Cooked in a mixture of dark beer, and spices this barbacoa is crazy tender. Serve with tortillas or over polenta like we did for our Italian Polenta Party.
What is Barbacoa?
The term barbacoa has always confused me. The first time I heard it was in my early twenties as a sous chef at Mustard’s Grill in the Napa Valley. A few of my fellow cooks were gathered around discussing weekend party plans and announced they were going to do a barbacoa in their yard. Truly a weekend project, they dug a deep hole, filled it with smoldering wood and a baby goat then covered over the hole with agave leaves.
The meat roasted very slowly and about 8-10 hours later was shredded and served with an accompanying chile broth with which you’d brush the meat through before piling it into warm corn tortillas. This was a meal reserved for a grand celebration and one that my Mustard’s compadres offered to replicate for our wedding. Unfortunately we couldn’t get the go ahead from the our reception venue to follow through—something about not wanting a huge, gapping, smoking hole on their property—ridiculous.
I was then later told it was only made with cow head and then Chipotle came along serving barbacoa in every nook and cranny of America (did they all have baby goat-sized holes in their parking lots? Were they really serving goat? Or even more interesting, cow’s head?) But now I’ve come to discover that barbacoa means beef to most people, more specifically tender, slow roasted succulent beef.
A Much Easier Version
This recipe was inspired by my friend and fellow chef Susana who cooks her barbacoa in a beer and spice bath. The addition of molasses adds a subtle sweetness that is undetectable but also very much there if that makes any sense. It is about as easy as a recipe can possibly be—not one single shovel necessary. All you need is a sturdy blender, a large enough roasting dish, and a few hours then leave the oven to do all the work.
Even better, the slow cooking means an inexpensive cut of meat is actually preferable here making it a very budget-friendly way to feed a crowd. I’ve made this recipe using boneless beef brisket, boneless chuck roast, and even a clod roast which I got just because it was the cheapest roast at the market and I wanted to see if it would be as good as the most expensive brisket and guess what? It was! Any tough cut of meat would melt under all that beer and heat.
I made this barbacoa recipe for an Italian Polenta Party I threw with Aida from Salt + Wind and Meg from This Mess is Ours. We piled the meat on top of the polenta straight from the tray with all those beautiful juices. Even though it is Mexican in origin it went beautifully with the sweet roasted tomatoes, grated hard Parmesan, and Aida’s silky romesco sauce. For more polenta party details head here!
- 5 pounds boneless beef brisket or chuck roast
- 1 (12-ounce) bottle dark beer
- 1 large red onion, chopped
- 2 jalapeños, stemmed and sliced (remove seeds if you'd like it less spicy)
- ½ cup cilantro leaves
- ½ cup Italian parsley leaves, plus more for garnish
- 9 epazote leaves, or ¼ cup fresh oregano leaves
- 6 cloves garlic
- ¼ cup blackstrap molasses
- 2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
- 4 teaspoons kosher salt
- 2 teaspoons ground cumin
- 2 teaspoons whole black peppercorns
- Heat oven to 300°F and place roast in a large baking dish or roasting pan.
- Combine remaining ingredients in a blender starting with the beer (you may have to do this in batches depending on the size of your blender). Blend on high until all is pureed.
- Pour beer mixture over roast and move it around in the mixture to coat all sides. Cover tightly with aluminum foil and place in oven.
- Slow-roast the beef 3 hours, remove foil and return to the oven and let cook 30-45 minutes more or until the edges are browned and the meat easily pulls apart with a fork.
- Shred meat and mix with the sauce in the pan. Serve immediately with a generous sprinkling of Italian parsley leaves or let cool completely, cover and refrigerate for up to 5 days or freeze for up to 3 months.
- To reheat; place meat and sauce in a shallow pot and bring to a boil over medium heat.
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