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The Barbacoa Journey: From the Traditional to the Modern Recipes

barbacoa tacosHere in the Southwest, the term barbacoa is a household name. Find her at parties, weddings, street taco stands, restaurants, and more. Let’s say, she gets around. And while those of a more squeamish nature might wince a little once they find out her origins, the juicy taste ultimately wins people over. She is rich in taste, quite charming, and has a long tradition in Mexican and Southwest cuisine. Her name is barbacoa. 

The Traditional Way of Preparation

The traditional preparation involved is an underground pit. And where does the meat come from? Wait for it. The head! Barbacoa meat comes from the cheek of the cow or, el cachete. That’s right. Take the head, remove traces of hair or hide, and wrap it in a burlap sack soaked with water or wrap in heavy-duty aluminum foil. People will then burn wood—possibly mesquite—for hours until they are reduced to embers. Then you add the meat, cover it with leaves, either maguey or agave to protect the flavor and retain heat. Eight to ten hours later, voila. You have delicious cow head. 

This cow-head-in-a-hole tradition, however, was quite abruptly stopped and suddenly frowned upon when mad cow disease became a thing and people worried about anything near a cow’s brain. In the olden days, once that cow head came out of the ground, people would slice the meat off the cheeks, clear the eyes and brain and have at it. 

The practice of putting a cow head into the ground is relatively a thing of the past. Most cities have banned the practice for health reasons. It’s interesting to note though that as of 2010, there was one restaurant in Brownsville, Texas that still practiced the traditional preparation. The restaurant was featured in Texas Monthly and, thanks to a grandfather clause, was still able to follow the practice.

The Makings of  Perfect Barbacoa Taco!

The meat is the thing. It’s juicy, flavorful, and soft. So how do you prepare it? Simply purchase our ready-to-eat barbacoa and add cilantro, onion, and/or salsa to taste and knock yourself out!

Benefits of Barbacoa

The meat is rather thin, stringy, but flavorful. She makes a perfect taco because she absorbs flavor and retains so much of the juice. One interesting fact, too, is that barbacoa—because it’s made from the head—contains high levels of collagen. It is also extremely high in protein. It is a little high in fat, so it’s not a meal for every day but is a good source of meat protein. 

The Modern Versions of Barbacoa

Today, most barbacoa is prepared differently. They are either boiled or slow-roasted. Here at Productos Real, we continue to prepare our meat in a way that preserves the full flavor and offers you the perfect taco meat for your party, or wedding, or hangover weekend breakfast. 



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