Smoked Lamb Barbacoa Recipe

Joshua Bousel

Smoking a lamb shoulder roast prior to braising adds a smoky flavor to the already layered earthy and spicy barbacoa sauce.

Recipe Facts

Active: 90 mins
Total: 6 hrs
Serves: 8 to 12 servings

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For the Rub

  • 2 tablespoons kosher salt

  • 1 tablespoon ancho chile powder

  • 1 tablespoon guajillo chile powder

  • 1 tablespoon ground cumin

  • 2 teaspoons dried oregano, preferably Mexican

  • 2 teaspoons onion powder

  • 2 teaspoons garlic powder

  • 1 teaspoon chipotle chili powder

  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cloves

  • 5 pounds boneless lamb shoulder roast, tied

  • 3 to 4 chunks of a medium smoking wood, such as oak or hickory

For the Sauce

  • 4 cups homemade or store-bought low sodium chicken stock, divided

  • 1 ancho chile, stemmed and seeded

  • 2 guajillo chiles, stemmed and seeded

  • 3 tablespoons vegetable oil

  • 1/2 cup finely chopped white onion (about 1 small)

  • 4 medium cloves garlic, smashed and peeled

  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano, preferably Mexican

  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin

  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cloves

  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon

  • 1/3 cup apple cider vinegar

  • 3 tablespoons finely chopped chipotles in adobo plus 1 tablespoon adobo sauce

  • 2 bay leaves

  • 1/4 cup freshly squeezed lime juice from 2 limes

  • Kosher salt, to taste

  • Corn tortillas, onion, cilantro, tomatillo salsa, and limes, for serving


  1. To make the rub: Mix together salt, ancho chile powder, guajillo chile powder, cumin, oregano, onion powder, garlic powder, chipotle powder, and ground cloves. Season lamb shoulder roast liberally with rub all over.

  2. Fire up smoker or grill to 250°F, adding chunks of smoking wood chunks when at temperature. Place lamb in smoker and smoke for 3 hours.

  3. To make the sauce: While the lamb is in the smoker, toast chilies in a large dutch oven over medium heat until fragrant, turning with tongs occasionally. Transfer to a small saucepan and cover with 2 cups of chicken stock. Bring to a boil over high heat, then reduce to a simmer and cook until chiles are completely softened, about 15 minutes. Set aside.

  4. Heat oil in now empty dutch oven over high heat until shimmering. Add in onion and garlic and cook until well browned, about 10 minutes. Add in oregano, cumin, ground cloves, and cinnamon and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add in remaining 2 cups of chicken stock, vinegar, and chipotles and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium and simmer until liquid is reduced by half, about 20 minutes.

  5. Transfer entire contents of dutch oven to the jar of a blender, along with soaked chilies and their soaking liquid. Puree until completely smooth, about 1 minutes. Set aside.

  6. Transfer lamb to now empty dutch oven. Pour sauce over lamb and add in bay leaves. Place lid on dutch oven slightly cracked, then transfer to smoker or a 250°F oven. Continue to cook until a metal skewer can be inserted into the lamb with little to no resistance, about 2 to 3 hours.

  7. Transfer lamb to a plate and discard bay leaves. Return dutch oven to stovetop and cook sauce over medium-high heat until reduced by half, about 5 minutes, skimming off any excess fat from surface. Stir lime juice into sauce.

  8. Untie lamb roast. Meat can be pulled and returned to sauce for immediate serving, but for best flavor and tenderness, place lamb in a large bowl and cover with reduced sauce. Refrigerate overnight or up to five days. When ready to serve, remove lamb from liquid and pull into large chunks with hands or two forks. Place sauce and shredded lamb into dutch oven a bring to a simmer over medium heat. Gently fold lamb until warmed all the way through and thoroughly coated with sauce. Season with salt to taste. Serve on toasted corn tortillas with onion, cilantro, tomatillo salsa, and lime.

Special equipment

Smoker or Grill, Blender

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Nutrition Facts (per serving)
489 Calories
34g Fat
8g Carbs
37g Protein
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Nutrition Facts
Servings: 8 to 12
Amount per serving
Calories 489
% Daily Value*
Total Fat 34g 43%
Saturated Fat 13g 64%
Cholesterol 138mg 46%
Sodium 964mg 42%
Total Carbohydrate 8g 3%
Dietary Fiber 2g 7%
Total Sugars 1g
Protein 37g
Vitamin C 17mg 84%
Calcium 62mg 5%
Iron 4mg 23%
Potassium 695mg 15%
*The % Daily Value (DV) tells you how much a nutrient in a food serving contributes to a daily diet. 2,000 calories a day is used for general nutrition advice.
(Nutrition information is calculated using an ingredient database and should be considered an estimate.)