NPR logo Contemporary Barbacoa

Contemporary Barbacoa

Not to be confused with barbecue, barbacoa is a dish traditional to South Texas made from meat byproducts from a cow's head and other parts. Traditionally, it was prepared by digging a hole in the ground, placing the head in the hole and slow-cooking it with hot coals. The meat separates from the bones and is served on corn or flour tortillas. More contemporary recipes for barbacoa often use lamb and are prepared in steamers.

Preparation time: 30 minutes

Another Take on Barbacoa

Tejana music legend Mendoza, 88, shares her recipe for Barbacoa. Her daughter Yolanda Hernandez translates.

Baking Time: approximately 4 hours

Utensils: A large steamer with a lid and a draining basket or a steaming rack


1 leg of lamb of about 3-4 kilos

2 kilograms of lamb ribs

250 grams of chickpeas, previously soaked

1 kilogram of carrots cut into pieces

6 laurel leaves

10 garlic cloves

10 green tomatoes cut into quarters

2 spoonfuls of salt

1 teaspoon of pepper

2 onions cut into quarters

4 liters of pulque (a thick fermented alcoholic beverage made from various species of agave), beer or water

8 roasted maguey leaves (prepared by cooking the fleshy leaf base and trunk of certain agaves, especially the century plant)

12 avocado leaves

6 green chili peppers (optional)


Pour the liquid (either pulque, beer or water) into the bottom of the steamer. Add the chickpeas, carrots, laurel, garlic, tomatoes, salt, pepper, onions, chili peppers and avocado leaves.

Put the steamer basket or rack in place and cover it with maguey leaves. On top of the maguey leaves, alternately place pieces of meat and avocado leaves, and cover that with more maguey leaves. Seal the edges of the steamer with tortilla dough or with a mixture of flour and water, which takes on a consistency similar to bread crumbs. Leave the steamer cooking on the fire for approximately 4 hours.

NOTE: This recipe won't work if you leave out the pulque, beer or water. Placing only the vegetables at the bottom of the steamer would result in a more concentrated consome.

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