The best tacos are the simplest ones, with incredibly complex flavors. If you can manage to put 2-3 items on a buttery corn tortilla and step back: Congrats, you’ve made yourself a masterpiece. These smoky lamb barbacoa tacos are juicy, tender, and incredibly simple to pull off. Just a few ingredients and you’re the Taco Picasso.
Breaking down Barbacoa
Shut off Pinterest and your crockpots; this is not the barbacoa you’re used to seeing. You’ve probably seen varieties of barbacoa tacos on menus, and it’s probably been beef. Barbacoa de res commonly found in taco shops, major chains, and many restaurants across America, happens to be an adapted version of Central American dish. The simplest interpretation of it is this: slow-cooked meat (beef, lamb, goat, or sheep) braised in a mixture of chiles and herbs.
In Mexico and other parts of Central America, you’ll see this meat coated with red adobo sauce, wrapped in leaves (banana, agave, or other large varieties) and cooked low and slow, sometimes even within large pits in the ground. Sometimes they use an adobo-based broth. There is not one true authentic recipe.
This recipe you’re about to try happens to be my interpretation, taking the classic flavors to the grill or smoker. You’ll want to start with the delicious Red Adobo Sauce recipe as your base, and it’s ridiculously easy from there.
Make sure you read about the Red Adobo Sauce, which is a key ingredient to this recipe.
Preparing the Barbacoa
Very little work needs to be done. Got a knife? Score and salt the meat, rub the adobo on it, and toss it on the smoker. Generally, that’s it!
Lamb works very well with the red adobo sauce, which happens to be made mostly out of ancho chiles. These dried chiles and fruity, smoky and sweeter. Blended together with spices and herbs, it makes the most delicious sauce which compliments the naturally gamey flavors of lamb. Don’t let that fool you – smoking this lamb scored and spread will significantly reduce the gamey flavors as well, leaving you with rich, soft bites for your barbacoa tacos.
Other Options for Barbacoa
This recipe uses a boneless leg of lamb. The simplicity and flavors of the lamb really shine through the sauce and smoke. There are plenty of options for your meat depending on your preference. Listed below are a few of the most common varieties I’ve found locally, that also works very well for this dish:
- Leg of lamb (bone-in or boneless)
- Lamb shoulder
- Beef chuck roast (the most commonly used)
- Beef cheeks
- Beef short ribs
- Leg of goat (bone-in or boneless)
- Goat shoulder
Smoking beef chuck roast is the perfect substitute if you’re a big beef fan. It has the right amount of fat and muscular structure. Pay attention to the size, you might need 2 of them to make this same recipe.
Smoking the Barbacoa
Simple doesn’t begin to describe this recipe. OK maybe it does, but seriously people! Let’s talk about the steps:
- Seasoning the lamb with salt and red adobo sauce
- Smoking at 250˚F until the internal temperature is around 165˚F
- Wrapping in foil with a little liquid, until it’s probe tender around 195˚F – 210˚F
- Shredding, and making barbacoa tacos
Highly recommend apple as my first choice, hickory as my second. The apple has a mild sweetness that pairs so well with the adobo sauce. Smoked lamb is amazing with either apple or hickory, the latter having a stronger smoke flavor. Both woods will work using beef.
The recipe below uses a mix of coffee and water, which is a bold, earthy flavor. I’d recommend chicken broth, or even some beer as alternatives. Braising is an opportunity to layer flavors, so feel free to get creative.
You sure can, use the same temperatures and it’ll be successful. Same goes for any type of smoker.
You only need to rest for 30 minutes, which will help cool the meat down a little and allow the juices to retreat back into itself. The good news is that you’ll have plenty of braising liquid as well. These will be incredibly juicy.