Mexican Slow Cooker Barbacoa Recipe for Cinco de Mayo

November 17, 2020  |  By Peg Kern
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Celebrating the flag of Mexico during a culinary vacation with The International Kitchen.You may or may not be aware of the fact that May 5th—Cinco de Mayo—is not Mexican independence day, it actually celebrates the Mexican victory in the battle of Puebla during the Franco-Mexican war. Although it is widely celebrated as a Mexican-themed holiday in the United States, in Mexico itself it is mostly celebrated in the Puebla region (and in its capital city of Puebla). Mexican Independence Day is actually September 16th, the day that independence was declared and the official start of the Mexican War of Independence.

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Still, September is a long way off, and we love to celebrate Cinco de Mayo. In Chicago every year there is a big parade and many local festivals. So in honor of Cinco de Mayo here is one of our favorite Mexican dishes, Lamb Barbacoa.

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Slow Cooker Lamb Barbacoa

Delicious barbacoa tacos made during a cooking vacation with The International Kitchen.

Serves: 12
Prep time: 20 minutes
Cook time: 8 hours
Cook method: Slow Cook


  • 2 T oil
  • 3 lb boneless lamb shoulder
  • 3 minced garlic cloves
  • 1 T cider vinegar
  • 1 T lime juice
  • 1 1/2 T brown sugar
  • 1 t salt
  • 1 t Mexican cinnamon (or traditional)
  • 1/2 t oregano
  • 3 dried ancho peppers
  • 2 dried guajillo peppers
  • 1/4 tsp ground cloves
  • 1 chipotle en adobo (optional, minced)
  • 1 1/2 c. liquid from peppers (strained if necessary)
  • banana or agave leaves (optional)

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Dried chilesInstructions:

1. First, set the chiles to soak in enough hot water to cover.

2. Brown the meat in the oil in a large skillet, making sure to brown all sides.

Barbacoa meat3. After 10-15 minutes, remove the chiles from their bath (reserving the liquid). Discard the stems and seeds. Roughly tear or chop the chiles and put in a blender with the rest of the ingredients except for the banana or agave leaves. Process the spice mixture until it is very smooth.

4. If you have them, line your slow cooker or roasting pan with the banana or agave leaves. Place the meat on top, and cover with the spice mixture. Cover the pan/slow cooker and cook on low for 8 hours.

5. When the meat is done take it out of the liquid and shred it (it will shred easily with two forks). Return it to the liquid mixture until you are ready to serve.

Lamb Barbacoa taco6. Serve the meat with warmed soft corn tortillas (or make your own homemade corn tortillas!) and chopped onion and cilantro, a squeeze of lime, and your favorite hot sauce, or with a cabbage slaw dressed with a chipotle-lime dressing!

7. Chef’s notes: you can substitute beef chuck roast or pork butt if you prefer them to lamb.

Do you celebrate Cinco de Mayo? What’s your favorite Mexican dish?

You can also try these recipes:

By Peg Kern

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