Venison Birria

4.86 from 14 votes
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Birria with tortillas and toppings
Photo by Holly A. Heyser

It’s taken me a while to write down a birria recipe. After all, this is one of the cornerstones of the cuisine of the Mexican state of Jalisco — and given that this is where most of the Mexican immigrants living here in Sacramento come from, I had every chance to get this one right.

So I ate birria. Birria as a stew, birria tacos. Lots of birria tacos. All over town. Dozens of places. My favorites, for the record, are Don Chuy’s and the now-closed Birrieria Bugumbilias.

What follows is me trying my best to give you a rendition of birria that is worthy of the name.

What’s the big deal? Well, in Jalisco, birria made from goat is what carnitas is to Michoacan, or cabrito al pastor is to Nuevo Leon, or cochinita pibil is to the Yucatan. In other words, a dish people take very seriously. Think chili in Texas or chowder in New England.

I know some of you are scratching your heads: What is birria, exactly? It is a lot like barbacoa or cochinita pibil in that it is seasoned meat wrapped in something and cooked largely through smoky steam until the meat falls apart.

You either eat it in a bowl, often in its broth, or shredded on tortillas for birria tacos.

Traditionally birria is made with kid goat, but you will see it made with adult goats, mutton, lamb and beef, too. As it happens, venison birria is especially good. You want to use the neck or front shoulder or shanks here, because they have a lot of connective tissue that, when cooked slow and low, melts and makes the meat silky.

You want to make the adobo for your birria and slather it on the meat the day before; this matters. Then, you wrap the meat in leaves — maguey leaves to be really traditional, but I use banana leaves — nestle it in a pot, then seal the pot you are using. Put the whole shebang in a low oven for most of the day, crack the seal and have at it.

Venison birria in a bowl
Photo by Holly A. Heyser

And ideal set up would be to use the whole front shoulder or neck of a small deer or pronghorn (or a whole kid goat, or front legs from a lamb, or short ribs if using beef), cut in a away that they will fit into a Dutch oven. Wrap the marinated meat in banana leaves, which you can buy in any Asian or Latin market, stuff it all into the Dutch oven, put the lid on, and seal it with fresh masa, the corn dough you use to make tortillas.

Now, you may not have the ideal set up. You can get away with wrapping the meat in foil, but I would do leaves then foil. A good, accessible alternate leaf would be collards; they are sturdy enough to not dissolve in the long cooking. If you absolutely can’t find leaves, skip them and just use foil.

The dough seal really does keep all the moisture locked in, so use flour and water if you don’t have masa and water. It doesn’t matter. Just jam it all around where the lid meets the pot. You’ll need to crack it off when you are ready.

When will your birria be ready? Hard to say. But as a general rule, you err on the side of cooking it more, not less.

Birria cooked 12 hours will still be good, even if it got tender at 8 hours. I would not even think about cracking the seal in less than 4 hours, and for most small deer, 6 hours is a good benchmark. But since you will start losing some moisture once you crack the seal to check, I’m going a full 8 hours. Now if it’s a giant neck roast or something? Longer. Always longer, never shorter.

Your reward is that aroma that’s been sealed in, lots of amazing broth, and meat that falls apart, practically begging to be slathered on a fresh corn tortilla. Oh and yes, corn tortillas here.

Birria tacos are so good you will only want to top them with fresh cilantro and chopped white onions soaked in lime juice. Hot sauce is the only other thing you should consider adding, and really that’s to each eater’s taste.

Once made, your birria will keep a week in the fridge. Reheat it slowly in its broth for weekday lunches.

Venison birria in a bowl
4.86 from 14 votes

Jalisco Style Birria

I use venison neck or shoulder for this, but any front shoulder of a similar animal will do; goat is traditional. If you use beef, use short ribs.
Course: Main Course
Cuisine: Mexican
Servings: 8 servings
Author: Hank Shaw
Prep Time: 30 minutes
Cook Time: 8 hours
Marinating Time: 8 hours


  • 4 pounds shoulder or neck roast
  • 12 guajillo or ancho chiles, about 4 ounces
  • 2 pounds Roma tomatoes, sliced in half
  • 1 white onion, sliced in half
  • 1 head garlic, separated but not peeled
  • 2 tablespoons black peppercorns
  • 4 to 6 whole cloves
  • 2 teaspoons cumin seeds
  • 1 tablespoon salt
  • 3 bay leaves
  • 1 tablespoon dried Mexican oregano
  • 1 cup Mexican beer (I use Negro Modelo or Bohemia)
  • 1/4 cup pineapple or cider vinegar
  • Banana leaves
  • 1 cup corn masa or flour (to seal the pot)
  • Cilantro and chopped white onion, for garnish
  • corn tortillas


  • Stem and seed the dried chiles, then pour boiling water over them. Let them soften while you chop the other vegetables.
  • Get a comal or cast iron pan hot, and lay the onion and tomatoes, cut side down. Scatter the garlic cloves around the edge of the pan. Let them blacken a bit, which should take about 6 to 10 minutes. Turn the garlic cloves after about 5 minutes. Use a metal spatula to turn the onion and tomatoes, scraping all the blackened and browned bits. Move those bits to the blender.
  • While this is happening, toast the cumin, black peppercorns and cloves in a dry pan until you can smell them. Grind them in a spice grinder and put the powder into the blender. Put the tablespoon of salt, bay leaves and oregano into the blender, too.
  • When the vegetables are nicely charred, put them in the blender. Tear the chiles into pieces and add them to the blender, along with a healthy glug of their soaking water. Puree this, adding the beer and vinegar as you go. You want it pretty smooth.
  • Coat the meat with this sauce, put it all into a covered container and let it sit overnight, or at the very least an hour.
  • When you are ready to cook, preheat the oven to 275°F. Line a heavy, lidded pot like a Dutch oven with banana leaves and put the meat in the center. Add the remaining marinade. Wrap the meat up as best you can with the leaves, then put the lid on.
  • Mix the masa or flour with water until you have a clay-like paste. Jam it all around the seal between the lid and the pot, and put the pot in the oven. Let it cook for at least 4 hours before checking, no matter what. I don't check until 8 hours have passed. You want the meat to be falling apart.
  • When you are ready, move the meat to a large bowl and pour all the broth over it. Pull the meat into largish pieces and give everyone some. Let them make their own tacos as they wish, or completely shred the meat and just make tacos. Garnish with the cilantro and chopped onion soaked in lime juice.


NOTE: If you have smoked salt, use that. It adds a nice touch to the meat. 


Calories: 261kcal | Carbohydrates: 14g | Protein: 31g | Fat: 8g | Saturated Fat: 3g | Cholesterol: 91mg | Sodium: 986mg | Potassium: 875mg | Fiber: 4g | Sugar: 6g | Vitamin A: 2366IU | Vitamin C: 19mg | Calcium: 66mg | Iron: 4mg

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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  1. Made this for a group of foodie friends and it received rave reviews. You know a recipe is spot on when you get the foodies daydreaming about the meal that ate that weekend. We did have some Gluten Free Friends in the crowd so supplemented the beer for chicken stock. Thanks Hank!

  2. Wow. Just…wow. Wish I had more to say about this recipe but I’m speechless. Pretty sure you could cook an old pair of boots like this and it would be edible.

  3. Made this for Thanksgiving, using a square cut lamb shoulder and an instant pot. It turned out amazingly!! Followed the recipe and let the meat chill overnight, then made some adjustments to the shape to get it into the IP. Because I’ve had tomatoey things scorch on me before, I put the rib cage convex over the center of the pot (hottest spot), piled the rest on top, and added a cup or so of broth to help ensure smooth sailing before adding the sauce/adobo atop the meat. Sealed and cooked high pressure for 75 min, just to be sure, as this was a first for that cut of lamb. After cooking I separated the fat from the sauce and used to fry up tortillas topped with cheese. Everyone ooohed and ahhhhed and husband even said it’s better than the taco place downtown!! Thanks for the recipe!

  4. Hey hank,
    Does this recipe yield enough of the broth to do the whole dip the tortillas in the broth, fry, and serve with more broth to dip thing that people do? Or should I add some liquid if I want to do that?

    Thank you!

  5. The only way to cook venison neck & hindquarter! This recipe is fantastic. I do recommend using some pineapple if you have it and just char it in the pan alongside the tomato & onion.

  6. I was originally a bit disappointed in this recipe, but I ended up loving the final result. We skipped the beer and added more chili water. Prior to cooking the mixture was not as liquid as it should have been, darn near a paste. I think the amount of water I boiled the Chillis in was insufficient and I should have added more. I did follow the rest of the cooking instructions and ended up with a pretty pasty broth and meh meat. The next night with leftover meat I heated up in a pan and added a lot of neutral oil inspired by Hank’s carnitas recipe. Probably a quarter cup of refined avocado oil per pound. I’d recommend adding it in by taste. Then I added more salt ( I used kosher salt which is less dense). The meat became much more flavorful and moist as the fat/oil absorbed the flavors of the mixture. While I didn’t end up with any consumme the meat was great in tacos and quesadillas on par with the juiciness of beef. Lastly, banana leaves are often frozen, and still work well. I definitely plan on making this recipe again.

  7. This looks great. I have a venison neck thawing so I may do this and your sopes. One question: you roast the garlic with the skin on. DO you put it in the blender that way or squeeze it out of the skin into the blender?

  8. I usually pressure can all my deer trim. This year I decided to make it all into birria then can. We ate it all before it made it into jars. I found this recipe after I had already made another version and I’m going to pull some blade roast and neck roasts and maybe a shank or two out of the freezer and try your method. It may not get canned either haha. Maybe I should try canning the raw meat in the adobo? What do you think about canning this?

    1. Robin: It should work. There is nothing in it that pressure canning would mess up. If you try it, can you post back and let me know how it went? I’d love to be able to let others know how it goes.

      1. I’ve got an elk shoulder roast I’d like to try this with. I’m not sure I’ll be able to find banana leaves. Are they dried or moist? Would corn husks achieve the desired effect?

      2. Jim: No problem on subbing them out. They’re sold frozen in big sheets in Asian and Latin markets. I would simply leave them out and cook everything in the pot. The leaves add flavor, but they are not 100 percent needed.

  9. We made, pan fried the tacos with meat & oaxaca cheese, sprinkled the broth over them as they fried and then dipped in the wonder broth as we ate. Glorious

  10. Hey Hank- making this with pronghorn neck. My masa dough sealant cracked and fell off after about 2 hrs. Did I mix it too wet?

  11. Loooong time fan and first time post. I’ve probably done your chilindrones 15 times.

    Trying this tomorrow… gonna cook it in the traeger for a few hours first to give it some smoke. Then seal and continue in the traeger which at that point will basically become an oven.

    1. Sheila: There are none. Closest would be in Folsom, at Adam’s Meat Shop, or Roseville Meats. You can buy frozen venison at Whole Foods, too.

  12. First time, Long time.
    I’ve spent the last few days looking for birria recipes after learning about it from a taco program on Netflix. And you publish one! How prescient!
    Thank you!

  13. Excellent recipe Hank, thanks.
    Just so people know, birria is also traditionally made with rabbit, lamb and mutton.

    1. Ricardo: Rabbit? Hadn’t seen that one in my research, but that’s very good to know. I think I mentioned lamb and mutton, no? If not, I need to get that in the article because it’s common even here in Sacramento.

  14. Hank – How do you think this sauce would freeze? My first thought is that it may be nice to make the sauce ahead of time and then unthaw it when convenient.

    1. Jordan: You mean the adobo? No need to freeze, really. It is very stable in the fridge. I’ve kept it in a Mason jar for months and it was fine.

  15. We Texans eat a lot of Mexican food. Or our own bastardization of it we call TexMex but Birria is something I have never heard of. I look forward to trying it this deer season.

    1. Mike: If you are ever in Brownsville, try the barbacoa there. This is like that, only with a serious application of adobo.

    1. Edward: I’m sure it can. I’ve just never done it. If you do, can you report back to let us know how it went?

      1. I have used an instant pot to make birria with venison. Typically I use shank and shoulder. I don’t wrap the meat in banana leaves but everything else is basically the same. 3-4lbs of meat will fit nicely. I pressure cook for 45 minutes then allow for a natural release. The meat shreds nicely. The nice thing about an instant pot is that it seals and keeps all the flavor in while cooking. I am a big fan of and use it regularly as a reference point for cooking wild game.

    1. Rose: Doesn’t matter where you live. There just needs to be a Latin or Asian market nearby. And as for a substitute, I mentioned it in the article: Collards.