Backyard Barbacoa Tacos (on the grill)

These backyard barbacoa tacos made on the grill are a big hit any day of the week (not just Taco Tuesday)!

Do you love tacos? Do you consider yourself a grillmaster (or aspire to)? Then this Backyard Barbacoa Tacos recipe is a must try! Using your braising skills on the grill, you’ll look like an expert and wow your friends over on your next taco night (which should be every night, am I right?)!

WHAT IS BARBACOA?

Barbacoa is a form of cooking meat that has its origins in the Caribbean, but the style we are most familiar with is the one from Mexico, which originates with meats steam cooked underground. Some recipes call for beef from the head of the cow (such as beef cheeks), others call for goat meat (aka- cabrito). Since this backyard barbacoa tacos recipe comes from a gringo and his grill, I’ll be using a chuck roast because this cut of meat is much easier to find in the US.

A PLETHORA OF INGREDIENTS

Adobo and beef together. The barbacoa tacos begin!
Adobo and beef together. The barbacoa tacos begin!

While I tend to post recipes that involve less than 10 ingredients, this one is worth the exception and you’ll taste why. For starters, I dice onion, jalapeño, and mince garlic then sauté in a cast iron skillet on the grill (you can also do this in a frying pan on your stove). Once those are done, I put them in a blender with apple cider vinegar, lime juice, chicken broth, cumin, oregano, black pepper, salt, and cloves. Blend until smooth, which shouldn’t take long since we are using a lot of liquid. This mix you just made is called an adobo, which is a special marinade that consists of peppers, vinegar, and spices.

NOTE: if you’re keeping track at home, that’s 11 ingredients so far.

…AND THEN THERE’S THE MEAT

Now that the above ingredients have formed your adobo, it’s time to take your chuck roast and cut it into sections. We are using a 3 lbs. cut of chuck roast for this recipe, so you’ll either want to cut it into six or eight pieces. I like to put a simple rub of salt and pepper on these pieces to add additional flavor to the meat.

Sear the chunks of chuck roast in a large cast iron skillet (preferably the one you already used to saute the onions, garlic, and jalapeno.
Sear the chunks of chuck roast in a large cast iron skillet (preferably the one you already used to saute the onions, garlic, and jalapeno.

Once you have divided the roast into chunks, place them in a heated cast iron skillet and sear each side for a minute or two. If you have seen other recipes on my website regarding steaks such as tri-tip or New York Strip, you’ll know how much I value the reverse sear. It does feel a little weird to sear first and then slow cook after, but with this recipe it is worth the exception. Make sure all pieces are browned on each side.

Now that the searing of the chunks of chuck roast has been done, place them in a foil pan. I recommend using an 8×8 pan or something a little bigger, depending on how big of a cut of chuck roast you have. Pour the adobo in the pan. I like to add a couple of bay leaves for flavor.

SMOKE AND BRAISE ON THE GRILL

With the meat and the adobo together in the foil pan, place on the grill at 275 degrees over indirect heat. I used my ceramic grill which came with deflector plates to put over the lit coals to create this indirect heat. I put a couple of chunks of hickory wood in there with the coals for some extra smokey flavored goodness. Cook like this for four to five hours or until the meat is shreddable with a fork. The wait for these backyard barbacoa tacos will be well worth it!

At least 200 degrees is a good temp for shredding beef.
The barbacoa reached 200 degrees after almost five hours on the grill. Reaching an internal temp of at least 200 degrees is good for shredding beef. Using my Thermapen Mk4 by Thermoworks.

Since every animal lives a different life and some cows use their muscles more than others, each cut of beef may cook differently. If the meat is still not shreddable after four to five hours, then cover the top of the pan with aluminum foil to help expedite the process.

It’s also worth noting that you may want to flip the chunks of beef over during the cook so the chunks of beef are easier to shred since they have been braising in the adobo.

SHRED IT UP!

barbacoa shredded and ready to eat.
Make sure to let the beef you just shredded sit in the adobo for a little while before serving. That way, the juices soak up into that barbacoa.

Once the beef has been removed from the grill and sat out for a moment, start shredding the chunks of beef. I used a couple of forks, but you can shred with your hands (wearing some insulated gloves) or even a hand mixer if you wish (but that can get messy, so beware). Let the shredded beef sit in that juicy goodness of the adobo for a little while before serving.

Speaking of serving, I recommend offering up this backyard barbacoa on some warm corn tortillas and topped with diced onion, cilantro, and some green tomatillo salsa. Even give a freshly cut lime a gentle squeeze over the top and you’ve got yourself some amazing backyard barbacoa tacos you cooked up on the grill!

barbacoa yes!
Warm up them corn tortillas before you paint a masterpiece with your backyard barbacoa (and toppings).

THE RECIPE!

Backyard Barbacoa Tacos

Backyard Barbacoa Tacos

Tired of having ground beef tacos? This barbacoa recipe will transform your taco night from average to extraordinary! And it can all be made on your grill (or oven/stove if you prefer).

Prep Time 25 minutes
Cook Time 5 hours
Total Time 5 hours 25 minutes

Ingredients

  • 1 chuck roast (3lbs.)
  • 1 jalapeno, diced
  • 1/2 red onion, diced
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/3 C apple cider vinegar
  • 3 Tbsp lime juice
  • 3/4 C chicken broth
  • 3 tsp ground cumin
  • 2 tsp oregano
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp pepper
  • 1/2 tsp ground cloves
  • 2 bay leaves
  • FOR TACOS:
  • 25-30 corn tortillas, warmed
  • 1/2 onion, diced
  • 2 Tbsp cilantro, diced
  • 1 jar green tomatillo salsa

Instructions

  1. Saute onion, jalapeno, and garlic in cast iron skillet. Set aside.
  2. Create adobo (marinade) by combining apple cider vinegar, lime juice, chicken broth, cumin, oregano, black pepper, salt, and cloves in a blender. Add sauteed onion, jalapeno, and garlic. Blend until smooth.
  3. Divide chuck roast into 6-8 pieces, season, and sear pieces in cast iron skillet for 1-2 minutes on each side
  4. Place meat in 8x8 foil pan and pour adobo in. Add bay leaves. Place on grill at 275 degrees over indirect heat for 4-5 hours, turn chunks of beef halfway through the cook. Done when beef at or above 200 degrees internal temp or when beef can be shredded with a fork.
  5. Shred beef and let rest in adobo before serving. Serve on corn tortillas warmed on a skillet, top with diced onion, cilantro, and green tomatilla salsa.

Notes

  1. Chuck roast was used for this recipe. To go more authentic, substitute beef cheek.
  2. To make more spicy, either add more jalapeno or substitute serrano pepper.

Nutrition Information:

Serving Size:

2 street tacos

Amount Per Serving: Calories: 251 Total Fat: 12g Saturated Fat: 5.9g Trans Fat: 0.5g Cholesterol: 76mg Sodium: 282mg Carbohydrates: 15g Fiber: 2.3g Sugar: 2g Protein: 22g

Smoked BBQ Brisket

Up close and personal with a slice of some smoked BBQ brisket.

Ah, brisket. The cut of beef I was so intimidated by when I first started BBQing. Gotta admit, I was working the smoker weekly when I started and it took me months to work up the courage to attempt it. After an experienced friend of mine smoked BBQ brisket with me for the first time, it didn’t seem so scary after all. If you are planning your first attempt at this beast of a cut, you’ve come to the right place. If you’ve smoked your share and are researching different methods, I applaud you for staying sharp in the craft.

I’ve cooked many of these smoked BBQ briskets over the last four years and done a variety of methods. I love brisket and it may be my favorite cut of beef to do on the smoker. The process will involve some work, patience, and attention to detail. But don’t be intimidated. It’s fun!

THE SUPER-CONDENSED VERSION

I’m about to dive into the specifics of each step of the brisket cooking process, but if you want to simply read the summary now and skip down to the recipe at the bottom, well you’re in luck because here it is!

I trim off the silver skin on the non fat side, trim some of the fat off of the skinny sides, especially where the point and flat overlap. I trim down to about a 1/2 inch on the fat side, which is a little more left on than others but I Smoke it fat side down because on the grills I use the indirect heat source comes from the bottom. That fat layer on the bottom helps protect the meat from burning. It’s like the fat is sacrificing itself for the meat. I rub with a S&P based rub, something simple for beef. I don’t go too generous, but cover it enough. I spritz a few times during the cook with Dr Pepper, which I think helps with the color more than the flavor. I measure temps where the point and flat overlap, pulling off when it hits 195-199F. I let it rest for 90 minutes to 2 hours before slicing. (NOTE: don’t forget you can make brisket burnt ends too!) If you want to read the breakdown, keep going!

TRIMMING THE BRISKET

Brisket diagram courtesy of eggheadforum.com

I have another blog post in which I review this in more detail and you are free to go check it out. For the sake of keeping this post from being a novel, I’ll go over the important points for you to know.

You trim a brisket for multiple reasons: to enhance the smoke penetrating the meat, creating some tasty bark, and removing some thick portions of fat that don’t render. There is one side of the brisket that has a bunch of fat on it, this is called the fat cap. The other side will have some light sections of fat on it, but likely a bunch of silver skin.

If cooking the brisket fat side down (recommended if your indirect heat source comes from the bottom: pellet grills, ceramic grills, drum smokers), then I recommend trimming down to about a 1/4 to 1/2 inch. I’ve burned the bottom of many a brisket going fat side up because the indirect heat source came from underneath. The heat cooks hotter when its closer to the source. Having the fat on the bottom will act as a protective layer to keep the meat from possibly getting a thin, burnt layer.

If going fat side up, I recommend trimming down to 1/4 inch. The hard fats don’t render, but can add a little flavor to your slices.

Brisket all trimmed up (this view is fat side down).

Here are some bullet points to that I elaborate on in my brisket trimming post:

  • plan about 20-30 minutes for trimming
  • a boning knife is preferred for the trimming due to the skinny point and curve
  • trim fat side down 1/4 inch for cooking fat side up, 1/4 to 1/2 for fat side down
  • trim off the light fat and silver skin on other side of brisket. Silver skin will make for a tougher chew and keep smoke from penetrating meat as well.
  • don’t cut into the fat that separates the point and the flat
  • cut off any little flaps of meat on the brisket. These portions will burn to a crisp due to smoking for many hours
  • best to trim brisket straight out of the fridge. Fat will be harder thus easier to trim

RUB AND REST

Now that the trimming is out of the way, we can get to the applying the seasonings, or the rub as us BBQers call it. If using a bottle of rub, it is recommended to go with one that is more savory as compared to the sweet rubs which are great for pork. As for me, I like to go simple with brisket: 2 Tbsp kosher salt, 2 Tbsp ground pepper, and 1 Tbsp garlic powder.

While you may go generous on the rub when doing another meat such as pork shoulder, I like to go modest to medium on brisket to let the natural meat flavor stand out. Make sure to apply rub on all sides of the brisket, even the narrow thin ones. The crust will have good flavor and compliment the real star of the show, the beef.

Brisket trimmed, rubbed, and awaiting the smoke treatment.

You can let the beef sit at room temperature for a little while without the risk of contamination (unlike poultry and pork), so feel free to let the meat sit for about 20-30 minutes to let the rub soak in a little before hitting the grill. NOTE: before applying rub and letting meat rest would be a good time to get grill/smoker going.

TIME FOR THE LONG SMOKE SESSION

Get your heat source for your grill/smoker up to 250F using indirect heat. As far as smoking wood goes, I have a few that I like, such as hickory, pecan, and oak. To stick with traditional Texas-style brisket, let’s go with oak (post oak to be more specific).

Place the brisket on the grill either fat side up or fat side down (I prefer fat side down due to the types of grills I own: ceramic, pellet, and drum smoker. I explained this earlier in the trimming section). I like to put a water pan in the main chamber to help keep the meat from drying out (then again, I do live in a dry, desert climate).

I do like to spritz with Dr Pepper two or three times during the cook. To help the Dr Pepper spray better, open the can hours before spritzing. This helps the soda to go flat and spray better. I love the color it helps impart and the subtle flavor it gives the bark.

THE EFFIN’ STALL

During the first few hours of the cook, the meat temps will climb quick. Even at the 250F smoking temp, I’ve had briskets go from 50F to 130F internal in three hours. You would think with that type of start that you’re on pace to finish in two more hours. But the brisket will eventually hit a point that it’s internal temperature will stop climbing and level out. This is called “the stall”.

The stall usually happens around 160F. To get a deeper dive in the science of it, the folks over at Amazing Ribs have a great article on it. To summarize, the meat starts sweating and the moisture evaporates and cools the meat. With that said, this is about the time I stop spritzing. The internal meat temp will stay leveled out in this zone for hours.

The smoked BBQ brisket getting wrapped in pink butcher paper to help accelerate the cooking process.

There is a common method to push through this and it’s known as the “Texas crutch”. The Texas crutch is when you wrap the meat in either foil or pink butcher paper to accelerate the temperature the meat is cooking at and giving it no choice but to cook faster.

If going with this method, I prefer the pink (or peach) butcher paper as it allows air flow to go through while still retaining heat. Foil traps the heat and creates moisture inside the cocoon you’ve created and can cause the outside of the meat (aka-the bark) to get soggy and feel like roast beef. If you do go the foil route, I recommend unwrapping during the last hour or so of the cook to help the bark develop.

WHEN IS THE SMOKED BBQ BRISKET DONE?

Smoked BBQ brisket resting and begging to be sliced.

There’s some debate on how to tell when the brisket is done. Some go by time, others by temp, and those who prefer by feel. I don’t like going by time because every cut of brisket is different and cooks different. I recommend temp because it is easier to monitor throughout the process.

On a whole (or packer) brisket, make sure to put the meat probe in the section where the point and the flap overlap. Go halfway in. When the temps reach between 197-201F, pull off the grill and let the smoked BBQ brisket rest. At first, the temp will rise a few degrees while resting but then start to cool off. Let rest about 90 minutes to two hours before slicing. Speaking of…

SLICING IT UP

The flat portion of the smoked BBQ brisket sliced and ready to devour!

Whole briskets have two different sections of meat and the grains go different ways. I like to slice down the middle to separate where the point and the flat are, against the grain. Slicing against the grain makes for a more tender bite. Find the directions the grains go and slice the opposite way for the best meat experience.

Some say a good measure of a great brisket is the smoke ring and the color of the bark. While these features are aesthetically pleasing and quite photogenic, they don’t necessarily mean the brisket automatically tastes good. I’ve overcooked briskets that passed the eye test more than once. Also, I’ve had briskets with very little smoke ring and not as dark of bark but still tasted pretty good. Bottom line is, go off of flavor. If it tastes good to you, then you did it right!

As a reminder, you can use the point portion of the brisket to cube up and turn into mouthwatering burnt ends! Enjoy!

THE RECIPE

Smoked BBQ Brisket

Smoked BBQ Brisket

Brisket is the king of all barbecued meats. It can be intimidating to cook due to the time and cost, but this recipe will guide you and make you look like a natural to your friends and family!

Prep Time 30 minutes
Cook Time 12 hours
Additional Time 1 hour 30 minutes
Total Time 14 hours

Ingredients

  • 1 whole (or packer) brisket (11-14 lbs.)
  • 2 Tablespoons kosher salt
  • 2 Tablespoons ground black pepper
  • 1 Tablespoon garlic powder
  • 3 oz. Dr Pepper (for spritzing)

Instructions

  1. Preheat grill/smoker to 250F using indirect heat and oak wood
  2. Remove brisket from packaging. Trim fat side of brisket down to 1/4 inch (boning knife preferred). Flip brisket over and trim off silver skin. Also trim off any random flaps of meat as they will burn during cooking.
  3. Mix kosher salt, pepper, and garlic powder together and apply on brisket. Apply more on the exposed meat and less on the fat.
  4. Place brisket on grill fat side down. Spritz with Dr Pepper a few times during cook. Wrap in pink butcher paper when meat reaches internal temp in the 160s to accelerate cooking process. Let cook for 12 hours or until internal meat temps reach between 197-201F.
  5. Remove brisket from grill, unwrap and let rest for 90 minutes before slicing. When slicing, pencil thin is the ideal width.

Notes

  1. It's best to trim the brisket straight out of the refrigerator while it's cold due to the fat being more solid and easier to cut off.
  2. After seasoning brisket, one option is to let the brisket rest for about 30 minutes before putting on grill. Some do this to let the meat sweat a little and let the seasonings blend in.
  3. If you don't have oak wood, other woods such as hickory or mesquite will work too (I like pecan with beef, as well)
  4. Measure internal meat temps by placing digital thermometer into the spot where the point and flap overlap. Push thermometer halfway in.
  5. If cutting sugar from your diet, spritz with beef stock or beef broth instead of Dr Pepper

Nutrition Information:

Yield:

20

Serving Size:

4 oz

Amount Per Serving: Calories: 330 Total Fat: 21g Saturated Fat: 8g Trans Fat: 0g Cholesterol: 120mg Sodium: 120mg Carbohydrates: 0g Fiber: 0g Sugar: 0g Protein: 32g