Barbacoa originates in Mexico 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
Barbacoa de cabeza is a specialty of slow cooked cow head
that arose in the ranching lands of northern Mexico after the Spanish conquest.
(a traditional Mexican slow-roasted pork
dish), one of the common characteristics of Mexican
barbacoa is that marinades are not used and sauces are not applied until the
meat is fully cooked .
Throughout Mexico, from pre-Mexican times to the
present, barbacoa was the original Mexican barbecue, utilizing the many
moles (the generic name for several
sauces used in Mexican cuisine) and
salsa, which were the first barbecue sauces. Game,
turkey, and fish along with beans and other side dishes were slow cooked
together in a pit for many hours.
Left: Slow cooking of
barbacoa in a pit.
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.
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 Yucatan their traditional version,
(pit-style pork) is prepared with pork.
Barbacoa was later adopted into the cuisine of the southwestern United States by
way of Texas, which had formerly been a part of northern Mexico. The word
transformed in time to "barbecue", together with many other
words related to ranching and Tex-Mex cowboy 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 Florida, as there are many Mexican immigrants living there who have
introduced this dish. Barbacoa is also well known in Honduras.
A traditional Mexican way of eating barbacoa is having it served on a warm soft
taco style corn
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.