What Is the Difference Between Barbacoa and Carnitas?

If you’re a fan of Mexican food, you’ve probably had your fair share of barbacoa and carnitas. But what exactly is the difference between these two delicious dishes? Keep reading to find out!

What is barbacoa?

Barbacoa is a type of Mexican food that traditionally consists of slow-cooked, shredded beef. It is often cooked in a pit over an open fire, which imparts a smoky flavor to the meat. It can be served on its own or used as an ingredient in other dishes, such as tacos or burritos.

There are many regional variations of barbacoa, and the dish has also been adapted to fit modern cooking methods. For instance, it is now common to see recipes that call for beef to be cooked in a slow cooker or oven. The addition of spices and other ingredients, such as chiles, onions, and garlic, is also common.

What is carnitas?

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Carnitas is a type of Mexican cuisine that typically features slow-cooked pork. The meat is usually shredded or pulled, and then it is served with tortillas, salsa, and other accompaniments.

Barbacoa has a smoky flavor, while Carnitas has a slightly different taste because the pork doesn’t absorb the flavors of the lard as much as the lamb or beef does.

The difference between barbacoa and carnitas

When it comes to Mexican food, there are a lot of different dishes that can be quite confusing to those who are not familiar with them. Two such dishes are barbacoa and carnitas, which are often mistaken for one another. So, what is the difference between these two popular Mexican dishes?

Barbacoa is a dish that originated in the state of Veracruz in Mexico. It is typically made with beef, although other meats such as lamb or goat can also be used. The meat is slow-cooked over an open fire or in a pit, which gives it its signature smoky flavor. Barbacoa is usually served with tortillas and salsa.

Carnitas, on the other hand, originated in the state of Michoacán. It is made with pork that has been slow-cooked in its own fat until it is incredibly tender. It is often served with tortillas, salsa, and lime juice.

So the main difference between them is the type of meat that is used and of course, the taste!

Are Barbacoa and Carnitas Keto-friendly

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If you’re following a ketogenic diet, you may be wondering if barbacoa and carnitas are keto-friendly, considering that Mexican food can be pretty carb-heavy, thanks to all the tortillas, rice, and beans.

However, both of these dishes are typically made with fatty cuts of meat, which makes them a good option for those on a low-carb diet. They can also be high in calories, so it’s important to keep portion sizes in mind.

One thing to note is that many restaurants will add sugar to their dishes, so it’s always best to ask about this before ordering.

Here are the carb counts for 1/2 cup (120 ml) of carnitas and barbacoa:

  • Carnitas: 5 grams of carbs
  • Barbacoa: 4 grams of carbs

How to make barbacoa

There are many ways to make barbacoa, but the most common method is to slow-cook the meat over an open fire. This gives the meat a smoky flavor and allows it to retain its moisture. The result is a tender, juicy, and flavorful dish that is perfect for any occasion.

To make barbacoa at home, you will need:

1 lb. of beef (chuck or brisket)

1 onion

1 head of garlic

2 Chipotle peppers in adobo sauce

1 cup of beef broth

1 tablespoon of cumin

1 tablespoon of oregano

Salt and pepper to taste


  1. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit.
  2. In a large pot or Dutch oven, brown the beef on all sides. Add the onion and garlic and sauté until softened.
  3. Add the chipotle peppers, beef broth, cumin, oregano, salt, and pepper to the pot and stir well. Bring the mixture to a simmer.
  4. Cover the pot with a lid or foil and place in the oven. Cook for 3-4 hours, or until the beef is fork-tender.

How to make carnitas

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If you want to learn how to make carnitas, you’ve come to the right place! This delicious Mexican dish is made with pork that is slowly cooked until it is tender and juicy. The pork is then shredded and typically served with tortillas, salsa, and lime but it can be even severed with diced onions, salsa, and even guacamole.

Carnitas are a great option for a weeknight meal or for entertaining guests. They’re also relatively easy to make, so even if you’re not a master chef, you can still impress your friends and family with this dish.

Here’s what you’ll need to make carnitas:

-Pork shoulder or butt (about 2-3 pounds)

-Chili powder





-Garlic powder

-Onion powder

-Bay leaves

-Orange juice

-Chicken broth or water


To start, trim any excess fat off of the pork. Cut the pork into large chunks, about 2-3 inches in size. Then, combine all of the spices in a small bowl and rub them onto the pork. Place the pork in a slow cooker and add the orange juice and chicken broth (or water). Add enough liquid so that the pork is just barely covered.

Place the lid on the slow cooker and cook on low for 8 hours, or until the pork is very tender. Remove the lid and shred the pork with a fork or chop it into small pieces.

Serve the carnitas on soft tortillas with salsa, lime, and your favorite toppings. Enjoy!


So, what’s the difference between barbacoa and carnitas? Both are slow-cooked Mexican meats, but carnitas is typically made with pork while barbacoa is usually made with beef. Carnitas is also generally fried after they’re cooked, while barbacoa is not. While both can be used in tacos, burritos, or other Mexican dishes, they each have their own unique flavor that sets them apart. So next time you’re in the mood for some Mexican food, be sure to give them a try!