My Instant Pot Barbacoa lies somewhere between traditional fire pits covered with agave leaves and the chow line at Chipotle. This amazing weeknight friendly meal is authentic(ish), super tasty, and so quick ~ taco night will never be the same.
This recipe illustrates the value of having a few key pieces of equipment in our kitchen. I used my Vitamix blender and my 6 Qt Instant Pot for this weeknight version of one of the most storied of all dishes from Latin America. Between the three of us I think we knocked it out of the park.
Barbacoa (Spanish for ‘barbecue’) is an ancient method for cooking meats over an open fire, or in a fire pit.
The meat is shredded and served in a sauce redolent with chiles and spices, along with a hit of acidity in the form of citrus juice and vinegar. Grant and I watched The Taco Chronicles on Netflix recently and I got so inspired learning about the incredible history of barbacoa, the original barbecue.
Who needs a fire pit when you got the Instant Pot??
I’m definitely exploring some of that rich heritage today, but we’ll substitute my trusty Instant Pot for the fire pit, and a 2 lb boneless brisket for a whole goat. I think it’s a fair trade.
My Instant Pot Barbacoa recipe balances authenticity, bold flavor, and easy prep.
Barbacoa is a versatile concept and there’s no one right way to do it. I checked out all kinds of recipes as I developed this one and I think I’ve hit on the perfect formula. The meat is fork tender, and I can’t even describe the sauce, it’s like nothing I’ve ever had before. The whole thing is done before you can make it to Chipotle and back in rush hour (don’t forget to factor in that slow line!)
The smell of the barbacoa cooking in the Instant Pot is unreal. Your neighbors will wonder who’s making such an amazing dinner (don’t answer the door if they come knocking.)
Why it makes sense to cook barbacoa in a pressure cooker
- Barbacoa depends on long, slow, moist cooking. Pressure cookers can get so much hotter than a normal pan on the stove or in the oven, so your meat cooks in a fraction of the time, while still coming out as tender as if it had been braising for hours. All the moisture is retained in the pot rather than evaporating away as steam.
- There’s hardly any clean up with the IP, the moist pressure cooking assures that nothing’s left sticking your pan at the end, all the flavor is in your food. All the stages of this dish are done right in that same pot, from browning the meat to reducing the sauce, so clean up’s a breeze.
How to Make Barbacoa in the Instant Pot
- Cut the meat in large chunks and marinate.
- Brown the meat in the IP.
- Blend the sauce and add to the pot.
- Pressure cook for 60 minutes.
- Remove and shred the meat, reduce the sauce, add the meat back to the pot.
Marinating the meat is key for barbacoa
Do it for a minimum of 3 hours, up to overnight. Everything in the marinade will eventually become part of the sauce, I especially loved the flavor of the cloves, yum.
- whole cloves
- chipotle peppers in adobo sauce
The sauce is serious stuff
(Please make this the day before if it makes your life easier…) The first thing you’ll do is soak a few dried chiles. Dried chiles are easily found in your supermarket, but you might need to ask for them, they tend to hide them away. When the chiles have softened, dry them off and give them a few seconds in a scorching hot pan; they toast and get even more delicious. Now you can proceed with the rest of the sauce.
Barbacoa Sauce ingredients
I stake my reputation on this sauce, it’s out of this world ~ just puree it all!
- dried guajillo peppers, soaked and toasted
- orange juice
- lime juice
- beef broth
- cider vinegar
- brown sugar
- chipotle peppers in adobo (this is what makes the sauce spicy, use more or less to your taste)
- yellow onion
- salt and pepper ~ with flavors this powerful, salt and pepper seem irrelevant, but I use them anyway 🙂
Barbacoa can be served in tacos (corn, of course) like I’ve done, or wrapped in a big burrito, or simply paired with rice and beans.
Toppings for beef barbacoa tacos
There are so many possibilities, it’s one of my favorite things about taco night!
- pickled onions, or regular chopped or sliced red onions
- cojita cheese, crumbled
- fresh cilantro
- mango salsa
- chopped tomatoes
- restaurant style salsa
- Salsa Negra
- Fire Roasted Tomatillo and Corn Salsa
- Strawberry Jalapeño Salsa
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Instant Pot Barbacoa
- Instant Pot Pressure Cooker
- Vitamix blender, food processor, or immersion blender
- 2-2 1/2 lb boneless beef brisket, cut in large chunks. You might also use a chuck roast.
- 3 bay leaves
- 3 Tbsp canned chipotle peppers in adobo sauce (I like to puree the contents of the can first)
- 2 tsp ground cumin
- 1 tsp dried oregano
- 1 tsp whole cloves
- 3 dried guajillo peppers
- juice of 1 large orange
- juice of 1 large lime
- 1/2 cup beer
- 1/2 cup beef broth
- 2 Tbsp cider vinegar
- 1 Tbsp brown sugar
- 3 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 Tbsp chipotle peppers in adobo sauce
- 1 yellow onion, chopped
- 1 tsp each salt and fresh cracked black pepper
- Toss the meat chunks with the marinade ingredients in a large bowl or zip lock freezer bag, making sure to coat all surfaces of the meat well. Cover and refrigerate for 3 hours or overnight. Do this in the morning before work if you like.
- Soak the dried peppers in very hot water for 15 minutes, then pat dry. Toast them in a hot dry pan just until they start to take on color, this happens fast, about a minute or so. Trim the stem ends and slice them into pieces. Add to a blender with the rest of the sauce ingredients and puree until very smooth.
- You'll brown your meat right in the Instant Pot (we're not pressure cooking yet.) Add a tablespoon of olive oil to the pot, and press the SAUTE button. Set it to MORE, which is the hottest saute setting. Different machines do this differently, but basically you want to be sauteeing on the highest temperature. Note: you do not use the cover when you saute. When the pot is hot, brown the meat, working in batches. Brown on all sides and then remove the browned meat to a plate.
- Press CANCEL to turn off the machine. Pour in the pureed sauce and stir to scrape up any browned bits from the bottom of the pot. Add the meat back into the pot and combine well. Add the bay leaves.
- Cover and lock the lid. Set the vent to SEAL. Press PRESSURE COOK and set the timer to 60 minutes.
- When the machine beeps done after 60 minutes, switch the vent to VENT and wait for the pressure to come down. Remove the meat to a plate to cool a bit. Remove and discard the bay leaves. I like to thicken my sauce at this point. Just press SAUTE and set it to the highest temperature. The sauce will bubble away and thicken up. Taste it to add more salt or any other seasoning. Note: you do not use the cover when you saute.
- Shred the meat with 2 forks. Add back to the sauce and stir to combine. Your barbacoa is ready! Serve with corn tortillas and toppings of your choice.
- Some say barbacoa is even better the next day, so feel free to make this ahead.
notes and variations
Don't have an Instant Pot?Don't miss this epic recipe, you can do this in the oven or in a slow cooker, just follow the same method but cook for 4 hours in a 325F oven or 8 hours on low in the slow cooker.