The Ultimate Guide to Mexican BBQ 2021



Kirt Edblom / Flickr

The richness of Mexican cuisine is unmatched. In northern Mexico, beef dishes reign supreme due to a rich history of cattle ranching. In the southern peninsula state of Yucatan, seafood is a way of life. In bustling, bustling Mexico City, diners enjoy tacos al pastor on the busy streets. Because of this culinary diversity, it’s no surprise that Mexican barbecue is also a force to be reckoned with.

Mexico has a rich barbecue tradition that dates back to the days of the ancient Mayans. This historic lineage has merged with European influences to produce a phenomenal style of simmered meat of unparalleled flavor.

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Although barbecuing is an old tradition in Mexico, it originated with the Taíno people of the Caribbean in pre-Columbian times. This style of barbecue, using a type of underground oven called pibils, has migrated over the years from western Mexico to central Mexico. One of the oldest recipes is barbacoa, a slowly cooked lamb or goat wrapped in agave leaves. There are several theories about the origin of the word barbacoa. Some experts believe it originates from an indigenous word meaning “frame of sticks” or “sacred hearth”, while others believe it derives from barba a la cola, Spanish for “beard to beard”. tail”.

This style of hearth cooking was a common technique for the ancient Mayans according to the book Pre-Hispanic Mexican Cuisine: The Food of Ancient Mexicans. The Mayans preferred to steam their meat in underground ovens for optimum tenderness and flavor. The encapsulating nature of this style of cooking limits the escape of natural cooking juices and smoke and is a tradition still used throughout modern Mexico.

Regional variation

Barbacoa, from Hidalgo, Mexico. Elton Rodriguez / Wikimedia Commons

There are many regional styles of Mexican barbecue, but some of the most famous are barbacoa and cochinita pibil. For barbacoa, one of the best places is in the central Mexican state of Hidalgo. In Mexico, barbacoa is usually made from large pieces of lamb or goat and is often eaten for breakfast. Americanized versions of barbacoa will often be made with beef, like the one served by Chipotle. An authentic barbacoa will not be spicy on its own, instead it should taste pure with a pure flavor of slow cooked lamb or goat cheese. The best part about barbacoa is the variety of textures and flavors, the result of different cuts.

Cochinita pibil is a slow cooked Yucatan pork specialty. Although red in color, an authentic cochinita pibil shouldn’t be too spicy. Instead, the flavor of the pork should be sweet, slightly bitter with spice, the result of a combination of garlic, Seville orange juice, spices, and achiote. Another unique flavor of cochinita pibil is its unique smoky scent, a by-product of being wrapped and cooked in banana leaves. Traditionally, the Mayan way of cooking cochinita pibil is in a píib, an oven dug in a hole in the ground and heated with a ring of hot stones.


Cochinita pibil, lechón al horno (baby pork), poc chuc (carne asada), tacos relleno negro de pavo (turkey). Lou Stejskal / Flickr

No Mexican barbecue is complete without an abundance of spicy and tangy salsas. For barbacoa, a variety of spicy to mild salsas are enjoyed with the meat. Most cochinita pibil fans insist on eating it with pickled onions and fiery habanero salsa, a classic combination.

All varieties of Mexican barbecue are commonly eaten with soft corn tortillas. If possible, you can make your own tortillas or buy fresh tortillas from a Mexican grocery store near you. Fresh corn tortillas have a delicious scent that’s hard to beat. If this is not available, ready-made tortillas are perfectly acceptable.

Tecate skirt steak with Morita hot sauce

(By Chef Matt Carter of the award-winning Modern Latin American Restaurant, The mission in Scottsdale, AZ.)

For the skirt steak:


  • 2 lbs of steak outside
  • 2 cans of Tecate Mexican beer
  • 2 limes
  • 4-6 garlic cloves, crushed
  • 1 bunch of coriander
  • 1 tablespoon of crushed black pepper
  • Salt to taste


  1. Cut the skirt steak. Place in a large bowl or other container.
  2. Open the beer, pour 1 can over the steak and add enough of the second can to cover. Drink the rest.
  3. Lime juice. Add the juice and rind to the skirt steak. Tear the cilantro by hand, add to the bowl. Add crushed garlic, cracked pepper and salt, mix well. Refrigerate for at least 12 hours
  4. Char flank on a grill until desired temperature and slice as thinly as possible against the grain.

For the Morita hot sauce


  • 6 roma tomatoes
  • 3-4 garlic cloves, crushed
  • 1 yellow onion
  • 1 carrot, very small dice
  • 4-6 Morita peppers
  • 1 tablespoon of tomato paste
  • 1 to 2 cups of chicken broth or broth
  • ½ teaspoon of oregano
  • ½ teaspoon of cumin
  • ½ teaspoon of coriander
  • ½ teaspoon of black pepper
  • 1-2 tablespoons of lime juice
  • 1 tsp of white wine vinegar


  1. Place the onion (with the skin on) in a 450 degree Fahrenheit oven or on a grill and roast until the center is tender.
  2. Soak the Morita peppers in hot water for 10 minutes or until tender. Remove most of the seeds and stems.
  3. Cut the tomatoes in half, burn the skin under the salamander or under the grill. Once the skin is burnt, put in the oven and continue cooking until the size of the tomato is reduced by half.
  4. In a large sauté pan or saucepan, add a small amount of neutral oil. Bring to medium heat, add the carrot and garlic. Cook until tender.
  5. Add all the spices and toast.
  6. Add the tomatoes, onions, Moritas, tomato paste and broth. Simmer 10-15 min.
  7. Transfer to a high speed blender. Mash potatoes. If desired, finish with lime, vinegar and salt.

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