This healthy Instant Pot barbacoa recipe may not be authentic, but it can still deliver the Mexican soul and leaves you amazed. It’s also our top pick for National Brisket Day (May 28) as it naturally “beefs up” any menu with a juicy brisket filling. Before we start cooking, let’s learn some interesting facts about this dish.
What Is Barbacoa?
“Barbacoa” refers to the cooking method that is popular in Mexico and Central America areas. It involves slow-cooking cattle meat over an open fire or in a hole dug in the ground covered with leaves.
Barbacoa can be known as a type of barbecue. In modern cuisine, barbacoa simplifies by cooking the meat until tender in a pressure or slow cooker.
Is Barbacoa Healthy?
Yes, our recipe is healthy. Here’s why:
This barbacoa recipe does not contain any added sugar. It does have 3g of sugar, but that’s mainly the natural sugar in the vegetables.
Don’t worry. Only 3g of natural sugar won’t cause a rise in your blood sugar level.
This recipe also adheres to our healthy eating guidelines and contains just enough calories, saturated fat, and sodium.
It’s important to keep track of your calorie intake because you only need enough calories to keep your body functioning. If you over-consume calories, those excess energy will be stored in your body as fat— making you gain weight.
In terms of saturated fat, moderated consumption is highly recommended as it can increase the cholesterol levels in your body. To limit saturated fat intake, we keep the consumption of red meat and cheese to a minimum in today’s recipe.
In addition, we recommend monitoring your sodium intake so as not to increase your blood pressure and affect your health.
Barbacoa vs Carnitas: What Are the Differences?
Both carnitas and barbacoa involve slow-cooking, but there are huge differences between them.
Barbacoa is often made with red meat such as beef, lamb, or goat. Whereas carnitas is solely made from cuts of pork that have lots of fat marbling.
Unlike barbacoa, traditional carnitas require you to cook pork slowly in lard until tender. However, modern carnitas recipes allow you to cook the pork in a slow-cooker without having to submerge it in lard.
After being cooked to tender, the final step in cooking carnitas is fry it until crispy. Once finished, the crispy pork is either shredded or roughly chopped into “carnitas”, meaning “small pieces of meat”.
What Is Barbacoa Meat?
If you don’t know what type of meat to cook barbacoa, we have a few suggestions:
1. Beef and Lamb
These are the most common types of red meat you’ll likely find in a barbacoa recipe.
If you don’t know which cut of meat to choose, just kindly ask your butcher. Tell them that you’re going to pressure cook the meat and that you want lean cuts.
That being said, in our opinion, chuck, skirt, or brisket would be the best cuts of red meat for barbacoa.
Although pork is not a common ingredient in barbacoa recipes, it fits the flavor profile just as well. The best cuts of pork for this recipe are spare ribs, belly, and loin.
Poultry meat may be traditional in a barbacoa recipe, but you can use it if you want. It is your recipe afterall.
In our opinion, boneless skinless chicken breast is the best fit for barbacoa. Each chicken breast is thick and lean— it would be easier to shred afterwards.
4. Goat Meat
Unlike poultry, goat meat is considered a traditional ingredient in many barbacoa recipes. Many variations of the recipe require specifically the meat from the goat’s head and cheeks.
If you can find goat meat, we highly recommend giving it a try and mimic the taste of authentic barbacoa.
Ingredients for Barbacoa
Here are the main ingredients for our beef barbacoa recipe:
- Main protein: beef brisket. Trim as much of the fat off as possible.
- Liquid: unsalted chicken broth, apple cider vinegar, orange juice, and water. These liquids help cook the meat evenly.
- And seasonings.
Barbacoa with Tacos
You can serve with rice, or you can make it into tacos. All you need to do is put the barbacoa meat in a tortilla and you’ll have a simple taco.
You can also take it to another level by adding pico de gallo, fresh cilantro, avocado, cheese, etc.
Be creative and make your own recipe based on ours. Let us know in the comment section if you make any tweaks to this recipe.
For today’s recipe, here are the ingredients we use to garnish our barbacoa tacos:
- Flour tortillas
- Fresh avocado
- Fresh tomatoes
- Grated cheddar cheese
- And freshly chopped cilantro
1. Barbacoa Seasonings
Here are the main seasonings and herbs for our barbacoa recipe:
- Red onions
- Minced garlic
- Chili powder
- Ground cumin
- Ground cloves
- Cayenne pepper
- Dried oregano
- Dried bay leaves
- Salt and freshly ground black pepper
You can customize the recipe to your preference or use whatever seasonings you have on hand.
2. Barbacoa Sauce
Notice all the aforementioned liquid ingredients. They will help cook the meat evenly and will later become the sauce to dress the meat.
After the meat is cooked and tender, reduce the remaining liquid in the pot to concentrate the flavors. Mix this liquid in with the shredded meat to keep the meat from drying.
Meal Plan with Barbacoa
Although our recipe does contain vegetables, it doesn’t supply you with enough fiber. We recommend pairing today’s barbacoa tacos with a side of broccoli salad.
This salad contains almost 4g of fiber and 10g of protein per serving. This means the salad helps you stay full for a longer period of time.
It also contains lots of vital nutrients such as vitamin C, B2, and B9.
The nutrition facts of this meal combination are as follows:
Can You Freeze Barbacoa?
Yes, you can. Barbacoa freezes well and can last for a month in the freezer.
You can cook up a big batch of barbacoa, divide it into serving portions, and freeze them in individual containers. We recommend using freezer-safe, microwave-safe ziploc bags as they are airtight and can prevent freezer burn.
By freezing small portions of barbacoa, you can defrost them easier and faster for a quick meal too. Simply take a bag out and put it in the microwave to thaw and reheat in minutes.
How Long Does Barbacoa Last?
Barbacoa can last up to a week in the fridge if you store it properly.
If you’re serving barbacoa with fresh toppings like tomatoes and onions, we recommend storing the ingredients in separate containers. Storing cooked meat and raw, fresh vegetables separately can help keep them fresh for longer.
We also recommend letting the barbacoa meat come to room temperature before refrigerating it.
When you put warm food in an airtight container, it releases steam and the moisture is trapped inside the container. This creates an ideal environment for bacteria to grow and spoil food faster.
Now that you know how to store barbacoa, let’s learn how to make it.
Love This Recipe? There’s More!
Here are some tasty, easy meals with tortilla that we just couldn’t help but fall in love with:
- Instant Pot Pork Carnitas Recipe
- Instant Pot Carne Asada Recipe
- Instant Pot Chicken Tacos Recipe
- Instant Pot Chicken Fajitas Recipe
- Taco Pie Recipe
This healthy barbacoa recipe doesn't require much effort to make. All you need is a few ingredients and the Instant Pot will do all the work for you.
- cook TIME 1 hr
- prep TIME 5 mins
- total TIME 1 hr 5 mins
- COURSE Dinner, Lunch, Main Course
- CUISINE Mexican
- SERVINGS servings
- CALORIES 503 kcal
- 1.5 tbspolive oil
- 16 ozbeef brisket (trim off fat, cut into 1.5-inch cubes)
- 5 ozred onions (divided into 4 oz and 1 oz)
- 2 tspgarlic (minced)
- 1 tspchili powder
- 0.5 tspground black pepper
- 1.5 tspground cumin
- 0.3 tspground cloves
- 0.3 tspcayenne pepper
- 1.5 tspdried oregano
- 0.3 tspsalt
- 3 dried bay leaves
- 0.3 cupunsalted chicken broth
- 1 tbspapple cider vinegar
- 0.3 cuporange juice
- 0.5 cupwater
- 8 6-inch flour tortillas
- 6 ozavocado (flesh only, sliced)
- 1 oztomato (deseeded and diced)
- 1 ozcheddar cheese (grated)
- 2 tbspcilantro (chopped)
Sauté the meat: turn your Instant Pot on sauté setting. Heat up the olive oil in the pot. Add beef brisket and sear for 5 minutes. Then flip and cook for another 3 minutes or until lightly browned on both sides. Transfer to a plate and set aside.
Sauté the onions and spices: add red onions, minced garlic, chili powder, ground black pepper, ground cumin, ground cloves, cayenne pepper, dried oregano, and salt to the pot. Stir constantly for 1 minute.
Put the meat back in the pot: stir to coat the seasonings on the meat. Add dried bay leaves to the meat.
Add liquid and deglaze the pot: add unsalted chicken broth, apple cider vinegar, orange juice, and water. Scrape off any bit of meat that sticks to the bottom of the pot.
Pressure cook: put the lid on and seal the steam valve. Switch to the high pressure setting and set the timer for 45 minutes. When the timer beeps, carefully open the valve and release the steam. (We recommend using a long wooden spoon to turn the valve, standing away from the pot.)
Shred the meat: remove the brisket from the pot and into a large bowl. Switch the pot to sauté setting and let it cook for 5 minutes to reduce the sauce. In the meantime, use a pair of forks and shred the meat. Then put the meat back into the pot and stir well so that the sauce clings onto the meat. Turn off the Instant Pot.
Serve: divide the meat into 8 equal portions. Divide the avocado, diced tomatoes, cheddar cheese, chopped cilantro, and the remaining 1 oz red onions into 8 equal portions to use for garnish. Put one portion of the meat in a tortilla and garnish with the garnish. Serve immediately.