoa recipe:

  1. What is Barbacoa? Barbacoa is the Spanish word for Barbecue. This method for cooking saucy, shredded meat slowly over low heat originated in Mexico. Traditionally, barbacoa is made from goat or lamb that’s slow roasted in a pit for several hours. Modern recipes are usually made with beef or pork and often use a slow cooker with a special sauce, spices, and seasonings to replicate that long-simmered flavor.
  2. Can this recipe be made in the Instant Pot? It sure can. Lucky you, we also have a recipe for Instant Pot Barbacoa!
  3. What is the best cut of beef for making barbacoa? We like to use chuck roast because it’s a budget-friendly cut of beef that has nice marbling and is perfect for slow cooking. We find that using chuck roast results in tender, juicy, and flavorful barbacoa every time.

Tip!

Serve with your favorite fixings

We love serving this barbacoa in a build-your-own fashion whether you’re making tacos, bowls, or salads. Here are some of our favorite toppings and fixings to serve with it:

  • Tortillas, taco shells, or tortilla chips
  • Rice or cauliflower rice
  • Fresh Veggies – lettuce, sliced radishes, fresh cilantro, green onions, sliced jalapeno, and tomatoes, corn, cabbage or slaw
  • The best Quick Pickled Onions
  • Cheese (Cotija, Monterey Jack, Taco blend, or Cheddar)
  • Salsa or pico de gallo
  • Sliced avocado or Homemade Guacamole
  • Lime wedges
  • Black beans or pinto beans
  • Sour cream
Close up view slow cooker beef barbacoa in hard shell tacos with sliced radishes, fresh cilantro, and sprinkle of white cheese.

Perfect occasions to serve barbacoa Beef

So many occasions come to mind when we think of where to serve this crowd-pleasing, easy-to-make recipe.

  • Weeknight Dinner Winner – This recipe is so easy to put together which is why it makes for a perfect weeknight meal. Toss everything in the slow cooker in the morning and dinner will be waiting for you when you get home from work. Keep it simple and serve taco-style with a few of your favorite fixings
  • Game-Day Grub – Whether you serve this barbacoa as tacos or bowls, it’s the perfect build-your-own food to enjoy while watching your favorite team. Hey, and even if you’re not all that into the game, at least you’ll know you can still enjoy the food
  • Build-Your-Own Taco Night – Invite friends over, set out a variety of taco and bowl fixings to serve with the Barbacoa, make a batch of margaritas, and enjoy a chill night with delicious food and your favorite people. Even if your friends have different dietary needs, everyone can make a serving that works for them
  • Any Party or Gathering – Since this recipe for Slow Cooker Barbacoa makes a nice big batch, it’s great for parties. Set out the cooked shredded barbacoa along with all the fixings and watch everyone flock toward the food table

More Slow Cooker Beef Recipes to try

All Slow Cooker Beef Recipes

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Shredded saucy slow cooker beef barbacoa in white bowl with tongs lifting serving up.

Recipe

Slow Cooker Beef Barbacoa

This juicy, tender Slow Cooker Beef Barbacoa is so good and can be served a ton of ways … as tacos, salads, bowls, and burritos. Perfect for parties and for having delicious leftovers on hand. This Chipotle Barbacoa copycat recipe also makes a great addition to egg scrambles and omelets. 

Prep: 15 mins.Cook: 7-8 hoursTotal: 7 hrs., 15 mins.

Ingredients

  • 2 ½ lbs. boneless beef chuck roast, cut into 2-inch cubes and trimmed of fat
  • ½ cup water
  • ½ medium yellow onion, quartered
  • 6 garlic cloves, peeled
  • 3 tablespoons tomato paste
  • Juice of 1 lime (about 23 tablespoons)
  • 1 tablespoon ground cumin
  • 1 tablespoon dried oregano
  • ¾ teaspoon fine salt, plus more to taste
  • ¼ teaspoon black pepper
  • Pinch of ground cloves
  • Pinch of ground chipotle powder (optional)
  • 3 bay leaves

Instructions

  1. Place the cubed chuck roast in the bottom of a slow cooker.
  2. To a blender or food processor, add the water, onion, garlic, tomato paste, lime juice, cumin, oregano, cloves, salt, pepper, cloves, and chipotle powder (but not the bay leaves). Blend or process until smooth. Time saving tip: omit the blending or processing and add all of the ingredients to the slow cooker. You will want to slice the onion and mince the garlic if you do this.
  3. Pour the sauce mixture over the chuck roast in the slow cooker and stir. Place bay leaves on top of the meat.
  4. Cover and look on low heat for 7 hours (or high for 3 ½ hours) or until the meat is tender and shreds easily. Remove meat to a clean platter or shallow dish using a slotted spoon. Shred the beef with two forks, then return the shredded beef to the slow cooker and stir it into the liquid. Taste and season with additional salt and pepper as needed. Overhead view black slow cooker filled with shredded saucy beef barbacoa.
  5. Store leftovers in a covered container in the refrigerator for up to 4 days and in the freezer for long storage (up to 6 months).

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Notes

Serving suggestions: Tortillas or tortilla chips, rice or cauliflower rice, veggies (fresh salad greens, sliced radishes, fresh cilantro, green onions, sliced jalapeno, tomatoes, pickled red onions, corn, cabbage or slaw), cheese (Cotija, Monterey Jack, Cheddar), salsa or pico de gallo, avocado or guacamole, lime wedges, black beans, and/or sour cream

Freezer-to-Slow Cooker Directions: Prepare the sauce and add to a large zip-top bag along with the raw beef cubes and other ingredients. Seal tightly and place in the freezer. When ready to cook, allow the ingredients to thaw just enough so that you can transfer them to the slow cooker. You can do this by placing the bag in water for 10-15 minutes. Cook on high for 7 hours or until beef is tender.

Nutrition Information

  • Serving Size: 3 oz beef
  • Calories: 210
  • Fat: 10 g
  • (Sat Fat: 5 g)
  • Sodium: 100 mg
  • Carbohydrate: 4 g
  • (Fiber: 1 g
  • Sugar: 1 g)
  • Protein: 23 g

Dietary

© The Real Food Dietitians

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Overhead view slow cooker beef barbacoa tacos in hard shells with sprinkle of cheese and fresh cilantro over top.

Photo Credit: The photos in this blog post were taken by Rachel of Half Acre House

For ultimate success, we highly recommend reading the tips in the full blog post above. All photos and content are copyright protected. Please do not use our photos without prior written permission. If you wish to republish this recipe, please rewrite the recipe in your own unique words. Link back to the source recipe here on The Real Food Dietitians. Thank you!

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