Crock-Pot Barbacoa

So, you want to make Barbacoa but your amigo snagged the cabeza from the last vaca you slaughtered? Or maybe, since you're an un-landed techno-geek you don't have access to open land in which to dig the cooking pit? Well, come on down! Have I got the solution for YOU!

Actually, I got the mailer from the carniceria down the street and while perusing it I wondered what 'Cachetes de res' were and what the heck you'd do with them. So, 'Beef Cheeks'; OK, no big deal. I often buy Mexican Chorizo, which is a wet 'sausage' made from pig jowls. Searching on the web I found lots of references for Barbacoa de res using beef cheeks, most including lips and tongue as well. Looking a half-dozen sources over I boiled down a basic recipe using a crock pot as follows.


4 lbs. Cachete de res (Beef Cheeks)
2 Oranges
2 Bay Leaves
1/2 tsp Cumin (ground Coriander seed)
3 Garlic Cloves
1 medium Yellow Onion, large dice
1 tsp. Salt (or to taste)

For Serving:
Tortillas, Flour or Corn (warm or as crisp taco shells)
Cilantro, chopped
Limes, quartered
Onions, finely diced
Cheese, shredded (Cheddar or Jack)
Tomatoes, medium dice
Iceberg Lettuce, shredded
Hot Sauce


Rinse the cheeks and place them in a good size crock pot, discarding any chunks that are purely fat.
Add the Bay Leaves, Cumin, Garlic (use a garlic press), Onion, and Salt. Juice the two Oranges over the contents.

Set the crock pot on high and ignore it for two hours, then stir the contents a bit with a big old spoon. Stir every hour after that. In six hours it should be starting to fall apart. Give it another hour just because.

Remove from the crock pot to a large bowl with a slotted spoon, pausing to let the juices (fat) drain. It will still retain an incredible amount of fat.

Serve with tortillas and extras. The very best is to scoop some on a warm flour tortilla, top with cilantro, squirt on some lime juice and hot sauce, roll up and enjoy. Eat over the sink or a paper towel.

If you chill the leftovers in a bowl you can slice them out in slabs the next day. The slabs bear a striking resemblance to head cheese, an item offered in supermarkets across the USA next to the bologna and salami which is not really meant to be purchased and consumed; it's just there to lend atmosphere.

I made it again August 21, 2009, using 5 Lbs. of beef cheeks. They were mostly frozen so it took 10 hours in the crock pot to completely fall apart. I drained off 1 1/2 cups of fat straight away when I'd decided it was done. Added a 1/4 cup of sliced Jalapeno peppers for the last hour; didn't really have much effect, just added a background heat element. Still velvety beef goodness with cilantro and lime accents.