lamb barbacoa tacos

Wood-fired Lamb Barbacoa Tacos

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.

smoky lamb barbacoa tacos with salsa and pickled onions

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 work 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.

smoked lamb leg for barbacoa tacos

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
What type of wood should I use for barbacoa?

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.

What is the best liquid for the braising stage?

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.

Can I cook this in a pellet smoker?

You sure can, use the same temperatures and it’ll be successful. Same goes for any type of smoker.

How long should I rest the meat before shredding?

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.

shredded lamb sitting in the juices, ready for tacos
lamb barbacoa tacos
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lamb barbacoa tacos

Wood-fired Lamb Barbacoa Tacos

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These smoky lamb barbacoa tacos are juicy, tender, and incredibly simple to pull off. 

  • Total Time: 4.5 hours
  • Yield: 6-8 1x


  • 5lb boneless leg of lamb
  • 1 cup red adobo sauce
  • 3 tsp kosher salt
  • 1 dried avocado leaf, or 2 dried bay leaves
  • 1/2 cup coffee
  • 1/2 cup water, room temp


  1. Set your smoker or indirect grill to 250F.
  2. Lay out the lamb. Take your knife and score the surface of the lamb slightly, just about 1/8″ making a crosshatch. We’re adding texture and allowing the salt & sauce to penetrate. Salt the lamb on all sides, and then use the adobo sauce to cover all surfaces on the lamb.
  3. Place in your smoker, spreading out the meat so it lays as flat as possible. Do not roll it up or bunch it together, we want as much smoke penetration as possible.
  4. After about 2 hours it should be close to 165F internal temperature. Pull off the lamb and set it in a foil pan. Add the leaves, coffee, and water, making sure the liquids are not cold when you pour them in. Seal up the foil pan with heavy duty foil and place back on the smoker.
  5. Cook until the meat is about 195-210F, and a thermometer probe should slide in with no resistance. If you feel there are tough spots, let it continue to cook, checking every few minutes.
  6. Let the meat rest for 30 minutes before shredding.
  7. Serve barbacoa tacos with pickled onions and salsa verde.


Make sure you look at the weight of the meat if you’re choosing to use beef or another substitute. This recipe is mean for 5lb of meat on average. Adjust accordingly.

  • Author: Brad Prose
  • Prep Time: 20 minutes
  • Cook Time: 3-4 hours
  • Category: Lamb
  • Method: Smoking
  • Cuisine: Mexican
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