Main dish Tex-Mex

Lamb barbacoa: a special spring treat

Lamb barbacoa DSC5711

Is there a reason why we Texans don’t eat much lamb? It’s tender, it’s flavorful, it’s not too expensive and yet you seldom see it. Heck, I even heard a statistic that said we eat less than a half a pound of lamb a year.

So imagine my surprise when I was in El Paso and saw listed on a menu lamb barbacoa with the added note, “For a special treat.”

I was tempted, but I went with the regular barbacoa—the kind made from a cow’s head. You can’t get that in New York City as the barbacoa found here is made with goat instead.

But I’ve been thinking about that lamb barbacoa ever since. And because Easter is coming up and lamb is one of the traditional dishes to serve, I decided to try making some on my own.

Barbacoa | Homesick Texan

My father has always enjoyed lamb and I remember on one vacation we had dinner in a charming New England lodge where they served leg of lamb with mint jelly. He offered me a bite, and while I enjoyed the lamb I wasn’t a fan of the mint jelly—its color seemed unnaturally green and I couldn’t figure out how it could possibly compliment the meat.

It wasn’t until I was 21 that I again had lamb. I was having Easter lunch with my boyfriend’s family in a small Texas town’s finest restaurant and on offer was a choice of either ham or lamb. Ham was my family’s preferred Easter meat, but I decided to go with the lamb as it felt exotic and sophisticated.

I was served a thick pink slab crusted in black pepper that was cut from a lamb roast. On the side was the requisite mint jelly, but I ignored that and just ate the lamb unadorned. I was surprised at how tender and juicy the meat was, and the flavor had hints of earth and grass but it wasn’t overpowering. I enjoyed it—its flavor was refreshing like spring.

Lamb barbacoa | Homesick Texan
Since spring has finally arrived and Easter is next Sunday, here is my take on lamb, and easy lamb barbacoa. It makes for wonderful tacos, tostadas or just served on its own. Though you don’t have to be celebrating Easter to enjoy this lamb barbacoa—for any occasion it will still be a special treat.

Lamb barbacoa DSC5711
5 from 2 votes

Lamb barbacoa

Servings 6
Author Lisa Fain


  • 6 ancho chiles, stems and seeds removed
  • 3 guajillo chiles, stems and seeds removed
  • 3 pounds boneless lamb shoulder
  • Salt
  • 10 cloves garlic
  • 1 cup brewed coffee
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1 tablespoon agave nectar
  • 1 small yellow onion, cut into slivers
  • 1 carrot, peeled and cut into rounds
  • Tortillas, for serving
  • Cilantro, for serving
  • Diced onions, for serving
  • Salsa, for serving


  1. Toast the ancho and guajillo chiles in a dry cast iron skillet on medium heat for a few minutes on each side and then turn off the heat and fill the skillet with water. Let the chiles soak for 20 minutes or until soft.

  2. Cut the lamb into 3-inch cubes and rub the meat with salt.

  3. Drain the chiles from the soaking water, rinse, then place in a blender. Add to the blender the garlic, the coffee, the water, the cinnamon, the oregano, the cumin, and the agave nectar. Puree until smooth.

  4. Coat the lamb with the chile puree, and let it marinate covered in the refrigerator for 4 hours.

  5. Heat the oven to 250° F.

  6. In a roasting pan, coat the bottom with some of the marinade. Place the onions and carrots on top of the marinade and then top this with the lamb.

  7. Tightly cover the pan with foil, and then cook in the oven covered for 4 hours or until fork tender.

  8. Shred meat with forks and serve in tortillas with cilantro, onions and salsa.

  1. Frank M

    I have recently re-discovered lamb in the form of lamb neck at Fiesta. I have almost decided(more research to go) that lamb fat is the new pork fat!

  2. Miss Meat and Potatoes

    This sounds so damn good. I adore lamb, especially lamb chops which is unfortunate given this economy… I’ve never made lamb shoulder though – the usual mint or mustard crust seemed unexciting to me. But cumin, chilies, and coffee? Sign me up!

  3. Looks awesome. I normally just stuff my tortillas with shredded pork, but I’ve been meaning to try lamb. Thanks!

  4. NICE!

    I love lamb. I think your method would work well for goat too.

  5. Great ideas today. Can we discuss modifying this recipe for barbeque outdoors and posting on Sizzle on the Grill with credit to you?

  6. shratter

    Lamb! I used to avoid lamb outside of vindaloo at my favorite indian restaurants but in the past two years have come to love it. You can cook up lamb chops just like steak by rubbing them with olive oil, salt, pepper and a bit of rosemary and giving them a quick sear. It’s true, the buttery fat is incredible and it’s a delicious “finger food”. Barbacoa sounds like the next step. Also, mint is actually a really nice pairing if you veer away from the sweet jelly and make a condiment with very fresh mint.

  7. looks amazing! i have a whole grassfed lamb in my deep freeze. i wonder if i could make this with leg of lamb. i have one bone-in and one bone-out…don’t know what to do with them! 🙂

  8. Carrie Oliver

    This looks great, I love lamb but have a limited number of cooking preparations. I’m curious if you know whether the lamb was grass or grain finished and if so, how this might make a difference to the meal. When I ask butchers around here for grass-only lamb they haven’t a clue what I’m asking for or why I’m asking. (They can’t tell me the breed, either, just “lamb”. Yet lamb tastes different week to week and season to season…

  9. You were here and I didn’t even know it?! Well, I’m glad you found something really good in El Paso. Barbacoa is a big favorite of my son and is found in lots of restaurants in town, but I haven’t found lamb anywhere. Sounds yummy!

  10. This sounds delicious. I bet you make the best lamb tacos in the city.

  11. catherine @

    Mint jelly (and iceberg lettuce) just isn’t a food….The lamb looks great!

  12. Anonymous

    just discovered your blog. great stuff! brings back lots of memories of my time in the BBQ state. i miss rudy’s in austin! ever thought about investing in a la caja china?


  13. Farmer Jen

    Being of Greek-American heritage, I have eaten quite a bit of lamb, lightly seasoned with garlic, black pepper and lemon. Thank you for this recipe. I will have to try it out.

  14. I love lamb! As an Australian the idea of not eating a lot of lamb is really strange to me. On the mint jelly front, even though I prefer the flavour combo of lamb and rosemary, lamb and mint do compliment each other perfectly.

    This recipe looks great, I can’t wait to try it out.

  15. Zarah Maria

    That just looks mouth-wateringly delicious – and I’m not much of a lamb eater myself either. It’s on the to-do list 🙂

  16. tbsamsel

    On Sundays, the real Mexican places sell barbacoa de borrego by the pound, here in Richmond. Good stuff. And try to get your lamb at halal butchers, or better yet, if you are out in the boonies (like Highland County Virginia) you may be able to find grass-fed hogget (a large lamb, not yet mutton) for sale. Wonderful stuff.

    And I just thawed some lamb shanks from Highland County.. maybe I’ll do them in the Queretarense style tonight. I think Ihave guajillo chiles at the house.


  17. David in San Antonio

    I grab up a leg of lamb whenever I find it at my local HEB, ’cause you never know how long it’ll be until they have it again. It’s our favorite Spring Celebration (i.e., Easter) feature.

    To go along with one of your comments, I once asked a friend who owned a restaurant here in town why he never had lamb on the menu. He said he just couldn’t sell lamb in beef country.


  18. Lisa Fain

    Frank–Lamb fat is indeed decadent and delicious!

    Miss Meat and Potatoes–Lamb shoulder is pretty inexpensive, compared to chops or the legs. And it folds out flat, like skirt steak, so you could cut chop-sized portions if you wanted.

    Chris–Give it a try, it’s a good change.

    Greg–I bet it would–goat is next on my list!

    CB–If you’d like to modify this recipe for the grill and link back to this recipe, I would be cool with that. Thanks for asking!

    Shratter–I was thinking of next time making a fresh mint salsa to go with it.

    Emily–It think it would be fine with a leg of lamb.

    Carrie Oliver–That’s a good question. I bought mine at Whole Foods and are usually pretty forthright when something is grass fed/finished, so I think mine was not.

    Jeju–I have friends that have cooked with one, but I don’t have an outdoor space so I don’t think it’s something I’ll be getting any time soon.

    Nikki-Go to Carnitas Queretaro–they have lamb. And I loved all the good eating I did in El Paso so I hope to return!

    Ellen–Y’all do eat a lot of lamb down there, don’t you? You’re always hearing about New Zealand lambs here, and how excellent they are.

    Maggie–Aw, thank you!

    Catherine–Thanks! Though I have to admit I love iceberg lettuce in the summer–it’s so cool and refreshing.

    Farmer Jen–Thanks! And I’ll have to try searing it next time with those ingredients–sounds delicious.

    Zarah Maria–I wasn’t either but was pleasantly surprised. Give it a try!

    TBSamsel–Hogget–that just sounds too cute to eat!

    Pelle–Yay! I’m glad y’all enjoyed it. If there was one of those here in NYC, I’d eat there all the time.

    David–That was my thought–we just love our beef too much.

  19. LeftyMama

    Love your blog & have made many of your recipes, as well as steered lots of friends to your site! I hope it isn't sacrilege to suggest, but your lamb preparation sounds like it would be well-translated to a slow cooker recipe. I'm gonna try it this weekend & will let you know how it turns out.

  20. Not a fan of lamb, but make it with pork and we’re talkin’! Happy Easter!

  21. Based on one of your previous posts we stopped by Carnitas Queretaro in El Paso yesterday on our drive from SF to Miami. I had the Lamb Barbacoa, which was out of this world.

    I love Lamb and CQ’s lamb had such a fantastic intense lamb flavor. It was great with the minced onions, cilantro and lime.

    I added a photo of it to yelp here:

  22. s. stockwell

    Really nice twist on this and yes! lamb is delicious! We did a very tasty mint chutney that you like. we love your blog. keep ’em coming. best, s

  23. Mark Scarbrough

    Sounds fabulous. But I have to tell you, in my Dallas/Waco/Austin roots, we didn’t eat much lamb. I WISH I’d had the Texas upbringing so that I had. I had to move to New York, marry someone from Queens, and then discover the pleasures of lamb. Lovely, lovely recipe.

  24. Emily – when you get down to just the odds and ends of the lamb in your freezer, employ your slow-cooker. Add some Middle Eastern-type spices or a curry blend, and serve with lentils or rice.

    I love lamb – this looks great!

  25. I have been getting back into lamb eating too. I just need to buy more to experiment with.

    Love the use of coffee which is something I have been finding myself turning to more and more lately.

  26. marshall

    We love lamb and eat it often, but normally in the form of t-bone or lollipop chops, and usually grilled. This sounds so good (and I love your pictures) that I think I’ll make this for Easter brunch this weekend instead!

  27. Lisa Fain

    S. Stockwell–Thanks, I’ll have to check out your mint chutney.

    LeftyMama–You know, I still don’t have a slow cooker (though my birthday is coming up soon so maybe someone will buy me one!) but I bet you’re correct. And yes, let me know how it goes!

    Kelly–Pork is always excellent!

    Mark Scarborough–Neither did we, and you’re right–there’s a lot more lamb being served in New York–on every corner practically!

    LeeLee–Thanks! And great tips!

    Jeff–I know–coffee is my new favorite ingredient!

    Marshall–Lollipop chops? I must try those! And I hope you enjoy!

  28. Jennifer

    I’ve never had lamb before in my life! My husband has and he says its awesome, but I have never attempted to make it.

    I love this version, it looks amazing, and I think I can do it!

    Thanks for posting the recipe!

  29. tastyeatsathome

    This looks delicious! I have barbacoa on my list of “must do for 2009”, and this could be an easy way to do it. I’m used to the “cow head” variety of barbacoa, but this seems much simpler (and easier to fit in my oven)!

  30. Lickedspoon

    As a Brit, I love lamb and cook it often but I’ve never even heard of barbacoa. Thank you so much for introducing me to this delicious-looking recipe. I can’t wait to try it out!

  31. Natalie

    That looks amazing. The recipe looks amazing. Thanks so much… will have to try.

  32. Sine Botchen

    Now I know what to do with that frozen lamb (instead of the usual rub of puree’d olive oil, garlic and basil). Next time you’re in Austin you should host a “blog night” at the County Line or something (you’d never have to pay for food/drinks again.. what a great idea!)

  33. This looks great! I haven’t cooked much with lamb, and would like to try out more recipes. Thanks for sharing!

  34. I raise grassfinished lamb in central OK. I’ve been pleasantly surprised at how willing beef-eating Okies have been to try lamb. I blame FoodTV and blogs like this 🙂 You can find grassfed lamb in NYC at Greenmarket.

    I am really looking forward to trying your recipe–thanks!

  35. that looks wonderful. there are a lot of reasons why Americans do not eat lamb. the first is that when the GI’s came back after WWII they had been totally turned off by lamb because they had been subjected to Aussie mutton(which has a horrible whooly flavor that really is not even really fit to eat).
    It is sorta amazing how much of American food was influenced by our post WWII suburbanization. That looks fantastic, I am going to try it with my father’s lamb!:)

  36. Anonymous

    Do you throw out the veggies, chilies and juice from the cooked lamb? Just curious.

  37. Lisa Fain

    Anon–You can blend the pan juices, chiles and vegetables to make a gravy, but that's optional–it's the meat that you want.

  38. are you supposed to use coffee grounds? or a cup of brewed coffee?

  39. Lisa Fain

    Erin–Brewed coffee. Sorry for the confusion–I'll update the recipe!

  40. Would dried chilies work??

  41. Lisa Fain

    Yes, the chiles are dried.

  42. So glad I stumbled upon this! I just bought a half a lamb and am always looking for new ideas. Love your website!

  43. I absolutely adore this recipe. I make it in the crockpot to save some time and it is wonderful.

  44. Melissa

    Where in central OK. Would love to put some in the freezer

    • Lisa Fain

      Melissa–Most grocers should have lamb for sale this time of year so you can prepare the dish.

  45. Tom Loo

    5 stars
    Life long lamb eater here. Both my parents and grandparents made lamb dishes on a regular basis. Lamb with cabbage and barley soup was/still is a winter staple (made with lamb shoulder) amongst Scandinavian peoples. Here in Ontario, Canada we can get “semi boneless” lamb leg which eliminates the large joint and shank, but leaves part of the leg bone. The cut allows access the the marrow. Thank you for publishing this recipe, I’ll be cooking a lamb leg with this recipe in my Treager in the near future. Stay safe, stay vigilant.

    • Lisa Fain

      Enjoy the barbacoa, Tom! And when it’s cold again, I’ll have to try the lamb with cabbage and barley, which sounds hearty and delicious.

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