Home Lamb Barbacoa: Sous Vide Method

Lamb Barbacoa: Sous Vide Method

by Brad Prose
Served with charred zucchini, pickled avocado, chicharrón, and pipián rojo.

Early Sonoran Summer

One of my absolute favorite types of tacos would be lamb barbacoa. This bold Mexican style of barbecue hits you with many flavors: spicy, smokey, earthy, with hints of herbs. The meat will vary based on the region. I’ve seen it made from lamb, goat, beef cheeks, pork, or even the entire cow head. The cooking process also has a variety: smoked, braised, steamed, or even buried on top of coals in the ground.

I was challenged recently to come up with a dish that used a rack of lamb. This was a competition hosted by Chef’s Roll. My love for Sonoran cuisine stepped in, obviously, the barbacoa flavors were screaming in my ears.

barbacoa bbq rub

Our local landscape in Arizona blooms during this time of year, showing a variety of colors, textures and flowers. I love to be inspired by everything around me. This time of year I love to go up to Sedona to see the red rocks and enjoy the weather. How can I represent that on a plate?

Arizona Influenced

I decided to use different elements from my personal experiences and build my concept: fallen saguaro cactus, tumbleweeds, the red clay from Sedona, etc. Now to imagine it coming together and building flavor and textures.

The lamb from Te Mana is incredible. Full of flavor, tender, amazing color. I wanted to use sous vide and then sear it over charcoal, providing me a way to infuse the meat with the flavors of barbacoa. Typically barbacoa meat is fatty, and ends up being served as a chopped or pulled meat. A rack of lamb can easily be flavored with all of the spices using sous vide.

The barbacoa lamb flavors are not too tricky. Toasted avocado leaves are extremely key, not replaceable, having flavors of mild anise and nutty hazelnut. Charred onion builds on the base flavors, and then follows the rub itself. Chile guajillo, cumin, peppercorns, and many other warming spices come together and round out the experience.

Creating a Barbacoa Spice Blend

This variation of barbacoa spices pairs very well with the lamb, without overwhelming the flavors. Not too spicy, and can be altered simply by switching out the chile powders:

  • 3 tbsp chile powder (guajillo, or ancho preferred)
  • 2 tbsp Mexican oregano
  • 1 tbsp fresh ground black pepper
  • 2 tbsp garlic powder
  • 1 ½ tsp ground cumin
  • ½ tsp ground cloves
  • ½ tsp fresh thyme
  • ¼ tsp cinnamon
  • 2 tsp salt, or to taste

The Final Plating

The dish finally all comes together, representing my home.

The lamb was obvious, sous vide then sear over charcoal to add the barbecue flavor.

Plating the rest was based around the charred zucchini, my saguaro. The squash was brushed with oil and seasoned with salt and pepper, then charred whole on the grill above a high heat. Cooled, and sliced thin, there was a smear of smoked crema between each layer, then reassembled and plated on top of the red clay. The “clay” was pipián rojo, a type of mole sauce that is made of primarily roasted pumpkin seeds.

barbacoa rack of lamb

The tumbleweed tuile took my the better part of an hour to get right, both shape and flavor of candied jalapeño.

Freshness comes both from the pickled guacamole puree and the foraged flowers. Hand picked, there are flowers from the vitex and palo verde trees. The puree was simply pickled avocados, jalapenos, garlic, cilantro, and the pickling brine.

Would you feel bad diggin in? I sure did, but that’s because of the time and stress endured while putting this together. Once the knife crumbled up the tumbleweed and I mopped up a slice of lamb and zucchini into the spicy pipián, I got over it.

If you’d made it this far down the page, thank you so much for reading. I’m sharing the recipe for the sous vide rack of lamb and barbacoa rub. Even if you don’t make the lamb, try the rub.

sous vide rack of lamb barbacoa
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barbacoa bbq rub

Lamb Barbacoa: Sous Vide Method

  • Author: Brad Prose
  • Total Time: 13 minute
  • Yield: 6-8 1x


This sous vide rack of lamb was the perfect vehicle for a new way to present barbacoa. Toasting and charring ingredients on the grill builds that flavor. I recommend using guajillo chiles if you can for the chile powder.


  • 2 lbs rack of lamb
  • 2 avocado leaves
  • 1 bay leaf
  • ¼ small onion, left in tact
  • 3 tbsp chile powder (guajillo, or ancho preferred)
  • 2 tbsp Mexican oregano
  • 1 tbsp fresh ground black pepper
  • 2 tbsp garlic powder
  • 1 ½ tsp ground cumin
  • ½ tsp ground cloves
  • ½ tsp fresh thyme
  • ¼ tsp cinnamon
  • 2 tsp salt, or to taste


  1. Prepare the sous vide bath for 129˚F. Get our your vacuum sealer, you’ll be using this soon for the lamb.
  2. Remove the lamb from the fridge and pat it dry. Remove any excess fat if necessary.
  3. Turn on a nonstick pan to medium heat. Toast the avocado leaves for about 30 seconds on each side to bring out the flavors, careful not to burn. Remove the leaves and let them cool off.
  4. Add in the large piece of onion, searing on each side until a little charred. This might take 5 minutes, flip as needed. Remove set aside to cool.
  5. Mix all of the spices together in a bowl. Taste and adjust. The most obvious adjustments would be adding more heat with chile powder, or adding pepper & salt.
  6. Rub the lamb generously with the barbacoa spice mix. Place the rack in the sous vide bag, and add the piece of onion, avocado leaves, and the bay leaf. Seal the bag.
  7. Cook the lamb in the sous vide bath at 129˚F for at least 90 minutes, no more than 2 1/2 hours.
  8. When you’re about 10 minutes from the lamb being finished in the sous vide bath, heat up a grill for direct heat, at about 450-500˚F for searing. Too hot and you can scorch the fat on the lamb.
  9. Remove the lamb from the sous vide bath and vacuum bag. Discard the onion and leaves. Pat dry, and apply a little more of the barbacoa rub.
  10. Make sure your grill grates are clean, and rub them with a little oil. Sear the lamb, fat side down first. You’re looking for an ever sear on all sides, and will need to rotate the rack frequently to make sure you don’t overcook it. This should take about 5 minutes.
  11. Once the middle of the rack has an internal temp is 125˚F, remove and let it rest for about 10 minutes. Slice and serve.


Let’s say you don’t have a sous vide setup at home. That’s OK! You can replicate this in the oven, smoker, or on the grill by cooking at a low temperature of 225˚F until the lamb is about 118°F. Take it out of the cooker and let it rest a few minutes before searing to temp (115-125°F for rare or 125-130°F for medium rare).

  • Prep Time: 20
  • Cook Time: 90-120
  • Method: Sous vide

Keywords: lamb

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