February 4, 2012 2:30 PM
Lamb Barbacoa in Adobo
POSTED IN: Recipes , Main Courses
TAGS: adobo , barbacoa , Food , lamb , Mexican , Tacos
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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...

Barbacoa 1 B.jpg
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.

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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.

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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.

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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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While I love American barbeque 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.

Serves 12


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
2 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

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 meium 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 bottong 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 ?

Ron Derbyshire | February 4, 2012 1:37 PM


Louisa | February 4, 2012 3:16 PM

Hola Louisa,
Yes, it sure can!

Pati Jinich replied to comment from Louisa | February 4, 2012 3:50 PM

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

Pati Jinich replied to comment from Ron Derbyshire | February 4, 2012 3:52 PM

¡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!!

Paola Dávila | February 8, 2012 12:47 AM

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!

veronica | February 12, 2012 3:31 PM

Si, es lo mismo! Thank you Veronica!

Pati Jinich replied to comment from veronica | February 13, 2012 12:30 PM

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?

Ilana | February 20, 2012 11:40 AM

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

Pati Jinich replied to comment from Paola Dávila | February 24, 2012 3:38 PM

Hi Pati,

I could not find a recipe for El pastor... Do you have one? :)

Joi Barragan | March 13, 2012 4:49 PM

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

Pati Jinich replied to comment from Joi Barragan | March 14, 2012 4:02 PM

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.

Norma | March 21, 2012 6:07 PM

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

Pati Jinich replied to comment from Norma | March 27, 2012 1:16 PM

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.

Keninseb | May 1, 2012 2:43 PM

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

Sandra | July 28, 2012 2:25 AM

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

Pati Jinich replied to comment from Sandra | August 1, 2012 11:19 PM

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!!!

Sara | October 29, 2012 11:25 AM

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

Elisabeth Romero replied to comment from Ron Derbyshire | November 26, 2012 12:02 AM

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

Pati Jinich replied to comment from Elisabeth Romero | November 26, 2012 5:55 PM

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

Sue Hale Hayes | November 27, 2012 7:36 PM

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

Pati Jinich replied to comment from Sue Hale Hayes | November 29, 2012 1:12 PM

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!

naikely | January 5, 2013 12:04 AM