Episode 210: Tropical Smoke

Oaxacan Barbacoa

Oaxacan Barbacoa

Barbacoa is made in one of Mexico to the other. The Oaxacan version features pork wrapped in avocado leaves and smoke-roasted over a pot of water and vegetables. The meat and chili juices drain into the soup, and you wind up with two dishes: a spicy vegetable soup and incredibly succulent smoky meat.


More Pork Shoulder Recipes:


Oaxacan Barbacoa

Recipe Notes

  • Yield: Serves 6 to 8
  • Method: Indirect grilling


  • 1 bone-in pork shoulder (5 to 6 pounds)

For the adobo (spice paste):

  • 6 guajillo chiles (about 2 ounces)
  • 5 cloves garlic, peeled
  • 1/2 medium onion
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano (preferably Mexican)
  • 2 cloves
  • 2 allspice berries
  • A 1/2 inch piece of cinnamon (or 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon)
  • 1 teaspoon coarse salt (kosher or sea)
  • 1/4 cup distilled white vinegar
  • 1/4 cup water

For the “consommé” (soup):

  • 1 medium white onion, diced into 1/2 inch pieces
  • 2 carrots, sliced into 1/2 inch pieces
  • 1 zucchini, sliced into 1/2 inch pieces
  • A 12 ounce piece of calabaza (West Indian pumpkin) or butternut squash, peeled and diced into 1/2 inch pieces
  • 1/2 small white cabbage, cored and diced into 1/2 inch pieces
  • 1 large ripe tomato, diced into 1/2 inch pieces
  • 1 medium potato, peeled and diced into 1/2 inch pieces
  • 1 ear corn, shucked and cut into 1 inch rounds (optional)
  • 1 herb bundle (made by tying together 2 bay leaves, 2 sprigs cilantro, and 2 sprigs epazote)
  • 8 cups water
  • 1/4 cup finely chopped fresh cilantro
  • 1 chipotle chile, minced
  • Coarse salt (kosher or sea) and freshly ground black pepper

  • 8 to 10 fresh or dried avocado leaves (if using dried, soak in cold water for 20 minutes)

To serve taco-style (optional):

  • 16 small corn tortillas
  • 1 small cabbage or a head of romaine lettuce, cored, thinly sliced and placed in a bowl
  • 1 bunch cilantro, washed, shaken dry, and torn into small sprigs for serving
  • 3 ripe avocados, peeled, pitted, and thinly sliced for serving
  • Your favorite salsa for serving

Recipe Steps

Step 1: Using the tip of a paring knife, make a series of 1/4 inch deep slits in the pork shoulder, 1 inch apart.

Step 2: Prepare the adobo: Stem the chiles, tear open, and remove the veins and seeds. Soak the chiles in water to cover until soft and pliable, about 20 minutes. Drain and place in a blender with the garlic, onion, oregano, cloves, allspice, cinnamon, salt, vinegar, and water. Puree to a smooth paste.

Step 3: Smear this paste all over the pork and let marinate for at least 4 hours, preferably overnight.

Step 4: Set up your grill for indirect grilling and preheat to 300 degrees F.

Step 5: Assemble the “consommé” (soup): Place the onion, carrots, zucchini, pumpkin, cabbage, tomato, potato, corn, herb bundle, and water in a large low round pot—a dutch oven is ideal. Use an old pan or one whose outside appearance you don’t particularly care about.

Step 6: You’re now ready to assemble the barbacoa: Place the consommé pot in the center of the grill away from the heat. Place a metal rack, like a cake rack, on top and layer it with half the avocado leaves. Place the pork on top, fat side up, and carpet it with the remaining avocado leaves. (If you don’t have a rack, you can place the avocado leaves right on top of the soup.) Do not replace the lid of the dutch oven, but tightly cover the smoker.

Step 7: Cook the barbacoa until the pork is fall-off-the-bone tender, 6 to 8 hours. The internal temperature will be about 180 degrees F. If using a charcoal grill, you’ll need to add 8 fresh coals per side every hour.

Step 8: To serve the barbacoa, discard the top layer of avocado leaves and transfer the pork and bottom layer of leaves to a platter and keep warm.

Step 9: Using a ladle, skim off any fat floating on the surface of the consommé. Stir in the chopped cilantro, chipotle, and salt and pepper to taste. The soup should be highly seasoned. Serve the consommé in bowls.

Step 10: Thinly slice the meat or cut it into chunks. Warm the tortillas on the grill or in a skillet. Enjoy the meat taco-style: on tortillas with shredded cabbage, cilantro sprigs, avocado, and salsa.

Recipe Tips

Serve with Salsa Borracha.