Season 10 Recipes: Chef to Chef/

Slow Cooker Lamb Barbacoa

Barbacoa de Borrego
Servings: 6


  • For the lamb
  • A12-inch chunk of an agave leaf (penca de maguey) or 1 large banana leaf, optional
  • 2tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 3 pounds boneless lamb shoulder
  • 112-ounce bottle of beer (optional but I love this!)
  • Salt
  • For the marinade
  • 2dried guajillo chiles, stemmed, seeded and torn into large pieces
  • 2dried ancho chiles, stemmed, seeded and torn into large pieces
  • 3 garlic cloves, peeled and roughly chopped
  • 1tablespoon cider vinegar
  • 1tablespoon dark brown sugar
  • 1teaspoon salt
  • 1canned chipotle chile en adobo
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon, preferably Mexican canela
  • 1/2 teaspoondried Mexican oregano,
  • For serving
  • Your favorite hot sauce or salsa
  • A little chopped white onion
  • A handful of cilantro leaves


Roast the agave leaf being careful not to touch the exposed flesh of the agave) over an open flame, turning every few minutes until pliable and charred, 10 to 15 minutes, depending on the thickness.  (If using a banana leaf, run it briefly over an open flame to soften it.)  Cut into 3 pieces.

In the stovetop-safe insert of your slow cooker or in a very large (12-inch) skillet, heat the oil over medium-high.  Pat the lamb dry with a paper towel, sprinkle generously with salt and lay it in the insert of skillet.  Cook, turning occasionally, until richly brown on all sides, about 10 minutes.  Fit the insert into the machine or transfer the meat to the slow cooker.

Combine all the marinade ingredients in a blender with 2 cups of water and blend to a smooth puree.  Pour through a medium mesh strainer into the slow cooker. Nestle the pieces of agave leaf or banana leaf under and around the meat and pour the beer over the top, if you are using them.  Cover and turn on the slow cooker to high.  Your barbacoa  will be done in about 6 hours, though you can hold it for longer. (My slow-cooker can be programmed to switch from high after 6 hours to a “keep warm” temperature for up to another 6 hours. Some slow cookers click to “keep warm” automatically; others need to be switched manually.)

When you are ready to serve, coarsely shred the lamb and arrange it on a warm platter.  Skim any fat from the sauce that remains in the slow cooker, then taste it.  If you feel it would be better with a more concentrated flavor, pour it into a medium saucepan or remove the insert and set it over high heat.  Boil for a few minutes to reduce that quantity, then taste and season with salt if it needs it. Spoon as much as you like over the lamb or beef.  (I like to sprinkle coarse salt over the meat at this point.)  Serve the barbacoa with the hot sauce or salsa, onion and cilantro.  Grab some tortillas, if you like, and you’re ready to make some delicious tacos.


No slow cooker?


In a large (6- to 8-quart, at least 12 inches in diameter) heavy pot (preferably a Dutch oven), combine the ingredients as described.  Set the cover in place and braise in a 300-degree oven for about 3 hours, adding water occasionally if necessary to ensure the liquid stays at about the same level.  Finish as described.


  1. Can’t wait to try this. I looks amazing. I love the stovetop safe insert, what kind of slow cooker are you using?

    1. Hi Mark –
      Rick used an All Clad and a TRU on the TV show. Both had stovetop safe inserts – but most slowcookers inserts are not stopvetop safe – always check before trying.

  2. I made it for Mother’s day brunch and it was a great big hit. Everyone loved it. Oh by the way I used blue corn tortillas.

  3. Can someone please describe for me what this tastes like? Is the lamb flavor strong? What does cooked agave taste like?

    1. meat and marinade go into crockpot, cover meat with leaf and pour the optional beer over the leaf, cook.

  4. For the slow cooker lamb barbacoa, the option of beer is listed. I do like using beer however, your recipe doesn’t say when to use. I’m assuming in the marinate?

    thank you,

    1. Any good Mexican Market will have it – look for them near the butcher counter – not in the produce section!

  5. Saw your show today for the first time. I really enjoyed it! Not much on lamb, what part of beef would be good to use? Need to look for one of those rice cookers, what brand would you suggest? Definitely looking forward to watching your program in the future.

    1. The rice cookers that we use in our test kitchen are Sanyos. And beef chuck roast would work really well in this dish!

  6. The ingredients state an optional beer, however I don’t see it mentioned in the instructions. Is it an option in lieu of water for the marinade?

    1. Sorry Justin! It goes in after the marinade. And if the sauce is too thin after it is cooked I reccomend pulling the meat out and reducing the sauce in a saucepan on the stove then pour it back over the meat. Enjoy!

  7. If I use the beef would it still be cooked the same way as the lamb in a slow cooker on high for 6 hrs? Thank you

    1. It would! And it will be delicious! You can also do low for 8 hours if you’re leaving it cooking while you go to work!

  8. Hi Katy! Just wondering which kind of salsa you recommend with the lamb? I know it says salsa of choice but curious what kind? I was thinking a guajillo-garlic salsa, but wasn’t sure if something else went better. Thanks!

  9. can I use boneless leg of lamb as I cant find boneless lamb shoulder or would it not taste the same?

    1. It will not – you can get a deboned leg of lamb and tie it with butcher’s twine, it will not be shredded like it is with the shoulder though.

      1. I know this is an old post, but just wanted to add my experience as a data point. I made this with a 5 lb bone-in lamb leg using the Dutch oven instructions. I also threw in a meaty lamb shoulder bone that I had left over from another recipe (uncooked). The shoulder fell apart in 3 hours. The lamb leg took an additional 1 1/2 hours but it shredded beautifully.

  10. Wow, this is an excellent recipe..
    I used pilloncillo instead of brown sugar just like he recommended . I also used avocado leaves instead of the agave, like he did in his backyard lamb barbacoa . Thank you soo much for this recipe, it is excellent

  11. OMG this is incredible. I cooked it low and slow in a Dutch Oven at 275 for 3 hours, having used lamb stew meat. We are in the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic so there isn’t any opportunity to shop for banana leaves, but I had everything else. This was outstanding, and made us feel as though we were right back in Mexico – thanks Rick.

  12. My husband is Mexican and we both love this recipe. If you can’t find agave leaf, recipe is delicious without it. Also, in lieu of beer, we throw in a dash of tequila for flavour! Another tip: after straining the marinade, toss the strainer contents back into the blender, add a can of tomatoes and some cilantro, blend up and voilà- homemade salsa for your tacos. Buen provecho!

    1. I love the idea of using the solids you strained out to make salsa! I hate throwing away flavor and it sounds like you share the same philosophy. I’m going to try the recipe soon and will definitely use your suggestion.

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