Barbacoa De Cabeza
or Barbecued beef head
is a tradition along the Rio Grande
coast of Texas
, it is also very popular in San Antonio
were I grew up. Consider it the Mexican
equivalent of a Hawaiian Luau
. When I was a kid growing up, my dad would get up at five in the morning on Sundays
to go stand in line
to buy Barbacoa. When I woke up I would rush down stairs to get my serving of steaming Barbacoa. I would get a large tortilla
put a good helping of Barbacoa on it then add whatever combination of diced onions
, pico de gallo
, or guacamole
that struck my fancy. So good, the steaming Barbacoa was so moist and tender, with a flavor so rich my mouth waters to think of it.
It’s now illegal, for a restaurant to make Barbacoa in the traditional way in Texas, except for those places who have a grandfather exemption. But don’t let that stop you.
Here is the traditional recipe.
1 cabeza (beef head)
4 onions, quartered
3 heads garlic, separated
2 bunches cilantro, separated
corn or flour tortillas
2 heads of cabbage (for wrapping)
salt to taste
Clean the cabeza, removing the ears. Remove the tongue. In Mexico the head would be wrapped in large banana leaves, here I use cabbage leaves, which gives a great flavor. Wrap the cabeza, with the onions, garlic, and cilantro. Once wrapped in cabbage, wrap in 3 layers of burlap.
Dig a hole about 3 feet wide and at least 2 feet deep. Line the bottom of the hole with large rocks, about the size of a softball. Build a large fire in the pit. Allow the fire to burn down to coals. The hole should be about 1/3 full of coals when done.
Add another layer of large rocks on top of the coals. Cover the rocks with 1 to 2 inches of dirt. Cover the dirt with 1 layer of wet burlap sacks, (don’t go overboard with wetting the bags, soak then squeeze so they are just moist.) Place the cabeza in the center, cover with 2 more layers of moist burlap sacks, then cover with at least 6 inches of dirt. Build another large fire on the dirt mound, let it burn rapidly down to coals, and keep the coals going for at least 4 to 5 hours, add more wood if necessary. Use a good wood like oak, which is best, mesquite or hickory.
Dig up the cabeza, discard the burlap and cabbage leaves, shred the meat from the bone into a large bowl, cover to keep the Barbacoa moist. Serve with tortillas, diced onions, salsa, pico de gallo, peppers, and guacamole. Good luck, and a last note, making Barbacoa this way is an art.
Ok now a confession, I have never done this myself, I have seen it done several times, I’ve even helped. But when I make Barbacoa I make it in the oven. He is the recipe I use.
Using the above ingredients, place all the ingredients in a large turkey roasting bag, being sure to wrap the cabeza with the cabbage leaves, and cut a slit in the top of the bag.
Put in a baking dish in the bottom rack of oven, put a another bowl filled with water, (at least half a gallon) in the oven, set at 250 degrees and cook for 5 hours. While the cabeza is cooking, put the tongue in a large pan cover with water bring to a boil, then cover and simmer on the stovetop for 3 hours, when done peel the tongue and shred or slice the meat, serve with the Barbacoa. When done, shred the meat from the cabeza as above, and serve with tortillas, diced onions, salsa, pico de gallo, peppers, and guacamole. Excuse me I have some cooking to do.
The last time I had Barbacoa cooked in the traditional way was at my family reunion. They did it up big time, and gave the whole cow the Barbacoa treatment. Can you believe we ate the whole thing, along with a plenty of pork, sausage, beans, rice, potato salad, guacamole, beer, tea, margaritas and desserts. Of course there were about 60 of us and the party went on for two days. This was out on the ranch near Alpine, Texas, about a year and a half ago.