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Barbacoa originates in Mexicomarker and generally refers to meats or a whole sheep slow-cooked over an open fire, or more traditionally, in a hole dug in the ground covered with maguey leaves, although the interpretation is loose, and in the present day and in some cases may refer to meat steamed until tender.


Barbacoa de cabeza is a specialty of slow cooked cow head that arose in the ranching lands of northern Mexico after the Spanish conquest. Except for cochinita pibil, one of the common characteristics of Mexicanmarker barbacoa is that marinades are not used and sauces are not applied until the meat is fully cooked (for examples of Mexicanmarker marinades, see carne de chango and carne al pastor). Pork cooked in this manner is generally referred to as carnitas rather than barbacoa.

Throughout Mexicomarker, from pre-Mexican times to the present, barbacoa (the name derives from the Caribbean indigenous Taino barabicu) was the original Mexicanmarker barbecue, utilizing the many and varied moles (pronounced "mol-ehs", from Nahuatl molli) and salsa de molcajete, which were the first barbecue sauces. Game, turkeymarker, and fish along with beans and other side dishes were slow cooked together in a pit for many hours. Following the introduction of cattle, pigs, goats, sheep, and chickens by the Spanish, the meat of these animals was cooked utilizing the traditional indigenous barbacoa style of cooking.

Barbacoa has its origins in all the countries that Tainos inhabited, not just Mexico. The Tainos were pre-Columbus indians located in the Caribbeans.


In the U.S., barbacoa is often prepared with parts from the head of a cow, such as the cheeks. In northern Mexico, barbacoa is also sometimes made with the head of a cow, but more often it is prepared with goat meat or cabrito. In central Mexico the meat of choice is lamb, and in the Yucatanmarker their traditional version, Cochinita pibil (pit-style pork) is prepared with pork.

Barbacoa was later adopted into the cuisine of the southwestern United States by way of Texasmarker, which had formerly been a part of northern Mexicomarker. The word transformed in time to "barbecue" , together with many other words related to ranching and Tex-Mex cowboy (vaquero) (buckaroo) life. Considered a specialty meat, some meat markets only sell barbacoa on weekends or holidays in certain parts of south Texas and in all of Mexico. Barbacoa is also popular in Floridamarker, as there are many Mexican immigrants living there who have introduced this dish. Barbacoa is also well known in Honduras.


A traditional Mexicanmarker way of eating barbacoa is having it served on a warm soft taco style corn tortilla with guacamole and salsa for added flavor, the meat or the tacos are often served in the banana leaves they were cooked in. It is also eaten with onions, diced cilantro and a squirt of lime.


The origin of the word Barbacoa comes from the Taino Indians. The following is a reference that goes into some detail

"Pero tomemos el vocablo barbacoa, cuyo origen arauco (específicamente, taíno) es conocido gracias a las descripciones de Gonzalo Fernández de Oviedo en su Historia natural y general de las Indias, quien testimonia dos de sus acepciones". "But when we take the term 'barbacoa', which originates from aracuo (specifically, the taíno language), it's known thanks to the writings of Gonzalo Fernández de Oviedo in his 'Natural and General History of the Indians', who described two of its meanings."

Famous venues for barbacoa

The large food court of the tianguis (public market) of Chiconcuacmarker in the state of Mexicomarker, outside of Mexico Citymarker, seats hundreds of diners who are served barbacoa de borrego (mutton barbecue) and other regional specialties by dozens of open-air restaurants.

Restaurante Arroyo, the world's largest Mexican restaurant, located in the Tlalpanmarker district of Mexico Citymarker, is principally famous for its pit-roasted barbacoa de borrego and consomme de borrego, soup made from the drippings of the roasting lamb and sheep.

Across the México-Pachuca highway there are many barbacoa stands at the road's side serving drivers. Pachucamarker is widely known as the homeland of barbacoa.The meat traditionally comes from the inside of a cow's cheek or jaw.

See also

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