Smoked Barbacoa Recipe

Smoked beef cheek meat smoked into homemade barbacoa

Fire up your grill and make this incredible flavor-packed smoked barbacoa recipe! This Tex-Mex favorite is made with slow-smoked beef cheeks in barbacoa sauce and then shredded to make Incredible tacos, nachos, tortas, and more!

There are a variety of Mexican-style shredded beef recipes that I love to make (like smoked birria), but this smoked barbacoa is one of my favorites. While the traditional cooking method for barbacoa is to actually braise it in underground ovens, I wanted to take this method and transpire it to the grill or smoker so you can also make it at home. 

Please note that this is a very “from scratch” recipe and will take some time (most of it is hands-off smoking), but it’s more than worth the steps and it’s genuinely a flavor packed dish you will love! 

Why This Recipe Works:

  • Smoking: Slow smoking beef cheek meat on the grill is a great way to achieve perfectly tender and shreddable pulled beef while infusing the meat with delicious smoke flavor. The slow cooking process on the grill allows for the collagen and connective tissue in the beef to break down to create a delicious end result.
  • Braising: After the initial smoking process, the beef will slowly finish cooking in a braising liquid made of beef stock and guajillo chiles. This process mimics the traditional method of braising underground and will help infuse the beef with the best flavor through this process. 
  • Versatile: You can eat barbacoa in so many ways! I love to enjoy it as a homemade burrito bowl, barbacoa tacos, nachos, or enchiladas. You can also try it in my air fryer flautas recipe
Beef Cheek Barbacoa

What Is Barbacoa?

Barbacoa is a traditional Mexican dish that typically consists of slow-cooked meat that has been seasoned with a blend of spices and cooked until it is tender and juicy. The meat used in barbacoa can vary, but it is often made with beef, goat, or lamb, and is traditionally cooked in an underground pit or a pot with a tightly fitting lid.

For this recipe, I will be doing a Texas-style barbacoa which often uses smoked beef cheek meat and has a slightly different tomato base than the traditional Mexican version.

Beef cheeks however are not always the easiest cut of beef to find at the grocery store so I recommend checking with your local butchers. The awesome part about this recipe is you can use any beef for this dish (like my smoked pulled beef from chuck roast) as long as you follow the standard process for smoking. 

Supplies Needed:

  • Knife & Cutting Board
  • Tongs
  • Meat Thermometer
  • Aluminum Pan (or a large Dutch oven) 
  • Aluminum Foil
  • Blender
  • Large Pan
  • Strainer


For The Beef Cheeks:

  • 4 Beef Cheeks 
  • Brisket or Beef Dry Rub
  • Olive Oil (for the binder)
  • Beef Stock or Beef Broth
  • Butter

For The Barbacoa Liquid:

  • Beef Stock or Beef Broth 
  • Dried Guajillo Peppers 
  • Olive Oil 
  • Yellow Onion
  • Fresh Tomatoes 
  • Fresh Garlic Cloves 
  • Bay Leaves
  • Kosher Salt
  • Cumin
  • Thyme
  • Oregano 
  • Black Pepper 
Ingredients for making beef cheek barbacoa

How To Smoke Barbacoa:

Smoking The Beef Cheeks:

  1. Begin by preheating the smoker to 225 F.-250 F. and setting it for indirect heat. This works on traditional charcoal smokers or pellet grills. Use wood chips or wood chunks that pair well with beef for this recipe (I like oak and pecan blend, but you could use mesquite or hickory if you like a heavier smoke flavor). 
  2. Prep the beef cheeks by removing them from the packaging, trimming off any silver skin, and then patting them dry with a paper towel. 
  3. Lightly oil each beef cheek and coat it in a thin layer all over with a beef rub or brisket seasoning blend. 
  4. Place the beef cheeks onto the grill grates and smoke for 2-3 hours or until a nice bark forms. Spray the beef cheeks every hour with beef broth to prevent them from drying out and to help more smoke flavor to adhere to the meat. 
Beef cheeks smoking on the charcoal smoker grill

Making The Barbacoa Sauce: 

  1. In a large pan over medium heat add the olive oil and the dried guajillo peppers. Cook them in the oil to rehydrate them for about 5-6 minutes but move them often to prevent them from burning. 
  2. Next, add in the chopped onion, chopped tomato, garlic cloves, and bay leaves. Let everything cook for a few minutes and then add the spice mixture and allow everything to become aromatic. 
  3. Pour in about 2 cups of beef broth, and juice from both the oranges and limes and let it cook on medium-low heat for 10 minutes and then let it cool until it is warm enough to place into a blender. 
  4. Blend the barbacoa liquid until smooth and then pour it through a strainer and into the aluminum pan (or Dutch oven). Add in the remaining beef stock and then set it aside for the beef cheeks. 
Making the barbacoa base

Braising The Barbacoa:

  1. When the beef cheeks reach an internal temperature of 165-170 F. you can remove them from the smoker and place them into the braising liquid. 
  2. Add a pad of butter to the top of each beef cheek and then cover the pan tightly in foil to prevent the liquid from evaporating. Place it back onto the smoker to finish cooking until tender.
  3. After about 1.5-2 hours, check the beef cheeks to test for tenderness. They are fully cooked when they reach a final internal temperature of about 203 F. Cooking time often varies, but the whole smoking process is about 5-6 hours of cooking in total. 
  4. Remove from the grill and carefully shred the beef cheek meat with forks or by hand. Keep the shredded beef in the liquid and serve and enjoy!
Braising the beef barbacoa on the smoker

How To Eat Smoked Beef Barbacoa:

There are many delicious ways to eat smoked barbacoa. Here are some popular options:

  • Tacos: Smoked barbacoa is a popular filling for tacos. Simply add the meat to warm corn tortillas or flour tortillas and top with chopped onion, cilantro, and a squeeze of lime juice. Add your favorite salsa or hot sauce for extra flavor.
  • Burritos: You can also use smoked barbacoa as a filling for burritos. Add the meat to a large flour tortilla, along with beans, rice, cheese, and your favorite toppings.
  • Sandwiches: Smoked barbacoa can be used as a filling for sandwiches (try making a Mexican torta) as well. Place the meat on a toasted bun and add your favorite toppings, such as cheese, lettuce, tomato, and avocado.
  • Bowls: Create a bowl by adding smoked barbacoa to a base of rice or quinoa, and top it with vegetables, black beans, and your favorite toppings. This is a great option for those looking for a healthier meal.
  • Nachos: Create a plate of nachos by layering tortilla chips with smoked barbacoa, cheese, beans, and your favorite toppings, such as sour cream, guacamole, and salsa.
Beef Cheek Barbacoa

More Recipes To Try:

Beef Cheek Barbacoa

Smoked Barbacoa Recipe

Fire up your grill and make this incredible flavor-packed smoked barbacoa recipe! This Tex-Mex favorite is made with slow-smoked beef cheeks in barbacoa sauce and then shredded to make Incredible tacos, nachos, tortas, and more!
Print Pin Rate
Course: BBQ, Grilling, Main Course
Cuisine: American, Mexican, tex mex
Keyword: beef cheek barbacoa, Smoked Barbacoa Recipe
Prep Time: 1 hour
Cook Time: 6 hours
Servings: 12
Calories: 182kcal
Author: Bon Appeteach


Smoked Beef Cheeks

  • 4 Beef Cheeks trimmed
  • 4 tbsp. Olive Oil
  • 1/2 cup BBQ Dry Rub
  • 1 cup Beef Stock
  • 4 tbsp. Butter

For The Barbacoa

  • 6 cups Beef Stock divided
  • 12 dried Guajillo Peppers
  • 1/4 cup Olive Oil
  • 1 small Onion Large Dice
  • 4 medium Tomatoes quartered
  • 6 cloves Garlic
  • 2 Bay Leaves
  • 2 tsp. Salt
  • 1 tbsp. Cumin
  • 1 tbsp. Thyme
  • 1 tbsp. Oregano
  • 2 tsp. Black Pepper
  • 3 Oranges juiced
  • 2 Limes juiced


Smoking The Beef Cheeks

  • Preheat your smoker to 225-250 F. and set it for indirect heat.
  • Prep the beef cheeks by removing any large pieces of fat or silver skin and pat them dry with paper towels.
  • Add a small amount of olive oil or other binder of choice to each beef cheek and then coat liberally in your favorite beef rub or brisket rub.
  • Place the beef cheeks directly onto the grill grates and allow them to smoke for 2-3 hours, lightly spraying the beef cheeks with beef broth every hour to help the smoke adhere to the beef and prevent the bark from getting too dry. Remove from the smoker when the internal temperature of each cheek reaches 165-170 F.

Barbacoa Braising Liquid

  • While the beef cheeks are smoking, prepare the barbacoa broth base for the braising portion of the cook. Begin by adding some olive oil to a large skillet over medium heat and adding the 12 whole dried guajillo chiles to the pan. Carefully toss them in the oil for 5-6 minutes to help rehydrate them (do not let them burn).
  • Combine the chopped yellow onion, chopped tomatoes, garlic cloves, and bay leaves. Allow this to cook for 2-3 minutes, then add the dried spices and mix well.
  • After everything has been added, carefully add in 2 cups of beef stock and fresh squeezed juices from the oranges and lime. Allow the mixture to simmer for about 10 minutes on low heat then completely remove it from the heat to rest and cool before blending.
  • When the barbacoa base mixture is no longer hot (it can be warm) carefully add it toa large blender and blend well.
  • Use a large fine mesh strainer and strain the mixture fully into the aluminum foil pan (or another pan you plan to use for braising). Use a spoon to help work the mixture through the strainer and discard the leftover pulp.

Making Smoked Barbacoa

  • Add the remaining 4 cups of beef broth to the pan and add the smoked beef cheeks into the barbacoa broth mixture. It’s ok if the tops are slightly exposed.
  • Place a small pad of butter over the top of each beef cheek, then cover the pan with foil and place it back onto the smoker to finish cooking until the beef cheeks are tender and reach an internal temperature between 195-203 F. (Use a meat thermometer to test for tenderness as well as temperature). 
  • When the beef cheeks are probe tender, carefully remove the pan from the grill and allow it to rest for 30-45 minutes before shredding. Carefully shred with forks or by hand and keep the shredded meat in the barbacoa broth.


Make barbacoa bowls, tacos, enchiladas and more! The meat will keep in the fridge for 3-5 days or freeze for up to 3 months. 


Serving: 1g | Calories: 182kcal | Carbohydrates: 12g | Protein: 4g | Fat: 14g | Saturated Fat: 4g | Polyunsaturated Fat: 1g | Monounsaturated Fat: 8g | Trans Fat: 0.2g | Cholesterol: 11mg | Sodium: 634mg | Potassium: 519mg | Fiber: 3g | Sugar: 6g | Vitamin A: 910IU | Vitamin C: 30mg | Calcium: 78mg | Iron: 2mg

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