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Celebrating Cinco de Mayo With Lamb Barbacoa

lamb barbacoa

Image copyright Heather Gauley/vibrantfoodvibrantyou.com

The holiday of Cinco De Mayo is almost here! It is a regional holiday celebrated on the 5th Of May each year, it commemorates the victory of the Mexican militia over the French army at The Battle Of Puebla in 1862.

The world’s largest Cinco de Mayo party, is not held in Puebla like one might think but is in Los Angeles, California! According to the California Avocado Commission, Americans consume up to 81 million pounds of avocados during Cinco de Mayo festival every year. Now that’s a lot of guacamole!

The typical Cinco de Mayo isn’t just a day of eating tacos and drinking margaritas, it is a day to celebrate traditional Mexican fare, such as carnitas topped with queso fresco, homemade salsa verde wrapped in a warm homemade corn tortillas that has been lightly heated and mole poblano.

lamb barbacoa

Image copyright Heather Gauley/vibrantfoodvibrantyou.com

This year I will be celebrating Cinco de Mayo with a smoky lamb barbacoa. The lamb is marinated with a lightly spicy adobo sauce, making the meat tender and delicious. It is carefully smoked in your bbq for the first 3 hours then transferred to a dutch oven.

I like my barbacoa taco-style, I shred the meat and snuggle it into hot corn tortillas with avocado slices and a full-bodied verde salsa.

Ingredients for Lamb Barbacoa

The Rub

  • 2 tablespoons Himalayan salt
  • 1 tablespoon each of ancho chile powder,  guajillo chile powder, ground cumin
  • 2 teaspoons each of dried oregano,garlic powder,onion powder
  • 1 teaspoon chipotle chili powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 5 pound boneless lamb shoulder roast, tied
  • Wood chips in a flavor you enjoy, I recommend hickory or oak for this recipe.

The Sauce

  • 4 cups homemade chicken stock, divided in two
  • 1 ancho chile
  • 2 guajillo chiles
  • 3 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 1 small finely chopped white onion
  • 4 medium cloves garlic
  • 1 teaspoon each dried oregano and ground cumin
  • 1/4 teaspoon each ground cloves, 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


For the rub:

Mix together salt, ancho chile powder, guajillo chile powder, cumin, oregano, onion powder, garlic powder, chipotle powder, and ground cloves. Rub lamb shoulder roast liberally all over.

Fire up your grill to 250°F, adding your wood chips to the bottom of grill when at temperature. When using a grill to cook the lamb, you’ll need to handcraft an aluminum foil bag for your chips. To prep them, soak the wood chips in water for at least 4 hours prior to smoking. You’ll need to poke a few holes for the smoke to escape. Save some of that liquid for later to baste the meat while cooking. Cook over indirect heat so as not to overcook the meat and be sure to add a bowl of water to the corner of the grill, so the meat doesn’t dry out.

Place lamb in grill and smoke for 3 hours and remember low and slow is the best way to get excellent flavor and tender meat.

For the sauce:

While the lamb is in the bbq, toast your chilies in a large cast iron pan over medium heat. Then transfer them a small saucepan and cover with 2 cups of chicken stock. Bring up to a boil over high heat, then reduce heat and simmer until chiles are completely softened, about 15 minutes. Set aside.

Heat oil in cast iron pan over high heat. Add in garlic and onion. Cook until browned, approximately  10 minutes. Then add in oregano, ground cloves, cumin, and cinnamon and cook about 30 seconds. Add in remaining chicken stock, as well as vinegar, and chipotles and bring to a boil, then reduce heat to medium and simmer until liquid is reduced by half, approximately 20 minutes.

Take entire contents of pan and blend along with soaked chilies and their soaking liquid. Puree until completely smooth, about 1 minutes. Set aside.

Place lamb into now empty dutch oven. Pour sauce over lamb and add in bay leaves. Place lid on dutch oven, then place in a 250°F oven. Continue to cook about 2 to 3 hours or until the meat is very soft and falling apart.

Place lamb roast on plate. Discard bay leaves. Place dutch oven on stovetop and cook the sauce down by half over medium-high heat.  Skim off any excess fat from surface. Stir lime juice into sauce.

Untie lamb roast. Pull the meat apart using a pair of forks and returned to sauce for immediate serving.

You can refrigerate this dish overnight and for up to 5 days. The flavor just gets better the longer it sits.

Serve on corn tortillas that are lightly toasted, with cilantro, onion,tomatillo salsa, and lime.


About the author of this post

Heather Gauley – mother, writer and child of the universe. I enjoy trying new recipes and learning how to grow my food so that I get healthy starting at the ground up. You can find me at www.vibrantfoodvibrantyou.com or check out my facebook page at: https://www.facebook.com/vibrantfoodvibrantyou/

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