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.
- 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.