Barbacoa de Borrego

Lamb Barbacoa


Preparation info

  • Difficulty


  • Serves

    6 to 8

Appears in

Oaxaca: Home Cooking from the Heart of Mexico


By Bricia Lopez and Javier Cabral

Published 2019

  • About

Barbacoa de Borrego is eaten during a lot of festivities in Oaxaca. It is always served family style at parties so you can eat as much as you can handle. My fondest memory of eating barbacoa was during a get-together with friends in an agave field recently. We cooked a whole lamb in a pit underground, had live music, everybody showed up, and there was free-flowing mezcal for everyone. It was one of the most beautiful, most perfect days of my life, because what else do you need other than friends, family, tender seasoned meat, and good mezcal?


  • 7 guajillo chiles (35 g), stems removed, seeded
  • 9 cloves garlic (27 g), peeled
  • 1 cup (75 g) chopped white onion
  • teaspoons ground cumin
  • 2 tablespoons dried oregano
  • 1 sliver of a cinnamon stick
  • ¼ teaspoon dried thyme
  • 2 whole cloves
  • 4 black peppercorns
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 2 teaspoons sea salt
  • 3 pounds (1.4 kg) bone-in lamb shoulder roast, cut into pieces by your butcher
  • 10 avocado leaves


Preheat the oven to 375°F (190°C).

Bring cups (840 ml) water to a boil in a medium pot. Turn off the heat and add the guajillo chiles. Let soak for 20 minutes or until the chiles are softened. Reserve ¼ cup (60 ml) of the soaking liquid.

In a comal or large cast-iron skillet over medium heat, toast the following ingredients for 5 to 7 minutes until evenly toasted: cumin, oregano, cinnamon, thyme, cloves, black peppercorns, and bay leaves. While the spices are toasting, lightly char the garlic cloves and onion.

In a molcajete or food processor, grind the garlic, onion, cumin, oregano, cinnamon, thyme, cloves, and black peppercorns as best you can.

In a blender, combine the softened chiles and reserved soaking water, the bay leaves, salt, and spices.

In a 5-quart (4.7 L) Dutch oven or heavy-bottomed pot, place the lamb and slather in the spiced chile mixture from the blender. Add avocado leaves. Mix well, cover, and cook in the oven for an hour. The lamb should be fall-apart tender, and the sauce should be the texture of a pan sauce.

If the lamb still isn’t tender, cover and cook for another 20 minutes or as long it takes for the lamb to be falling off the bone.