tacos de birria vs barbacoa

Barbacoa vs Birria


March 5, 2022

Birria and Barbacoa are two popular Mexican types of meat that are often served in tacos. Although they are both considered Mexican food and have many similarities, they are actually quite different. In this blog post, we will take a closer look at both types of meat and try to clear up some of the common confusion between birria and barbacoa. We will also give you a recipe for tacos de birria so you can try them out for yourself!

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What is Birria Meat?

Birria is slow stewed meat seasoned with spices including garlic, cumin, bay leaves, and thyme. The word ‘Birria’ means a traditional Mexican stew dish usually made from shredded meat, although traditionally cooked with goat meat, there are several common alternatives such as sheep meat, lamb meat, pork, as well as vegetarian substitutes. The meat is cooked in a chile-based sauce and often served with corn tortillas, onions, and chopped cilantro in a dish known as tacos de birria (birria tacos).

Birria comes from the Mexican state of Jalisco. When made with beef it is known as ‘birria de res’.

How is traditional birria different from quesabirria on Instagram?

Quesabirria is a modern take on the tacos de birria. The difference between birria and quesabirria is that the birria is used as a taco filling then cheese is melted by cooking the taco over low heat, and finally the is tortilla soaked in birria sauce which stains the tortilla red which makes an exquisite savory dish whether you’re making homemade tacos or getting dinner from street stalls like Cris & John.

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What is Barbacoa? Is it only Goat Meat?

Barbacoa, pronounced ‘barb-a-coa’, is a Spanish word and barbacoa means ‘barbeque’. So the barbacoa is actually a cooking method, but just like the English ‘barbeque’ barbacoa can also refer to the meats cooked using the barbacoa method.

Unlike barbeque and carne asada, which is cooking over a grill, barbacoa refers to using a large underground earth oven to steam cook large quantities of meats covered with agave (maguey) leaves, at one time. Some regions use banana leaves instead.

The barbacoa cooking method originated in Mexico and Central America, and although there are many differences particular to each region the main similarity involves steam cooking the meat, seasoned with chiles and other aromatic herbs, for many hours (usually overnight) so that the meat is very tender and juicy which makes barbacoa tacos a very popular food for street stalls.

There are many adaptations to eating barbacoa. The method is perfect for taco filling and you can use any type of meat as a base to make delicious meals; cheek meat, goat meat, and more.

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Barbacoa vs Birria: How are they different?

First of all, birria is made from beef or goat, while barbacoa is made from lamb or beef. Secondly, birria is cooked in a chile-based sauce, while barbacoa is cooked in an underground oven with agave leaves, similar to how a slow cooker will cook meat. Finally, birria is often served with tortillas, onions, and cilantro in a dish known as tacos de birria, while barbacoa is usually served with rice, beans, and salsa.

Best Tacos de Birria

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Here’s what you need to make birria at home (Hint: Get Your Chili Peppers Ready!)

For the best homemade tacos with so much flavor, you’ll want to eat them again and again.

Filling Options (Protein)

I like to use beef shank, chuck roast, or short ribs but you can also use chicken or pork (or a vegetarian substitution) of your choice. I’d recommend 1.5 lbs beef/protein of your choice per 4 people.

For the marinade

  • one can of adobo chipotle peppers
  • 1/4 cup vinegar
  • 1/2 cup of tomatoes (crushed)
  • 5 cloves of garlic
  • 1 tsp oregano (dried)
  • 1/2 tsp paprika
  • 1 tsp cumin
  • Guajillo Chiles (Fresh or Rehydrated dried chiles)


  • Medium Onion
  • 1/2 tsp cinnamon
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 6 cloves
  • 1 qt stock (match your protein so if you’re using beef shank use beef stock and if you’re using chicken use chicken stock)

Tacos (the fun part)

  • Tortillas of your choice (I used low-carb flour tortillas). If you’re up for frying try empanadas or stuffed sopapillas!
  • Toppings of your choice to add flavor (sour cream and cilantro for me!)


Thankfully cooking meat can be done in a lot of different ways; instant pot, crock pot slow cooker, large pot over a stove are all viable options here so don’t worry if you need to improvise. You should have your essential blender ready though.

  1. Rehydrate your chiles if needed and cut off the stems. Shake out the seeds if you don’t like extra spicy sauce. Season your beef/chicken/pork filling with salt and pepper and set aside.
  2. Blend everything for the marinade together until smooth. Soak the meat in the marinade according to what you chose; chicken will absorb the flavor relatively quickly while beef takes longer for the same flavor level).
  3. Using your instant pot, or whatever you plan on cooking the meat in, saute onions until translucent.
  4. Add in the marinaded beef or filling, and everything for the stew in the pot. We’re going for a slow cooked tender birria meat so if you’re using a pressure cooker set it high for ~45 minutes otherwise set your slow cooker or stovetop to low/medium heat, it will need to sit for a few hours (3-6).
  5. When done cooking, remove and shred the meat (discard any bones you’re not saving) and save the soup separately for use as a dipping sauce.
  6. Warm up the tortillas and add your desired toppings. You can dip the tortillas in the remaining sauce for the Instagram-friendly quesabarilla look too. Eat and enjoy!


Tamara is an avid foodie and successful restaurateur. She has dedicated a large chunk of her life to researching healthy food recipes and diet plans, and also teaching people how to improve their eating habits. Using Eatomology, Tamara shares the very best diet plans, cookbooks, and more. Also, for those on a quest to improve their kitchen, Tamara shares some awesome and high-quality kitchen equipment recommendations as well as buying guides on her website.