Difference between Barbacoa and Carnitas Chipotle

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Mexican food is loved by almost everyone. Most people indeed think of tacos when you mention Mexican cuisine, but there is more than that. Meat, for instance, is a delicacy we love and appreciate.

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Have you tried carnitas or barbacoa? Do you know the difference between these two?

One of the major barbacoa vs. carnitas differences is the meat used in the recipe and how they are finished. But that is only a bit of it. There are more differences you should know about.

We have gone done some research to find out other main differences between these two and have listed and explained them in detail in this article.

We will look at how these two amazing dishes differ but first, let’s look at them individually.

Carne Barbacoa

To be honest, barbacoa is a reference to the way the meat is prepared and not the type of meat in the recipe.

As you can tell, the word barbacoa loosely translates to the word barbecue.

A while ago, cooking this meat involved putting it inside an oven underground. That is not a joke. A goat, lamb, or beef would be placed in a pit dug in the ground, where it would be cooked. After that process, this meat would be steamed so that it became tender. It would have a shredded appearance and would fall apart with ease after this entire process.

Today, this meat is cooked using a slow cooker or a stovetop in modern kitchens. But that is not a limitation. You can cook in on a grill or a roasting pan if you want. You simply need to avoid placing the pan on the flames. The heat should be indirect for the best results.


When you see carnitas and barbacoa for the first time, you can easily confuse the two for each other. Nevertheless, you need to know that carnitas is only made from pork and not any other meat. The preparation is also slightly different. The best part of this recipe is the pork shoulder.

The pork cut is either simmered or braised for around 3 hours. A crock-pot works best in this process. Lard and seasoning are also included in the mix. The meat is cooked until it becomes tender so that it can be shred easily into larger chunks.


After the meat is nice and ready, it is browned using a cast-iron skillet until crisp forms.

Which is better?

You might be looking at this carnitas vs. barbacoa comparison to tell which one is better than the other. However, it is not that easy to pick one.

They are both great in their specific ways and you can only make a choice based on your diet and flavor preferences. The dishes you are pairing with also have a certain role.

In regards to texture and flavor, barbacoa tends to stand out more than carnitas does, especially if you are comparing it with beef barbacoa. Beef barbacoa tends to have a bold flavor.

Carnitas, on the other hand, has a light flavor. However, it features a crisp that is formed during the browning on a skillet.

Some recipes involve simmering the pork with some bay leaves or berries so that it has a fruity flavor. However, what we prefer most is allowing the pork to be the main part of the meal without adjusting its natural flavor.

If you have carb restrictions, you might be wondering which meat would be better. Both barbacoa and carnitas are great for a keto diet but carnitas would be better. Carnitas features 0 grams of carbs and the beef barbacoa has 2.

But the main thing you should be considering when you are watching a keto diet is the side dishes you will include.

Which Cut of Pork is used in Carnitas?

If you want to make carnitas at home, you will need to use the right piece of pork. The best cut should be marbled heavily. That allows the collagen and fats to break down, making the pork tender and nice. So, which cut is best? Well, the butt, shoulder, or picnic ham cuts would work best.

We recommend boneless pork shoulder more for your carnitas recipe. But that does not mean that bone-in will not work. Since you are slow cooking the pork, it will become tender and you will have an easy time pulling off the bone.

Some people prefer to use pork tenderloin since it is leaner.

Are Barbacoa and Steak the Same?

As noted earlier, barbacoa is mainly about how you cook your meat and not mainly the type of meat you are cooking. You can prepare barbacoa with other types of meat such as goat and lamb and have amazing results as well.

Barbecue is cooking food on a grill, mainly a burger or steak. Barbacoa, on the other hand, refers to the baking and steaming cooking process that will make the meat tender enough to fall apart on its own.

In regards to the type of meat used, steak and barbacoa are quite different.

Beef used to make barbacoa is usually from cattle heads, for instance, the cheeks. They are usually tougher than the cuts used in steak.

Are Carnitas and Pulled Pork the Same?

Both these dishes indeed start being prepared by low and slow cooking. Additionally, marbled pork cuts are used and are cooked until they are completely tender.

Nevertheless, carnitas will need one more step to make it perfect. You have to brown the meat in a skillet after slow cooking for three hours.

You should also know that there is a difference in the mixes and seasoning methods used in these two.


We have checked out the carnitas vs. barbacoa difference and you can see that these two are very different from each other. You should know that even though they are different in certain ways, they are incredibly tasty and are highly recommended Mexican cuisines. Before you decide to make a choice, try out these two and find out which one you like better.

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Feel free to share your observations with me in the comments section!

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