Barbacoa vs. Carnitas- Chipotle's menu boasts two delicious options, but which one should you choose? Let's explore the unique flavors and cooking methods behind each of these fan-favorite meats and find out which one reigns supreme!
If you're a fan of Mexican cuisine, chances are you've made a stop or two at Chipotle Mexican Grill. With its mouth-watering menu and fresh ingredients, it's no surprise that the restaurant has become a go-to spot for many.
But when it comes to choosing between their popular barbacoa vs. carnitas, things can get a little tricky. Both are delicious, but which one should you choose to put in your burrito, burrito bowl or tacos?
I'll take a closer look at the main differences between Chipotle's barbacoa vs. carnitas so that you decide which one is the right choice for your taste buds. So, buckle up and get ready for a flavor-filled ride!
- Barbacoa vs. Carnitas
- What Is Barbacoa at Chipotle?
- How Is Barbacoa Made?
- What Cut of Beef is Used for Barbacoa?
- What Is Carnitas at Chipotle?
- How Is Carnitas Made?
- What Cut of Pork is Used for Carnitas?
- Barbacoa vs. Carnitas- The Bottom Line
- What To Eat With Barbacoa or Carnitas
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- Tasty Mexican Dishes
Barbacoa vs. Carnitas
Barbacoa and carnitas differ in terms of the type of meat used, how they're cooked, and the spices and flavorings used. Here's a quick breakdown before we get into all the details!
Type of Meat:
- Barbacoa is made with beef at Chipotle (but traditionally can be made with other meat like goat or lamb).
- Carnitas is made with pork
- Barbacoa is made by braising beef for many hours until tender. At Chipotle, they first cook it sous vide before braising it.
- Carnitas is made by slow-cooking pork for many hours until tender. Then, it's crisped up by roasting or pan frying it.
- Barbacoa is made with a combination of smoky chili peppers and aromatic spices like oregano, cloves, and bay leaf. It has a bold, smoky, spicy flavor.
- Carnitas is made with a blend of seasonings and spices including juniper berries, thyme, and bay leaves. It has a softer, savory, slightly sweet flavor.
What Is Barbacoa at Chipotle?
Barbacoa is a beloved menu item at Mexican restaurants like Chipotle and has been satisfying cravings for years. The barbacoa at Chipotle is made with beef.
Barbacoa is a slow-cooked beef dish that is marinated in a blend of spices and chili peppers and braised for many hours. The end result of the long, slow cooking process is flavorful, juicy meat that is savory and spicy, with a tender texture that is easily shreddable. Barbacoa practically melts in your mouth!
Typical barbacoa seasonings include a combination of dried guajillo and ancho chile peppers. Both peppers are relatively mild compared to other chili peppers. Guajillo chiles have a mildly sweet, fruity flavor and ancho chiles have a more pronounced smoky flavor.
The spices used in the marinade for barbacoa are a blend of traditional Mexican flavors such as Mexican oregano, cumin, garlic, and bay leaves. Some recipes also include sweet spices, like cinnamon or allspice. All of these spices come together to create a delicious flavor profile.
One of the reasons why barbacoa has become such a popular menu item at Chipotle is because it's incredibly versatile. It can be added to burritos, tacos, bowls, salads, and even quesadillas.
This makes it a great choice no matter what your favorite dish is. Whether you're looking for something spicy or just want to add a little extra flavor to your meal, barbacoa is definitely worth a try.
How Is Barbacoa Made?
Barbacoa has a long history in Mexico. Traditionally, barbacoa is made by slowly cooking beef, lamb or goat in a pit dug into the ground, which is covered with agave leaves. Cooking the meat sealed in a pit essentially steams it, locking in the moisture and imparting it with smoky flavor.
Barbacoa made in this traditional manner can take a whole day to prepare. So, many home cooks have adapted barbacoa to the home kitchen by cooking it in a pot or Dutch oven similar to a pot roast. You can also make beef barbacoa at home in a slow cooker (like this crock pot), a pressure cooker or Instant pot.
According to Chipotle's website, they get their meltingly tender barbacoa by first cooking it sous vide, which means is a cooking method that cooks food at a precise, low temperature for a looong time. This process locks in the moisture. Then, they marinate it overnight in a smoky, spicy chipotle pepper adobo sauce.
Finally, they braise the beef slowly at a low temperature with aromatic spices like oregano, cloves, and bay leaf, until it's mouthwateringly tender. Finally, they shred it by hand. Wow, that's an impressive process! No wonder their barbacoa is so juicy, tender, and packed with rich, savory flavor.
What Cut of Beef is Used for Barbacoa?
Traditional barbacoa is made from beef cheeks or the head of the cow. That's because those cuts are very flavorful and tender.
On the other hand, in the United States, people typically make barbacoa with chuck roast or brisket. However, any cut of beef that has a lot of connective tissue and takes a long time to cook until tender will work well. Keep in mind that the cut of beef should have a high enough fat content that it doesn't dry out during cooking. Leaner cuts of beef will dry out and become stringy after a long time cooking.
At Chipotle, they always use responsibly raised beef. In terms of the cut, they mainly use beef shoulder in their barbacoa. Beef shoulder has enough fat to keep the meat moist during their long braising method, making the end result seriously juicy and tender.
What Is Carnitas at Chipotle?
Carnitas is another popular menu item at Chipotle that has become a fan favorite over the years. Carnitas is a traditional Mexican dish made with pork. This is in contrast to barbacoa, which is made with beef.
Carnitas means "little meats" in Spanish. It's a slow-cooked pork dish that is simmered until it becomes tender and juicy. It's kind of like a Mexican version of pulled pork.
At Chipotle, they slow cook their carnitas with a blend of seasonings and spices including juniper berries, thyme, and bay leaves. This combination gives the meat a delicious flavor that is both savory and slightly sweet.
Juniper berries have a distinct, pungent flavor that stands up to rich, meaty dishes. Interestingly, juniper berries are not actually berries at all. They're the seed cones of the coniferous juniper plant, which just happen to resemble berries.
After the meat is cooked, they shred it into large chunks, and then it's ready to go into any number of dishes.
How Is Carnitas Made?
Carnitas is a traditional Mexican dish that has been enjoyed for centuries. The traditional way of making carnitas involves slow-cooking pork in lard (manteca) until it becomes tender and flavorful. This cooking method results in juicy and succulent meat that's perfect for a variety of dishes like tacos and burritos.
Traditionally, carnitas is made with a large cut of pork, usually the shoulder or butt. It is cut into large chunks and then simmered in a mixture of lard, water, and seasonings. The seasonings typically include garlic, bay leaves, cinnamon, and cumin, which add a rich and savory flavor to the meat.
The pork is cooked over low heat for several hours, until it's tender and falls apart easily. After the meat is cooked, it is removed from the pot and shredded into smaller pieces. Try my Mexican pulled pork recipe.
The final step is crisping up the shredded meat by roasting or pan frying it. The crispy bits of pork are a popular and flavorful addition to the dish.
In Mexican cuisine, carnitas is often served in tacos, burritos, or as a main dish alongside rice, beans, and other traditional sides.
What Cut of Pork is Used for Carnitas?
Carnitas are typically made from pork shoulder (pork butt). The shoulder is known for its marbling, which means it has a good balance of fat and meat. This makes it ideal for cooking low and slow. The resulting meat is juicy and tender.
At Chipotle, they always make their carnitas with responsibly sourced pork. They season the pork with an aromatic spice blend and then braise it for hours. Finally, they shred it by hand. Then end result is meat that's fall-apart-in-your-burrito tender with a rich and savory flavor.
Barbacoa vs. Carnitas- The Bottom Line
So, which is better barbacoa or carnitas? Choosing between beef barbacoa vs. pork carnitas at Chipotle can be a tough decision. Both are delicious and popular menu items that are flavorful. They're also both very tender, thanks to their long cooking time, which breaks down the collagen in the meat.
If you like beef, then barbacoa is the way to go. However, if you prefer pork, then carnitas is the better option.
If you like things spicy, then barbacoa might be the way to go. Its blend of spices and chili peppers creates a bold and robust flavor that is sure to satisfy your taste buds. I think that the barbacoa has a richer, deeper flavor with some smokiness. It's also saucier than the carnitas and is mouthwateringly tender.
On the other hand, if you prefer a sweeter, flavorful meat with a little crispiness, then carnitas might be the best choice. Its slow-cooked pork has a succulent and juicy texture and lighter, softer flavor profile. It's less saucy than barbacoa with larger chunks of meat and some crispy bits, which are hard to resist.
Ultimately, the decision between barbacoa vs. carnitas comes down to personal preference, and both options are sure to add a delicious and satisfying touch to your Chipotle meal!
What To Eat With Barbacoa or Carnitas
Barbacoa is classically served on warm corn tortillas topped with onions and cilantro, which are a nice contrast to the rich, boldly-flavored meat. It can also be served as a filling in Mexican tortas (sandwiches) or in burritos, enchiladas and quesadillas.
When it comes to pairing your barbacoa or carnitas with other dishes and toppings at Chipotle, the possibilities are endless! They both make a delicious and savory addition to burritos, burrito bowl, tacos, salads, and quesadillas. Here are some ideas:
- If you're a fan of burritos, you might want to try adding some black beans or pinto beans, rice, and guacamole to your order for a complete and filling meal.
- I love burrito bowls with cilantro lime rice (choose brown rice if you want to incorporate healthy whole grains into your meal), barbacoa or carnitas, roasted chili-corn salsa, beans, sour cream, and cheese.
- For a lighter option, a salad with lettuce, fajita veggies, and salsa can be a great way to complement the rich flavors of the meat.
- If you're in the mood for tacos, you can't go wrong with a combination of barbacoa or carnitas, shredded white cheddar cheese, and pico de gallo or roasted chili-corn salsa. You could also try other popular toppings include sour cream and queso blanco. If you like heat, drizzle on some tomatillo green-chili (medium) or red-chili salsa (hot).
No matter what you choose, barbacoa vs. carnitas, the tender and flavorful meat is sure to be a delicious addition to any Chipotle dish!
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