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Is barbacoa beef in Chipotle?

Chipotle is known for serving delicious Mexican cuisine with high-quality ingredients. One of their most popular menu items is barbacoa, a tender shredded beef dish. But what exactly is in Chipotle’s barbacoa? Is it real barbacoa beef?

What is Barbacoa?

True barbacoa is a Mexican method of slowly cooking meat over an open fire or in a pit oven. Traditionally, barbacoa was made with the meat from lamb, goat, or sheep’s head, but now beef brisket or cheek is commonly used.

Authentic barbacoa is seasoned simply with salt, pepper, and sometimes garlic or cumin. The long, slow cooking over wood coals results in extremely tender, juicy, and flavorful meat that just falls apart. Barbacoa is most commonly served on tacos with sides like chopped onions, cilantro, and salsa.

What Meat Does Chipotle Use for Their Barbacoa?

According to Chipotle, their barbacoa is made from whole muscle USDA Choice top sirloin steak. Top sirloin comes from the hip/rump region of the cow. It’s a lean, moderately tender cut known for its rich, beefy flavor.

While top sirloin isn’t a traditional barbacoa meat like cheek or brisket, it can still produce delicious, shredded barbacoa when cooked properly. The top sirloin is braised until very tender before being pulled/shredded.

Why Doesn’t Chipotle Use Traditional Barbacoa Meat Cuts?

There are a few likely reasons why Chipotle chooses to make their barbacoa with top sirloin steak instead of traditional beef brisket or cheek:

  • Cost – Sirloin is less expensive than other barbacoa cuts like brisket or cheek meat.
  • Leaner fat content – Top sirloin is a leaner cut that meets Chipotle’s guidelines for responsible meat.
  • Consistent supply – Top sirloin is easier to source in the quantities needed for all Chipotle locations.
  • Easier to shred – Sirloin shreds nicely after braising vs. brisket or cheek that require cutting/chopping.

How Does Chipotle Cook Their Barbacoa?

Chipotle braises their top sirloin low and slow with a blend of signature spices. While the exact recipe is proprietary, it likely contains:

  • Chili peppers – For smoky, spicy flavor
  • Cumin
  • Oregano
  • Garlic
  • Onion
  • Stock

The meat is cooked in the aromatic liquid for hours until fork tender. Then it’s shredded/pulled for serving. Chipotle says they start every day with fresh, raw sirloin and let it braise for up to 12 hours in each restaurant.

How Does Chipotle’s Cooking Method Differ from Traditional Barbacoa?

There are a few key differences between Chipotle’s barbacoa and traditional barbacoa cooking:

Chipotle Barbacoa Traditional Barbacoa
Braised top sirloin Whole lamb/goat head, beef cheek/brisket
Liquid braising Pit barbacoa oven or underground earth oven
Seasoned broth Salt, pepper, garlic, occasional spices only
6-12 hours 12-24 hours

So while Chipotle’s method isn’t totally traditional, it still results in flavorful, tender barbacoa beef using top sirloin steak.

What Cut of Meat is Best for Barbacoa?

For authentic barbacoa flavor and texture, the best cuts of meat are:

  • Beef cheek – Extremely tender and juicy with great fat marbling. Needs long, moist cooking.
  • Brisket – Well-marbled for moisture. Point/fatty brisket preferred over leaner flat cut.
  • Lamb or goat head – Classic choice. Produces amazing meat after overnight cooking.

For home cooks, brisket or beef chuck roast are good options. While top sirloin works for Chipotle, cheek or brisket is better for true tenderness.

Rating Beef Cuts for Best Barbacoa

Beef Cut Rating
Beef cheeks *****
Brisket point ****
Chuck roast ***
Top sirloin **
Bottom round *

Is Chipotle’s Barbacoa Authentic?

Chipotle’s barbacoa is inspired by traditional Mexican barbacoa but with some key differences:

  • Uses sirloin instead of classic cheek or head meat
  • Braising method vs. pit/underground oven
  • Enhanced with spices and seasoning

Their preparation sacrifices some authenticity for practicality and efficiency. However, customers love the rich, tender shredded beef flavor.

Ways Chipotle Barbacoa is Authentic

  • High-quality whole muscle beef
  • Long, slow moist cooking method
  • Fresh preparation daily
  • Shredded texture
  • Spicy, savory flavor

Overall, while Chipotle’s barbacoa may not be 100% authentic barbacoa, it delivers on the tender, pull-apart texture and big beefy flavor people love in barbacoa tacos.


At the end of the day, Chipotle serves delicious, shredded barbacoa beef made from whole muscle top sirloin steak. While this cut isn’t traditional, their slow-cooking method results in tender, falling apart meat just like true barbacoa. Their barbacoa captures the flavors and spirit of authentic Mexican barbacoa, even if the preparation isn’t totally traditional.

The top sirloin allows Chipotle to source high-quality beef and offer consistent portions across all restaurants in a cost-effective manner. Customers keep coming back for the rich, savory shredded beef that makes a perfect protein for tacos, burritos, and bowls.

While barbacoa purists may argue Chipotle’s version isn’t “real” barbacoa, there’s no denying it satisfies millions of customers daily as a tasty, tender filling for Mexican dishes. Chipotle has found a way to capture barbacoa’s essence in a recipe tailored to their high-volume restaurants.