slow-cooker barbacoa beef tacos with homemade corn tortillas

Barbacoa is a historic form of cooking meat, and is in fact the basis for the modern word "barbeque." This recipe involves use of the slow cooker. The beef shoulder is cooked slowly for 10 hours in a very spicy, fragrant sauce until the meat is fall-apart tender. You can serve the beef on its own atop a green salad, or over tortillas topped with cheese, salsa, sour cream, or any other of your favorite taco fixings. This recipe also details how to make homemade corn tortillas. I would recommend serving this beef dish with a strong beer such as a hoppy IPA or a full-bodied red wine such as a Syrah.


  • Whole beef shoulder (2 to 3 pounds; be sure to remove from refrigerator 30 minutes before cooking)

  • Chipotle chiles in adobo (3 chiles with 2 teaspoons of reserve adobo sauce from can)

  • Garlic cloves (4 whole, smashed)

  • Red onion (1/2 cup, chopped)

  • Lime juice (2 teaspoons)

  • Apple cider vinegar (1/2 cup)

  • Cumin (2 teaspoons)

  • Ground glove (1 teaspoon)

  • Fresh cilantro (1 medium-sized bunch, roughly chopped, optional if you like cilantro)

  • Salt (3 teaspoons total; 2 teaspoons for beef and 1 teaspoon for tortilla dough)

  • Bay leaves (3 leaves)

  • Water (2 and 1/2 cups total; 1 and 1/2 cups for beef plus 1 cup for tortilla dough)

  • Fine ground corn meal (1 and 1/2 cups)

  • Flour (1 and 1/2 cups)

  • Vegetable oil (2 tablespoons)


  1. Heat a stainless steel skillet with a tablespoon of olive oil. Unwrap the beef shoulder and place in hot skillet.

  2. Sear each side of the beef shoulder until brown and crispy, about 4 minutes per side. When turning the beef with tongs, do not force the beef to turn until the beef easily lifts off the skillet - a sign that the beef is carmelized on that side.

  3. Once the beef has been seared completely, transfer to the slow cooker. 

  4. In a food processor, add the chiles in adobo, smashed garlic cloves, red onion, lime juice, apple cider vinegar, cumin, ground, cilantro (if desired) and salt. Blend until smooth.

  5. Add the chile sauce to the slow cooker and add the bay leaves and 1 and 1/2 cups of water. Turn the slow cooker on low and let cook for 10 hours, until beef is easily shredded with a fork.

  6. Once the beef is fully cooked in the slow cooker, transfer to a shallow ceramic dish or pan and shred with two forks.

  7. Add 3 to 4 tablespoons of sauce from the slow cooker to the shredded beef, as well as additional lime juice and salt to flavor. Taste to ensure the right balance for your palate. Set the beef aside until tacos are ready to serve.

  8. To make the tortillas, mix corn meal, flour and vegetable oil in a medium-sized bowl. Slowly incorporate 1 cup of warm water using your fingers. The dough should come together but should not be sticky or too dry.

  9. Form the dough into golf-ball sized balls. Cover the balls with a wet paper towel to keep moist while you press them. 

  10. If you have a tortilla press, lay down a piece of parchment paper, top with one of the balls of dough, and then top with another piece of parchment before pressing. You can also use a rolling pin to create flat tortillas.

  11. Heat 1 tablespoon of vegetable oil in a skillet.

  12. Once the skillet is hot, add one of the tortillas and heat in the oil until it starts to bubble and brown on one side. Flip and continue cooking for 1 to 2 more minutes until evenly browned. Remove and repeat with each tortilla.

  13. To serve, top tortillas with beef and your favorite taco fixings - we chose shredded cheese, sour cream, and homemade tomatoe salsa. The tortillas will be thick and chewy so it may be easier to pick up and eat with your hands!