Instant Pot barbacoa is a quicker version of the traditional Mexican dish. You can make this recipe for tender Tex Mex beef in less than an hour!
There are some fantastic authentic Mexican recipes that deliver big flavor, but most take a long time to prep and/or cook. For example, you can’t rush dishes like Yucatan pork (cochinita pibil) and tacos al pastor.
The meat used for those dishes has tough connective tissue and fat that requires a long time to either marinate or render down during cooking.
The same applies to authentic Mexican barbacoa beef, which is traditionally made with beef cheeks, a tough cut of meat. To replicate the incredible flavor and texture of the original dish but keep the prep and cook time simple and quick, I turn to the magic of an Instant Pot (electric pressure cooker).
Instant Pot Barbacoa vs Mexican Barbacoa
There are differences between a Texas or Tex Mex barbacoa recipe and Mexican barbacoa. The most significant differences are in the cooking style and the type of meat used. Obviously, my recipe for Tex Mex barbacoa is cooked in the Instant Pot.
What is Barbacoa?
The word “barbacoa” actually has two meanings, the first being the name of the dish. Barbacoa is also a Mexican style of preparing and cooking food underground, covered with hot coals.
In an authentic preparation, the meat and other ingredients are wrapped in banana or agave leaves, then buried under the hot coals to slowly steam cook for several hours.
Type of Meat Used
In northern Mexico, the home of barbacoa, they use the head of cattle (typically beef cheeks) or goat shoulder to make the dish. Central and Southern Mexico typically use lamb or pork shoulder.
Because it can be difficult to find beef cheeks at the grocery store, beef chuck roast is typically used to make Texas and Tex Mex beef barbacoa.
This recipe for pressure cooker barbacoa is Tex Mex style and made with beef chuck roast.
Ingredient Notes and Substitutions
- Beef chuck roast
Some stores label chuck roast as arm roast or blade roast. A good substitute for chuck roast is rump roast.
- Chipotles in adobo sauce
Chipotles are the dried version of smoked jalapenos, and adobo sauce is a smoky flavored tomato-based sauce. This ingredient is very common and should be easy to find in the condiment or ethnic food aisle of most grocery stores.
If a substitute is needed, you could combine some adobo seasoning with tomato paste. A better option is to make my recipe for adobo sauce and add chipotle chiles to it.
- Mexican oregano
Unlike the Mediterranean oregano sold in the spice aisle of the grocery store, Mexican oregano has notes of licorice and lemon. I prefer its flavor, especially in Mexican and Latin dishes. If you’re unable to find it, regular oregano is fine.
Video: Making Instant Pot Barbacoa
Making pressure cooker barbacoa slashes the cooking time down from several hours to less than an hour. To see exactly how to make it, watch the video located in the recipe card at the bottom of this post.
Stove Top and Slow Cooker Instructions
If you don’t own an electric pressure cooker, it’s okay! You can make it on the stove top or in a slow cooker.
To make this recipe on the stovetop, see the recipe card at the bottom of this post.
You’ll find instructions for slow cooker barbacoa in my burrito bowl recipe post.
I like the edges of the meat crispy, so I usually pan sear the beef on all sides prior to putting it in the slow cooker or pressure cooker. This step is optional. I’ve skipped this step before, and the dish is still on point.
Uses for Beef Barbacoa
There are endless ways to use the tender, spicy beef. Here are a few ideas to get you started.
- Meal prep lunches – Freeze portions of barbacoa meat in individual meal prep containers or small zip top bags. Then it’s ready to put into a lunchbox to thaw and it can be microwaved for tacos.
- Burritos, enchiladas, or quesadillas
- Breakfast – It’s fantastic with eggs! I love it on top of rancheros Mexican eggs, or you can make barbacoa breakfast burritos.
- Soups and stews– Add some of the beef to chipotle pumpkin soup for a fall meal you’ll fall in love with!
Instant Pot Barbacoa + Video
- 4 lbs chuck roast (See Note 1)
- 1 tbsp vegetable oil
- 1 tsp salt
- 1 tsp black pepper
- 3/4 cup beef broth
- 1/2 cup apple cider vinegar
- 2 limes juiced
- 6 cloves garlic cloves
- 4 chipotle chiles in adobo sauce
- 4 tsp ground cumin
- 2 tsp Mexican oregano (See Note 2)
- 1/2 tsp ground cloves
- 4 bay leaves
Instant Pot Barbacoa
- Cut the beef into about 4-6 chunks and season with salt and pepper. Press the Saute setting and add the oil. Sear beef on all sides (See Note 3) until browned.
- In a blender add all other ingredients except bay leaves and puree. Pour sauce over beef, add the bay leaves and close lid. Cook on Pressure setting, High for 35 minutes.
- After it’s cooked 35 minutes let rest 10 minutes, then do a Quick Release. Remove lid and shred beef with forks. (If it doesn’t shred easily, cook another 10 minutes). Serve as is, or allow to cool and keep refrigerated in an airtight container.
- Use in tacos and burritos topped with pickled red onions and or pico de gallo.
Stovetop Beef Barbacoa
- Cut the beef into about 4-6 chunks and season with salt and pepper. In a Dutch oven over medium heat add the oil. When hot sear beef on all sides until browned.
- In a blender add all other ingredients except bay leaves and puree. Pour sauce over beef, add the bay leaves and close lid.
- Turn the heat to low. Simmer for 4 to 4 1/4 hours or until the meat pulls apart easily.
- Turn off the heat and shred the meat with forks. Return meat to braising liquid and let the shredded meat simmer over low heat for about 15 minutes. Serve hot in tortillas with pickled red onion, pico de gallo or with scrambled eggs.
- Barbacoa beef is authentically made using beef cheeks although some may find that hard to find. For this recipe I made it using beef chuck roast.
- The herb that makes this is Mexican oregano, but regular oregano works just as well.
- Searing the beef on all sides first allows for a level of flavoring with caramelization. This is optional, I like the crunchy texture on the edges.
The information shown is an estimate provided by an online nutrition calculator. It should not be considered a substitute for a professional nutritionist’s advice.