Pastured Beef (or wild game or lamb) Barbacoa
Make your own big pot of Mexican-style shredded beef to use for tacos, Mexican salad, burritos, enchiladas or nachos.
Batch cooking a main dish such as this is a big time and money saver – not to mention assuring healthy food choices for those last minute meals for busy families and people who work long hours during the week.
Once a month I make a big batch of homemade barbacoa. This is a traditional Mexican-style meat that has become a favorite of many Americans and my family. Barbacoa can be made from a variety of cuts of meat but is traditionally made from beef cheeks and brisket or lamb. I use a roast from a grass fed and finished cow when I make this recipe.
Why I choose grass-fed and finished beef even though it may cost more than conventional alternatives:
Pictured on left: Cows raised on pasture by the Bauman Family near Garnett, KS
Pictured on right: Cows started on grass, but finished on grain/soy at a feedlot
1. I believe in supporting local food, small family farmers and the economy. The average miles our food travels to reach our dinner plates is about 1,500 miles1. When we eat local we conserve fuel, keep our food dollars local and can have a personal connection to the farmer and how our food is raised. I subscribe to the mantra, know your farmer, know your food.
Know your farmer, know your food
2. Cows are biologically meant to eat grass and pasture, not grains like corn or legumes like soy. When you feed an animal the food that it is biologically set up for it will be healthier. Cows are four-legged ungulates best adapted to graze on forage. The digestive system of cows, the four stomachs they have that we learned about in basic biology, are meant to ferment forage. Grains like corn and legumes like soy are used as high energy-dense food alternative for cows to put weight on them quickly for faster processing. This diet that is not congruent with the cow’s biology does work to speed up the process from start to finish, but can actually compromise the animal’s health. A review article by Calloway et al2 found that cows fed a diet high in grain had higher levels of the food-borne pathogen E. coli. When the diet was changed back to forage the E. coli levels were lowered within five days. A research study by Khafipour et al3 found that cows fed a diet based on grain became acidotic, and had high levels of lipopolysaccharides (LPS) that triggered inflammation and health problems in the cattle such as liver disease. These are two scientific examples of how grain can be unhealthy for cows.
3. Grazing cattle from start to finish is better for the environment and planet. You may be interested in reading the book by Judith Schwartz, “Cows Save the Planet.”4 Judith discusses how raising cows on pasture returns moisture and nutrients to the soil and, therefore; our food. Cattle feedlots are also a significant source of environmental pollutants such as antibiotics that affect downstream aquatic life and hormones that end up in the drinking water supply as additional examples.5,6 Feedlots use antibiotics and hormones to encourage rapid and increased growth and require antibiotics to suppress illness due to the confined living space and large buildup of fecal matter. Pastured cows arguably have less negative impact and even reported positive impacts on the environment.
4. I believe in respecting and honoring the animals I eat. As humans we have the capacity to treat animals poorly for our benefit (food) or treat them in a thankful manner for the nourishment they provide us. Joel Salatin, a well-known sustainable farmer in Swope, Virginia, said in a magazine interview,
“Our first responsibility is to try to figure out what kind of a habitat allows them (cows) to fully express their physiological distinctiveness. The cow doesn’t eat corn; she doesn’t eat dead cows; she doesn’t eat cow manure, which is what is currently being fed to cows in the industrial food system. We feed cows grass, and that honors and respects the cow-ness of the cow.7” Joel Salatin
5. Pasture raised and finished beef has a healthier fatty acid profile than conventional beef. The standard American diet is high in omega 6 fatty acids relative to omega 3 fatty acids. The problem is that omega 6 fatty acids, when out of balance with omega 3’s are highly inflammatory to the human body. Inflammation is now known to be the root of many chronic diseases. The good news is that the fatty acid composition of grass fed and finished beef is higher in the beneficial and anti-inflammatory omega 3 fatty acids than grain-fed beef. A study by MacAfee et al found that people who ate grass-fed meat had higher levels of the anti-inflammatory omega 3’s when their blood was tested for this healthy fat.8
Meet Dave and his son Reeves, of David’s Pasture farm, from Concordia, MO.
I am grateful for the opportunity to purchase quality meat, pork, poultry and eggs from a farming family like Dave’s. Dave’s cattle are raised on pasture and get to express their, “cow-ness,” as Joel Salatin would say. Dave shared with me that he even feeds his cattle organic apple cider vinegar to improve their gut health and does not use hormones or antibiotics. His cattle fertilize the land they forage on and he rotates their grazing to promote healthy soil. Yes, I pay more for the products I buy from Dave than I would pay at the local grocery store, but for the reasons I listed above I know the price is worth it!
NOTE: If you need an alternative you can use a leaner cut of conventional meat instead such as a round roast or rump roast, carefully trimming off any visible fat. Fat is a storage depot in cows for toxins such as hormones or antibiotics so you can minimize your exposure using leaner conventional meat cuts.
To make the Barbacoa recipe I used a fantastic chuck roast from David’s Pasture Pure Foods. Here is how you can make your own batch:
1. Use this recipe HERE.
2. Use an Instant Pot pressure cooker like the one pictured below to save time, or use the slow cooker option. When I cook a 4-5 pound roast for 120 minutes in the pressure cooker it is fork tender and easy to shred.
3. Let the roast rest for 20 minutes before shredding.
4. Choose how to serve the shredded meat. Here are two examples from my kitchen:
Nachos made with organic corn chips.
Colorful salad with guacamole.
You can contact Dave to learn how to buy his Pastured foods at
I would really like to know if you try this recipe and what you think of it. Please comment below. Please also share your thoughts on grass-fed beef and your recommendations for where to buy pastured products from good farmers. Wishing you best health ~Tracey.
For a list of references used in this article please click HERE.