Venison Barbacoa

4.95 from 118 votes
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Venison barbacoa with all the accompaniments
Photo by Holly A. Heyser

OK folks, here it is: The best recipe for a deer’s front shoulder I’ve yet to find: Venison barbacoa.

This is a classic Mexican barbacoa, a mildly spicy, long-braised variant on barbecue works perfectly with the tough, sinewy front legs on a deer, or really any animal. Historically I’ve mostly used front legs for stew and for grinding, but this is even better. The meat cooks very slowly, and all that connective tissue dissolves into the broth and makes everything richer and just a little slick. Keeps your lips shiny.

Barbacoa, if you’ve never had it, is more warming than picante. Yes, there are chipotles in adobo in it, which can be bought in every Latin market I’ve ever been in, but not so many that your head blows off. The cloves are a stronger element, as are the cumin and bay.

If you want to test this recipe before making it, go to your nearest Chipotle restaurant and try their barbacoa: my venison barbacoa is virtually identical.

Serve it in tacos, burritos or over rice. And be sure to have at least a few of the traditional accompaniments, like cilantro, crumbled queso seco cheese, chopped onions, sour cream, fresh or pickled chiles, avocados — basically anything that works well on a taco.

You can buy chipotles in adobo in many supermarkets, and definitely in Latin markets or online. Oh, and read closely: My barbacoa recipe calls for 2 to 4 chiles in adobo, not cans of chiles en adobo! Many have made that mistake to their peril…

Still not convinced? Well, barbacoa may well be in the Top 5 Easiest Recipes on this website. It’s literally a crockpot-it-and-go dish. Minimal chopping, and the only thing you need to do as a cook is to shred the meat.

Want to up your barbacoa game even more? Smoke your venison neck, shanks or shoulder first. Real simple, just salt it well let it sit overnight, then smoke it for a few hours at about 200°F. Then proceed with the recipe. You’re welcome. No, seriously, doing this makes your barbacoa smack-yo-momma-in-the-face good!

Stupid crazy easy. Try it and you will not be sad. If you want a hot-weather variant of this recipe, try my Venison Yucatan.

One more thing: This stuff reheats beautifully, so make a big batch.

venison barbacoa with all the accompaniments
4.95 from 118 votes

Venison Barbacoa

This is maybe the best recipe ever for the front shoulders of deer, which can be sinewy and tough to deal with. Cooking with this method really lets nature take its course, and all that connective tissue will dissolve and the meat will be super tender. But it will still be really lean, so I add about 1/4 cup of lard, bear fat or duck fat to the shredded venison before I serve. You would use olive or vegetable oil. Of course, if you use fatty meats like beef or lamb or pork, you won't need to do this.
Course: Main Course
Cuisine: Mexican
Servings: 6 people
Author: Hank Shaw
Prep Time: 20 minutes
Cook Time: 3 hours
Total Time: 3 hours 20 minutes


  • 2 to 3 pounds venison, from the shoulder or legs
  • 2 to 4 chipotles in adobo, canned
  • 1 red onion, chopped
  • 5 garlic cloves, chopped
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1 teaspoon smoked paprika (optional)
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 1 tablespoon kosher salt
  • ½ cup lime juice
  • ½ cup cider vinegar
  • 1 quart beef or venison stock
  • 1/4 cup lard or vegetable oil
  • Smoked salt (optional)
  • Cilantro, shredded cheese, sour cream, avocados and hot sauce for garnish


  • Put everything in a slow cooker or Dutch oven and cook, covered, until the meat falls off the bone, which will be between 2 hours (for many domestic meats and young deer) and 6 hours if you have a very old animal. If you use a slow cooker, set it to “high.” If you use a regular pot, put it into the oven set to 300°F.
  • Pull all the meat from the bones and shred with forks or your fingers. Stir in the lard and as much smoked salt as you want. You want the lard or oil to coat the shreds of meat. Pour over some of the juices from the pot and put the meat in a pan for the table. Serve with tacos, in a burrito or on a bun.


Have lots of accompaniments for your barbacoa: It's a base for a meal, the do-it-yourself construction of your tacos is more than half the fun!


Calories: 126kcal | Carbohydrates: 8g | Protein: 4g | Fat: 9g | Saturated Fat: 7g | Cholesterol: 1mg | Sodium: 1543mg | Potassium: 380mg | Fiber: 1g | Sugar: 2g | Vitamin A: 424IU | Vitamin C: 8mg | Calcium: 29mg | Iron: 1mg

Nutrition information is automatically calculated, so should only be used as an approximation.

Tried this recipe? Tag me today!Mention @huntgathercook or tag #hankshaw!

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About Hank Shaw

Hey there. Welcome to Hunter Angler Gardener Cook, the internet’s largest source of recipes and know-how for wild foods. I am a chef, author, and yes, hunter, angler, gardener, forager and cook. Follow me on Instagram and on Facebook.

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Recipe Rating


  1. This recipe is so fabulous. Flavors are superb. I used my Dutch oven at 300°F.l for 2 hrs. Braised the elk roast. Used banana peppers from my garden rather than green chili’s and shallots rather than red onion. Omitted the tbsp salt and used beef bullion. Blended all the solids and juice. Then added the lard to the sauce with the shredded Elk. Served on flour tortilla with shredded Colby jack, radishes ans their greens from my garden.

  2. I made this for a wedding reception attended by a group of 10+ young adults. Minutes after we arrived, one of the youngsters discovered the venison barbacoa, and went to tell the others. Next thing I saw was a small army of twenty year olds marching towards the dish. It was gone in 10 minutes (and I doubled the portion). The scene of the feeding frenzy was priceless. I’m doing it again for our daughter’s graduation party this weekend.