Mexico has a rich food culture and meat is central in many different types of dishes across the country. From tacos to tortas, the variety in Mexican meat and dishes is almost as diverse as the country itself. Two very popular meats are birria and barbacoa, which sometimes people can be confused about. What these dishes do have in common is their ability to cure a hangover, and they are often eaten in various forms to fix the day after a big night out. Let’s look at the differences between birria vs barbacoa and learn a bit more about where they come from.
What is Barbacoa?
Although we call the dish or type of tacos “barbacoa”, in reality that word is a cooking method. In Mexico they make a big hole in the earth, heat stones to high temperatures, put them at the bottom and introduce the meat wrapped in banana leaves or “pencas” from maguey.
The meat can be lamb or goat, which is the most common, but it can also be prepared with pork, ram, fish or chicken. In the north of Mexico, they cook “cabrito” (which is a young goat) and in the south, using seafood as barbacoa is very common.
Barbacoa is often eaten accompanied by a soup called “consome”, it is prepared with different special leaves and the same meat that it is being cooked with. Chili peppers are added, and the meat is introduced into the hole to be cooked at the same time as the barbacoa.
Once the meat and the consome are in the hole, they cover it with more banana leaves and let it cook for almost 8 hours.
Where Does Barbacoa Come From?
It is not known exactly from which part of Mexico barbacoa originated, but it varies quite a bit between some states. In Chiapas, for example, pork barbacoa is used and cooked with raisins, among other ingredients. Before Mexico the origins of barbacoa and that cooking style are said to have come from the Taino people of the Caribbean, specifically from the island of Barbados.
Different States & Different Ways of Eating Barbacoa
In Chihuahua, barbacoa is eaten in “tortas” and it is very common to find it during the week throughout the state. In this part of Mexico, the barbacoa is quite juicy compared to other areas.
In Guanajuato, when you finish covering the barbacoa they put maguey pencas on top, then they add the stomach of the animal stuffed with sauce and spices.
In Querétaro, barbacoa is consumed more often than almost any other Mexican state. It is sold in a similar way to Mexico City and Hidalgo, and it is prepared in the traditional method.
You can find barbacoa in many areas of Mexico City, but commonly on Saturdays and Sundays. There are many small businesses on the street that are delicious, but there are also restaurants that serve it every day. During the week it is more difficult to find it in the street stalls, but it is a dish that is worth trying to find.
If you decide to try barbacoa, we recommend that you ask for “maciza” tacos or if you go with more people, order a kilo of “espaldilla” which is the best part of the animal and is not so fatty for a first experience. Do not forget to order consome and add onion and cilantro!
Now let’s talk about birria…
What is Birria?
The primary reason for the common confusion between birria vs barbacoa is because of birria is a product of barbacoa. Birria is made by submerging barbacoa in a sauce that is prepared with the meat in the hole. This dish is often prepared with sheep meat, but in the north of Mexico beef is used, and in other states, they use goat meat. It really depends on the part of Mexico that you are in as birria has a lot of variety.
Where is Birria From?
Unlike barbacoa, the origin of birria is far better known. Originally it is from the state of Jalisco and many people say the best birria comes from that state of Mexico. While we’ve had some excellent birria in Guadalajara and other parts of Jalisco, the best birria we’ve experienced at Eat Mex City was in the state of Aguascalientes.
How is Birria Made?
Birria is prepared almost in the same way as the traditional barbacoa, a hole is made in the ground and the stones are heated at high temperatures. The difference is that it is introduced into a large pot with a sauce that contains chili peppers and special leaves, then the pot is covered and sealed with corn dough so that the juices do not escape.
They let it cook for 4 hours or until the meat is very, very soft and tender. Once the meat is cooked, a juice with roasted and ground tomato is prepared, this mixture is added to the other sauce that was cooked together with the meat and is ready to be served.
How Do You Eat Birria?
Birria is usually served in a deep dish, since it is the meat submerged in the previously made sauce so it’s like a large soup. Next, you add chopped onion and oregano to your liking. Beans are sometimes added to the mix, but that really depends on the restaurant and the area. People eat birria like soup or with a side of tortillas and they pull out the meat to make tacos. Typically it’s eaten doing both methods together.
Is Birria Different in Each State?
While the type of meat may vary, the process is almost always the same for birria. We will list the different types of meat according to the state, but remember that the way of cooking will be very similar. The only thing that really changes the flavor is the extras that are added to the birria.
- Guadalajara: Goat or sheep meat is most commonly used. Depending on the village, the preparation of the sauce is as we mentioned, but there are regions where they can add specific ingredients to alter the taste.
- Colima: They usually use goat, ram or pork meat.
- Michoacán: In this state, they like to less common proteins like chicken or fish.
- Zacatecas: In this state, they typically use goat or ram meat, but the sauce is usually prepared differently in a thicker way.
What about Birria in Mexico City?
In Mexico City, birria is typically prepared the traditional way like in the state of Jalisco. You can find birria every day at the stalls around the city. There are some places where they sell it to you in tacos and there are others where you can ask to be served submerged in the sauce like a soup.
We recommend that you order it submerged in its sauce and that you add enough onion. If you are going to eat it in tacos, do not forget to ask for the sauce separately so that you do not miss the full experience of trying birria as it should be.
We hope we’ve cleared up and confusion between barbacoa vs birria and if you can, accompany your barbacoa or your birria with a delicious beer. Buen provecho amigo!