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Pati Jinich

Barbacoa is one of those iconic Mexican foods.

Juicy, tender meat that falls off the bone, infused with a rustic, smoky flavor and a jungle like fragrance. It uses a cooking technique that began in ancient times, long before the Spanish arrived, and it lives on to this day across Mexico in places that specialize in making it. Of course, there are accessible homestyle versions too.

Abroad, so many people have heard of barbacoa and want to have a taste of the real thing. The people I’ve talked to that have tried it are dying to repeat the experience. In Mexico it has never ever gone out of fashion, and it is especially rooted in the central part of the country, where I grew up.

True, that barbacoa sounds much like barbeque. Though it is from a type of barbacoa that Americans got the idea to cook barbeque, it’s not the Mexican kind, but the Native American found here in the US, which used to be outdoors and above the ground. In Mexico we call ours barbacoa too (thanks to the Spanish!), but the Mexican way is completely different: the meat is wrapped tightly in banana leaves, cooked for many (so very many!) hours in an underground pit with an initial heating base of burning wood, walls of brick and smoldering rocks that are sealed with a kind of clay, and finally steamed and cooked overnight.

If you haven’t tried it, this is your chance to make it! And no, you don’t need an underground pit, there are ways to go about it and you can cook it away while you are tucked away in your bed…

anchos, tomato, garlic, onion

The most common meat to use for barbacoa is lamb, goat or mutton, which fits the rustic nature of the barbacoa so well, as these meats are so gamey. I go for a meaty lamb leg or shoulder, bone in. But there is also barbacoa of other milder meats, even chicken.

There are variations for what the thick marinade of the meat should be. I like to make a version I’ve tweaked over the years based off two takes: one is the basic rub that has been used for decades in a restaurant in Mexico City called El Caballo Bayo -where my dad used to go for take out to make barbacoa tacos some Sundays- and the other contains more spices, vegetables and grains from a recipe that my mother makes, which was passed down from her nana.

You can make the marinade, which looks more like a paste… ahead of time too. Aside from the guajillo and ancho chiles, it has tomato, garlic and onion.


Then it has oregano, allspice, cinnamon, cloves, and a good dose of salt and ground pepper.

The chiles are first quickly toasted and rehydrated in simmering in water.


You can of course do whatever you want with the water that the chiles were simmering in, but if you want my opinion: DON’T ever throw it ALL away, EVER! That liquid has a ton of flavor and color, and you really want it in your dish. You really do.

Just look at the depth of color.

barbacoa sauce

Pour it in the blender along with the rest of the ingredients.

ingredients in blender

After blending, the mixture should be nice and smooth. After seasoning it in a pan, just letting it simmer down, it should develop a deeper, richer color.

Rub this all over the meat and marinate anywhere from a couple hours to a day. The more your marinade it the better.

barbacoa marinade

If you want to really give it the rustic kick, place the wet meat on banana leaves, which will help keep it moist and juicy and add a grassy, fresh, aroma and flavor to the meat. The steam bath in the leaves gives it a jungle-y warm flavor; as if you were really cooking the meat in an earth pit.

Then place that bundle on the roasting rack of a roasting pan. If you aren’t able to find banana leaves, you can just wrap the top of the roasting pan before it goes in the oven.

barbacoa with banana leaves

Before wrapping up the meat in the banana leaves, place some fresh or dried avocado leaves on top of the meat. They will add extra depth and a flavor similar to anise (but don’t eat them later!). Again, if you can’t find them, don’t worry, you can skip them.

banana leaves

On the bottom of the roasting pan, add all the vegetables: carrots, potatoes and garbanzo beans.

Place the wrapped meat on the rack over the vegetables and as the meat cooks, some of the juices will run out of the bottom of the banana leaves, creating a rich broth for the vegetables to cook in. Those vegetables, after absorbing all that flavor and cooking so long, bring about a lot of depth and sweetness, at the same time.


Then wrap up the top of the roasting pan in foil really tight. Remember this is to make up for not cooking it in an underground closed pit. And place it in the oven.

putting barbacoa in the oven

Once done, remove the meat from the oven, give it a little time to cool down and unwrap the foil and banana leaves. Be careful, because the steam that comes out will be burning hot.

lamb barbacoa

While I love American barbecue in the summer, Mexican barbacoa is a perfect dish for the winter months. Cooking the meat in the oven for hours will fill your home with amazing smells and warmth; not to mention a bounty of incredibly flavorful food.

All you do is shred the meat in big chunks, have the vegetables on the side, invite some friends over and start making some tacos, there is a lot to share here. Dig in!

p.s. It’s even better with some salsa verde on the side.

Note: I researched, tested, tasted, edited and submitted this recipe to The Washington Post for an article published on February 24, 2010.

Lamb Barbacoa in Adobo

Serves: 12

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For the Marinade:

10 dried guajillo chile peppers, stemmed and seeded

10 dried ancho chile peppers, stemmed and seeded

5 cups water

1/3 cups apple cider vinegar

1 medium Roma tomato, cut into quarters

1/2 medium white onion, coarsely chopped (1/2 cup)

3 medium cloves garlic

1 tablespoon dried oregano

1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon ground allspice

1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

5 whole cloves, stems removed

2 1/2 teaspoons kosher or sea salt

3 tablespoons safflower or vegetable oil

For the vegetable base:

2 medium white onions, coarsely chopped (about 2 1/2 cups)

1 1/2 pounds carrots, peeled and cut crosswise into chunks

1 1/2 pounds red potatoes, peeler and cut into large cubes

8 ounces dried garbanzo bean, soaked overnight in 3 cups of very hot water, then drained

12 ounces (1 bottle) light colored beer, such as Corona

3 cups water

bay leaves

1 1/2 teaspoons kosher or sea salt

For the meat:

8 pounds bone-in leg and shoulder of lamb (or a leg or a shoulder)

1 pound banana leaves

5 to 6 fresh or dried avocado leaves (optional)

For assembly:

lime wedges, for serving

warmed corn tortillas

To Prepare

For the marinade: heat a large, dry skillet over medium heat. Add the dired chile peppers and toast them for no more than 20 seconds per side, taking care not to burn them.

Transfer them to a medium saucepan and add the water, place over medium heat and cook for 12 to 15 minutes, until the peppers have softened and rehydrated.

Transfer the peppers to a blender. Add 2 cups of their cooking liguid (discard the remaining liquid), the vinegar, tomato, onion, garlic, oregano, cinnamon, allspice, black pepper, cloves (stems removed) and salt; puree until smooth.

Wipe out the medium saucepan and add the oil. Place over medium heat for 1 to 2 minutes, then add the pureed marinade, being careful to avoid any splatters. Partially cover, and cook for 10 to 12 minutes, stirring once or twice, until the color darkens and the mixture thickens to a pastelike consistency.

Rinse the lamb and pat dry with paper towels. Place in in a large, nonreactive dish. Use the marinade to cover it completely, rubbing the mixture into the meat. Cover and refrigerate for 2 to 24 hours.

Just before the lamb is finished marinating, prepare the vegetable base. Have a large roasting pan at hand with a rack that fits inside, preferable with some space underneather. remove the lamb from the refriegerator about 20 minutes before you place it in the over.

Combine the onions, carrots, potatoes, and soaked and drained garbanzo beans in a large raosting pan. Pour the beer and water over the top. Add the bay leaves and season with salt to taste; toss to combine. Place the roasting rack over the mixture.

For the meat: Preheat the over to 325 degrees.

Unfold the banana leaves and arrange a few layers of them on the roasting rack, leaving a generous amound of overlap on the pan long sides for wrapping the meat (alternatively, you may use a few long pieces of aluminum foil). Place the meat on top of the leaves and use all of the marinade to cover it. PLace the avocado leaves, if using, on top of the meat, then fold the leaves over to cover the meat. If using the foil, poke a few small holes near the bottom edges to allow the meats juices to fall into the vegetable base below during cooking. The juices will natually fall through the spaces between the banana leaves.

Cover the banana leaf package or foil package tightly with a layer of foil. Slow-roast for 8 to 10 hours; until the meat comes off the bone easily and the vegetables should be well seasoned and tender. Transfer to the stovetop (off of the heat), and let everything rest for 15 to 20 minutes before opening the package. Discard the avocado leaves, if using.

For assembly; Serve with lime wedges, warmed corn tortilla and a salsa you like.



Great receipt !!! Miss your TV program. Will it return someday ?

Thank you Ron, absolutely! Get ready for more ; )

Ron, Pati’s Mexican Table is on the PBS Create channel. And, I love it as much as you.

Gracias, Elisabeth! Thank you for watching me on Create.


Hola Louisa,
Yes, it sure can!

¡Hola Pati!
You’re recipe sounds great for those of us who cannot dig a whole in our backyard or don’t have the time to prepare Barbacoa for a weekend… This is one of my favorite prepared meats when I visit Mexico City! I’ll definitaley have to try this. On another note, wanted to know if you could post a recipe for Nieve de Queso Fresco, THIS I have not had in over 25 years since I lived in back in Mexico!!

Thank you so much Paola! I will try to post soon the Nieve de Queso Fresco :)

hi pati! me encanta tu programa. podrias decirme si en la parte de la marinada donde dice whole cloves, te refieres a lo que en mexico se conoce como clavo? o es otra especie? gracias por tu tiempo. hope to see your show back soon!

Si, es lo mismo! Thank you Veronica!

Can I cook down the extra marinade that the lamb soaked in and reuse it somehow? I couldn’t get all of it onto the piece of meat and into the oven. Also, I couldn’t find shoulder with bone in. What do you recommend per pound without the bone?

Hi Pati,
I could not find a recipe for El pastor… Do you have one? :)

Thank you for the request Joi! I will look into it and post soon.

Hola Pati!!!
Recien descubri esta receta y como aqui ya no hace tanto frio como para horas de horno, decidi hacerla en la olla de coccion lenta. La enrrolle en hojas de platano despues de marinarla por dia y medio y puse las verduras debajo del envoltorio… Quedo riquisima!!! Todavia tengo carne y la voy a congelar. Consegui borrego en el mercado etnico y asi me gusta mas. Voy a probarrla con cabra la proxima vez. La servi con frijoles negros de la olla, salsa verde, cebolla y cilantro frescos y tortillas.
Tambien te queria comentar que una de mis tias, buenisima cocinera (aunque no tanto como su madre, mi adoraba abuelita Luisa) “invento” una version del pastel Azteca, que en mi familia conocemos com Torta Maria Luisa, en su honor, ella le pone carne deshebrada de pollo o falda, sazonada en un caldillo de jitomate con chorizo y hace capas de eso, con tortillas fritas, crema molida con chile poblano, queso y otras cosas mas que mete al horno y queda como par morirse de la felicidad. Yo la hago siempre aqui cuando hace frio y congelo lo que sobra de la ultima que preparo en temporada de frio, para poder comerla una o dos veces mas en los meses en que no prendo el horno ni de chiste.
Aqui sigo, al pie del canon, disfrutando tu programa, cocinando lo mas mexicano posible y otras recetas mas y saludandote por internet de vez en cuando.
Gracias Pati; ver tus platillos y escuchar/leer tus descripciones es musica para los sentidos de esta mexicana desenraizada que ama mucho a su Patria.
Con los mejores deseos.

Hola Norma,
No sabes que gusto me da que pruebes las recetas y que compartas tus historias conmigo: la receta de torta de tu tia Maria Luisa suena espectacular!! De que parte de Mexico es tu tia? Si tienes la receta completa, compartela conmigo y la ponemos aqui en el blog!!
Y estoy igual que tu: como diria mi mama, desenraizada pero amando mucho a mi Patria. Gracias por escribir! Pati

Hola Pati, Dios te bendiga,
Tengo un pregunta, si quiziera hacer esta receta con carne de res, que tipo de corte me recomiendas? gracias por tu respuesta.

Hi My name is Sandra.
I want to make home made tamalies:)
I want to make every thing from scratch!
Grind. My corn every thing.
Would appreciate your. Help!
Thank you for your help!!
Love your show ! Thank you again

Hola Sandra, I’d love to help! Here is a recipe I have for Blackberry and Pecan Tamales

Pati apenas alguien me dijo de tu programa y como lo he disfrutado. A mi me trajeron de Mexico de nina pero las comidas tipicas no se me olvidan! Si embargo mi mama(ya fallecio) no dejo muchas recetas y ahora puedo cocinar algunas de tus recetas. Muchas gracias!!!

Mujo Grazias. Saw Last night Late On CREATE & Could Not Write Down FAST Enough. We Will Have SOON! Thank You,Miss.Pati!

Thank you, Sue. I hope you do try the recipe.

hola pati! me llamo naikely y siempre veo tu programa. aunque soy cubana disfruto mucho aprender de otra culturas como lo es la mexicana. me encanta tu sencillez y tu manera de exponer tus recetas. cada vez que termina el programa me dan ganas de ir a la cocina a probar alguna de ellas, de hecho estoy pensando probar la de lamb barbacoa en adobo pero tenia la duda los chiles que usas… son muy picantes? es que no quisiera que mis invitados se llevaran una sorpresa ya que una vez me paso que compre el chile equivocado y no pudimos ni empezar a comer de lo picante…gracias por mostrarle al mundo lo rico de la comida latina y aunque no somos compatriotas disfruto mucho de saber que estas poniendo nuestro nombre en muy en alto..! gracias pati!

Hi Pati,
I just discovered your website today and am so excited to try some of your recipes! My mom is from mexico city and I know she would love to have this here at home (Ottawa). Do you have advice in terms of cooking time per pound for the lamb barbacoa? I would love to try this but on a smaller scale for 4-6 people. If you cut the meat by half, do you reduce the cooking time by half as well? Thanks!

Hi Vanessa, I’m glad you found my site! Are you making the lamb for your mom? For 4-6 people, I would try to find a 4-6 pound lamb shoulder. You still want to slow roast, but you can check it at 4 hours. It’s ready when the meat is falling off the bone.

Me and my husband love your show. Does your cookbook have every recipe that you have or have made on your show?

Hola Consuelo, My cookbook has some recipes from the show…and some that I have been saving!!

I love barbacoa but I could never find a recipe that was tastefully done; I am going to try it with beef lam is so hard to come by… I am so happy you shared this one with us…

Thank you!!

do you recommend a specific type of Beef I can use for this beef? I would love to try and make this, but I do not eat lamb. Thank you in advance!

Hi Michelle, You can make it with either a boneless beef chuck roast or beef brisket.

Hi Patti…
I made this over the weekend with a 2kg leg of lamb…After 8 hours the lamb was delicious, but the vegetables were dry and completely burnt!! I am hoping to make it again this weekend for 20 people using a large leg of lamb and a shoulder. I also wanted to serve with consome and hoped the drippings from this weekends lamb would help make that :( I wonder what you suggest 1) How to avoid the vegetables burning this week and 2) how to make a consome without drippings (can I make it with bones)….
Thank you for your help.

Hi Tiffany,
I would suggest for you to double up the water and beer! Also, was it all very well covered? Is the baking dish too thin? If so maybe you want to add a baking sheet under…

Hola Pati, me encanta ver tu programa en el canal CREATE. Estoy orgullosa que una Mexicana tenga su programa en ingles. Deseo saber si sabes la receta del pastel “el vanidoso”?

Te lo agradeceria mucho.

Gracias! :)

Hola Josefina!
Platícame cómo es… tal vez lo conozco con otro nombre…

This recipe looks great. However, it would have been more ethical had you noted that you copied it verbatim from the February 24, 2010 edition of The Washington Post. We food bloggers have a responsibility to respect the copyrights of others.

Hi Leo,
That recipe in the Washington Post happens to be mine!!! I gave it to Bonnie Benwick from The Washington Pots precisely for that article. I researched it, edited, tasted and tested it precisely for that piece.

Ok, my apologies. I just put together the fact that you were the one who wrote the recipe in the Post.


Haha! No worries, Leo!! Thank you for writing to me.

Pati this was WONDERFUL!!! I couldn’t afford the lamb so I used Boston Butt (@ 98 cents a lb.) and I made it on Mother’s Day. I had the kids over and my youngest son’s GF and mother who are from Cuba. It was a BIG hit!! Opening the banana leaves added a little fun to the festivities. And, with our small crowd 10 lbs of meat disappeared very quickly along with the veggies, some corn on the cob and these odd little plantain wraps I just kind of threw together!!!

I tell everyone who will listen about you (you’re adorable) and your show – every recipe I’ve tried is DEEELIIIIISSSHH!! Thank you Thank you :-) Bobbi

Hi Bobbi, Thank you so much for making this dish for your family on Mother’s Day! It’s good to know Boston Butt works as a substitute for lamb — so happy you shared!!

Hi Pati,
I stumbled on your website while looking for ideas for a backyard Mexican themed wedding. My family always served Birria for our weddings and Quincenerias…It is delicious! My question is, what type of carne de res can I use for this recipe instead of the lamb?


Hi Sandra,
You may want to substitute for Beef Chuck roast or Beek brisket, but leave the fat on!

Hi Pati, I love your recipes – I’ve tried a few of the soups! We want to try doing traditional barbacoa by digging a pit in the backyard. What cut of lamb do you recommend, and do you think bone-in or boneless is better? Can you recommend any web resources for general instructions?

Hi Laura,
Leg and shoulder and definitely bone in, for a backyard pit ; )
I have not built one myself Laura! So I don’t think I can give you clear and precise instructions on how to build one…

Hi, I was just wondering if I could accomplish this dish in a crock pot rather than the oven. If so would you change anything in the prep? Thank you!

Hola Madi, Yes you can!! And you don’t need to change anything in the preparation.

What are the fresh leaves you are adding in the picture along with the dried avocado leaves? Is it epazote?

Hola! They are fresh avocado leaves.

Thanks! They look so light a delicate, I thought it was an herb.

Hi Pati,
I am so excited to make this for my extended family gathering. I’ll be doubling the recipe and using two ovens as I need to feed 24 people. Do you think the marinade would hold up in the freezer for 2 weeks?


Absolutely, Nicole!


This recipe sounds delicious and I plan to try it. I have one question, if I use half of the amount of meat (4lbs instead of 8) will cooking time be the same?

Thank you,


You can take a 1/3 off ; )

Hi Pati,
First, love your show! This recipe is outstanding and I can’t wait to try it. I was wondering if a 6qt crock pot would work?

Thanks Tony, I am sure it will!

Pati, last year on one of your episodes you made your sons favorite Birthday cake. It looked so good my daughter wants one for her birthday, would you please send us the recipe. My daughter and I just love watching your show, and she just said to tell you hi, and that she is hungry for your cake. We love you and your show. Thank you. John and Kaylee Wade

Haha! Please say hi to your daughter for me! here it goes:

Hi, Pati —
If I make this in a slow cooker, still use a rack for veggies? And same amount of liquid? sounds delish! I think I can get banana leaves, but if not, would I seal the roast in foil on the rack in the cooker (piercing holes so juices flow into veggies)?


Hi Susan, So happy you are going to try this recipe! In the slow cooker, place the veggies under the rack so they are swimming in the liquid (yes, same amount of liquid). Put the roast in the foil on the rack and poke a few holes in the foil near the bottom edges of the roast so the juices can run out.

Thank you so much for the recipe! I am from Jordan and lamb is definitely a major staple in my household, never realized barbacoa was made with lamb and I am beyond excited! In response to your reply above regarding using 4-6 lbs of meat would you recommend cutting ALL the ingredients in half or just slightly reduce? Thanks again!

Hola Rosh, I hope you try the barbacoa! You can make the full recipe for the marinade and vegetables.

This looks incredible! I am planning to make this over Christmas for my family. I will certainly make the salsa verde with it, but any other suggestions on what to serve with/along side this? Thank you for sharing your passion and love for food!

Hola Emy, I’m so happy you want to make it for your family! I like to serve it with the vegetables that roast with the lamb, salsa, and some warm tortillas.

Would venison work with this same recipe?

Yes, you may try it with venison. Let me know how it turns out!

Hi Patti, i watch your show on create. Im the same way, love to see my young men enjoy my spanich cooking. Keep the good work, comming this way.

Thank you!!

hi pati! what can be a substitute for the guajillo and ancho peppers? can i use paprika and cayenne instead?

Hola Ken, I recommend the guajillos and anchos for the best result. However, if you need to replace with a powdered chile, I suggest a ground Mexican chile blend. Let me know how it turns out. :)

Hola patti, im looking for a dish my mom made during Lent. It was shrimp patties with Mexican style tomatoe sauce on top. Do you have a recipe for this

It is in my cookbook! I haven’t uploaded it to my blog yet…

Pati, thank you for your beautiful website and recipes! I was excited to find frozen banana leaves at the store (no luck with avocado leaves, though, even at the Mexican grocer). I’m going to try making this tomorrow, but with Boston Butt instead of lamb. My brother and I just made the adobo and set the meat up to marinate; boy does it smell delicious! We will accompany with corn tortillas and salsa verde as you recommend, Coronas and homemade almond horchata for drinks, then fresh papaya with lime juice and Tajín for dessert! Can’t wait.

Oh my! You are making me so hungry! Enjoy!!

Oh, PS, I had extra adobo and a block of tofu in the fridge, so I sliced it up and am marinating it overnight too. Going to try baking it in a foil packet with a piece of banana leaf for the last hour or two before the pork is ready and am excited to see how it goes, will report back! :o)

Very interesting! Let me know how it turns out!!

Hola Pati, everybody loved both the pork and tofu versions of this! I was very worried about the veggies burning during the long cooking time and added extra beer to compensate, but it was definitely not necessary and I will trust the process as written next time. I think for the next round I will plan to try this with goat. Thanks again for the beautiful recipe!

Can you recommend a non-alcoholic substitute for the beer? Thanks

You can just use water, or chicken or veggie broth instead.

Hi Pati!

I’m your newest fan. Today I prepared a meal for my family. I was scared but confident of the outcome of my dishes based on the feedback you have received on your post. I cooked Chicken Tinga, Unforgettable Chepe’s Rice, and Lamb Barbacoa in Adobo. Also, I made the green salsa, for the dishes, and the white conchas for dessert. The meals were yummy, and the portions were just right since I cooked for 12 people. All my family rated me a 9.5 out of a 10 rating.

For Christmas I am going to prepare the bunuelos and the ponche.

Thanks for sharing your recipes and responding to our comments. I wish I could have attached pictures of the finished product.

Wow!!! Thank you so much for trying my recipes! I’m thrilled your family liked them!

Pati…i loved you receipe. Can you do this on a Slow Cooker? Crock pot? If so, please let me know what you would do different.

Yes you can! Just add it all in the crock pot without the banana leaves :)

Hola Pati, soy el hermano de Fer Orendain. Estaba buscando una receta de Barbacoa y me encontre con tu blog, asi que ya estare siguiendote por aqui. Ademas te comento de que por coincidencia hace unos años compre tu libro, sin saber que que eras tu (por tu apellido de casada) y me encanto. Vivo en Houston, asi que de vez en cuando me gusta cocinar platillos mexicanos. Gusto en saludarte.

Hola Antonio,
Qué gran gusto saludarte! Que bueno que te gustan las recetas que ves por aquí… Voy a ir a Houston al book tour de mi nuevo libro en Abril, espero verlos por ahí!

Hola Patti. Veo su show en Create cuando puedo. Quisiera saber si tiene la receta de El Vanidoso cake, mi amiga mejicana lo probo y le encanto y hemos estado buscando la receta sin exito.
Gracias y muy feliz y exitoso ano nuevo.

Hola Carmen! Qué buena idea! Voy a tratar de subir mi receta para el pastel vanidoso muy pronto. Muchas gracias por ver mi programa.

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