This post originally appeared in my personal blog, but I get enough requests for it that I decided to post it here, too.
I love barbacoa. It reminds me of when we’d go see my Grandpa in San Antonio. On weekends, he’d buy a pound of barbacoa and corn tortillas for us to eat after church. The rich meat with its distinctive mouthfeel instantly conjures up memories of sitting at his table, trying our best to be patient as our mother made tacos for us. If you’ve never eaten barbacoa, you just don’t understand the texture and feel of the meat. It’s hard to describe it without barbacoa newbies thinking it’s greasy meat. The word “unctuous” is overused, but saying “fatty and sticky” doesn’t sound appealing to most people. And oh my, this beef is a glorious mix of fatty and slightly sticky from the slow roasting process that melts down the meat, connective tissue and tendons into a pile of wonderfully slick, sumptously flavorful goodness. One of the dishes I judge Tex Mex restaurants on is their barbacoa. Do not send me out a plate dripping in grease, but don’t give me a taco of dry meat, either.
It all starts with beef cheek…or at least mine does, as the traditional process involves an entire cow head. I don’t know about your house, but mine does not have a refrigerator large enough for that business. There is no way to ignore that beef cheek meat is not a pretty, clean cut of meat like you normally use. It is positively primal in appearance, with all manner of fatty bits and stuff. I clean off a good bit of the fat but leave the other stuff, unless it is an obvious vein, which grosses me out, so I’ll practice my knife skills on that. In other words, remove it without losing a finger.
I cook my barbacoa in the crockpot, using a little seasoning, orange juice, apple cider vinegar and water. You want the liquid to cover the meat, and you may want to chop the beef it in large sections in order to achieve coverage. I had a half of an onion and some garlic cloves that needed to be used before they ended up in my compost bin, so I rough chopped them and threw them in, too. After long and low cooking, you’ll end up with what almost looks like pot roast, only it shreds easily with two forks.
I found myself unable to resist eating barbacoa tacos immediately after the meat was done. I doubt you could resist it, either. My favorite way to eat barbacoa is to fill warmed corn tortillas with the meat, some diced onion and a little cilantro. Somewhere in heaven, my Grandpa is smiling, pointing down to me and saying “¡Esa es mi nieta!”.
1-2 cups water
juice from half a regular sized orange
2 Tb. apple cider vinegar
3-4lbs beef cheek meat
fresh, roughly chopped onion & garlic if you have it on hand
Combine water, juice and apple cider vinegar and pour into bottom of crockpot. Liberally season meat, add to crockpot along with fresh veggies, if using any. Cook on low heat for 12 hours. Remove from liquid, shred with forks. Serve with warm tortillas and any condiment or toppings desired, such as salsa, chopped cilantro, diced onion.