Saucy Chicken Barbacoa, aka a flavor-packed Mexican shredded chicken that’s destined for tacos, enchiladas, burritos and so much more. If you’re looking for a super savory chicken recipe that’s hands-off and can feed a crowd, well, you’ve come to the right place!

What is Barbacoa Chicken?

At its simplest, barbacoa chicken is Mexican shredded chicken that’s been slow cooked. But let’s back up a bit. Traditional barbacoa is a Mexican barbeque technique which includes wrapping pig, goat, lamb or cow head in fragrant banana or avocado leaves and cooking over hot coals in a covered pit. Together, the leaves and smoky coals impart tons of flavor while also creating a cooking technique that both steams and roasts the meat. 

As a city dweller, it’s impossible to cook meat this way, which is why I opted for the next best thing—roasting in a Dutch oven in the oven. This combination achieves both steaming and roasting.

So what is barbacoa chicken? It’s a lighter take on the classic dish made by steam-roasting a whole chicken in a smoky homemade adobo sauce with onions and a handful of dried bay leaves.

shredded chicken in a black bowl

How to Make Barbacoa Chicken

This Mexican shredded chicken is easy, mostly hands-off and can feed a crowd. Here’s how simple it is:

  1. Make the homemade adobo sauce (the sauce that chipotles peppers are canned in—but don’t use the canned stuff!).
  2. Pat the chicken dry and season with kosher salt. 
  3. Brown both sides of the chicken in a Dutch oven with onions and bay leaves. 
  4. Add the adobo sauce and bring sauce to a simmer.
  5. Cover the pot and transfer to the oven; roast the chicken until the meat can easily be pulled from the bone. 
  6. Shred the chicken meat, meanwhile, simmer the sauce until reduced, thickened, and silky.
  7. Toss the chicken with the reduced sauce and serve. 

How to Serve Barbacoa Chicken

This shredded Mexican adobo chicken is smoky, savory and not overly spicy, making it ideal for a variety of dishes. 

Storage Tips

  • Leftovers can be stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 1 week.
  • Reheat leftovers in the microwave on high for 1–2 minutes or on the stove top over medium-low for about 5 minutes. 
shredded chicken tacos in two white bowls with diced avocado, sliced radishes, minced onion and lime wedges set around in bowls

Mexican-Inspired Recipes You Might Also Like…

If you give this Barbacoa Chicken recipe a try, be sure to let me know! Leave a comment with a star rating below. You can also snap a photo & tag @zestfulkitchen on Instagram. I love hearing about and seeing your ZK creations!

Chicken Barbacoa Recipe

5 from 8 votes
Prep Time 10 minutes
Cook Time 2 hours
Total Time 2 hours 10 minutes
Yield 6 cups (serves 6)
Category Main Dish
Cuisine Mexican
Author Lauren Grant


Chicken Barbacoa—a shredded Mexican chicken dish that’s smoky, savory and just slightly sweet. A whole chicken gets slow-cooked in the oven until tender, then the meat is shredded and tossed with a thick reduced adobo sauce.


  • 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 large (4-pound) whole chicken
  • Kosher salt
  • 1 white onion, halved and sliced ¼-inch thick
  • cup + 1 tablespoon Quick Chile Adobo Sauce
  • 4 dried bay leaves
  • 1 ¾ cups water


  • Corn or flour tortillas, warmed or charred
  • Lime wedges
  • Fresh cilantro
  • Minced white onion
  • Sliced radish
  • Diced avocado
  • Salsa verde
  • Sour cream or whole milk Greek yogurt


  • Heat oven to 250ºF (121ºC) with rack set in lowest position. Heat oil in a large (7- or 8-quart) Dutch oven over medium heat. Pat chicken dry then season all over with salt, about 2 teaspoons total, rubbing some directly on breast meat underneath skin.
  • Carefully add chicken, breast side down, to pot with hot oil. Add onions and bay leaves, nestling them around chicken. Cook chicken until breast is deep golden brown, 5–6 minutes. Using tongs, flip chicken breast side up and brown until bottom side is deep golden brown, 5–6 minutes. 
  • Meanwhile, add ⅓ cup adobo sauce to 1 ¾ cups water, stir until combined; pour over chicken. Brush remaining tablespoon adobo sauce over breast and legs of chicken. Bring liquid in pot to a simmer then cover with lid and transfer to oven.
  • Roast chicken until meat can easily be pulled from bone and an instant-read thermometer inserted in the breast register 165ºF (74ºC) and legs register 172ºF (78ºC), 1½–1¾ hours.
  • Using tongs, carefully transfer chicken to a cutting board (it may fall apart—that’s OK). Skim off and discard any grease from surface of broth. Simmer broth over medium-high heat until reduced and thickened, 20 minutes. Season sauce to taste with salt (I start with ½ teaspoon).
  • Meanwhile, remove and discard chicken skin. Remove meat from bones and shred into small pieces; add back to pot with reduced sauce and toss to combine.
    shredded chicken on a white plate
  • Served shredded chicken with lime wedges (a squeeze of fresh lime juice adds a lot here) tortillas and desired toppings.


The size of your chicken will impact the cook time. A 4-pound bird should be ready in about 1½ hours to 1 hour and 40 minutes. A 4 ½-pound bird will be ready in about  1¾ hours and a 5-pound bird will take about 2 hours. 
For the best flavor, shred the chicken fairly finely. The smaller the pieces, the more sauce they end up holding on to. 
If you don’t have a Dutch oven, you can also use any heavy-bottomed pot. Just make sure the lid and handles are oven-safe.


Serving: 1/2 cup shredded chickenCalories: 122kcalCarbohydrates: 0.5gProtein: 17gFat: 5gSaturated Fat: 1gCholesterol: 45mgSodium: 425mg
Like this? Leave a comment below!I love hearing from you and I want to hear how it went with this recipe! Leave a comment and rating below, then share on social media @zestfulkitchen and #zestfulkitchen!
shredded chicken tacos in a white bowl topped with radish slices, lime wedges, white onion and cilantro.

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About The Author

Lauren Grant is a professional culinary food scientist, food writer, recipe developer, and food photographer. Lauren is a previous magazine editor and test kitchen developer and has had work published in major national publications including Diabetic Living Magazine, Midwest Living Magazine, Cuisine at Home Magazine,,, and more.

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  1. 5 stars
    Made this tonight for Cinco de Mayo. Delicious! Added some pico de gallo to the radish, avocado and cilantro. Everyone loved it!