The lamb barbacoa from Hidalgo

In Mexico, the term barbacoa refers to the traditional mexican method for preparing various meats, either lamb, beef, goat and even rabbit, chicken, fish, deer and iguana, which was prepared in its own juice, cooked or steamed. Although the name barbacoa has the same origin as the term barbecue, it points to a completely different process... Traditionally, barbacoa refers to meat roasted in a pit-oven, covered with maguey leaves to keep all the heat and steam trapped inside... while this cooking method is essentially a pre-Columbian invention, today's barbacoa is typically cooked outdoors in a big pot over a fire.

It is in the Mexican highlands (states of Hidalgo, Tlaxcala, Querétaro and Mexico) where this traditional method was developped and where you find it the most. There are various alternate ways to make this, in different regions of Mexico; the various combinations of chiles, spices and other ingredients make this recipe a very flexible dish. You find also delicious barbacoas prepared by placing the meat in a steamer and them simply cooking it with steam. The people from the Mexican state of Hidalgo consider this to be their authentic state dish. Today we see a sizeable industry in the whole country stemming from making this mexican dish, in the form of specialized restaurants all the way to caterers.

The Barbacoa with lamb


* 1 leg of lamb 6 to 8 lb.
* 4 lb. of lamb chops
* 1/2 lb. previously soaked chickpeas
* 1 lb. diced carrots
* 6 bay leaves
* 2 teaspoons cumin
* coriander seeds
* 10 cloves garlic
* 10 unpeeled green tomatoes, cut in quarters
* 2 tablespoons salt
* 1 teaspoon pepper
* 2 onions, in quarters
* 8 cups of pulque or beer
* 8 maguey leaves, pre-roasted
* 12 avocado leaves
* 6 guajillo chiles
* 6 ancho chiles
* 6 poblano chiles


1) Heat up the ancho and guajillo chiles, and cook them in warm water, until they soften. Blend the chiles with the water they cooked in, along with the coriander seeds, garlic cloves and cumin.

2) First pour the chile mixture we did in step 1 in a big enough roasting pan, then put in the chickpeas, carrots, bay leaf, green tomatoes, salt, pepper, onions, chiles, and the 4 avocado leaves; then some meat, alternating the meat with the vegetables. Lastly, pour the beer or pulque over.

3) Place the lamb leg over all this, then a layer of avocado leaves, then some maguey leaves. Now we must seal this roasting pan by first covering the top completely with aluminum foil, wrapping it around the edges, then simply closing the lid over the aluminum.

4) Put in the oven and cook at 250 ˚F for 4 hours, or until the meat is cooked.

In Mexico the meat is served on tacos, tostadas or as-is with a side dish of salad, some refried beans and a nice salsa... because such big quantities are made at one time making barbacoa quickly becomes a popular family event!

mexican recipes

Privacy policy. Click on the chile to go back to main page, and read more recipes!