Old-School Slow Cooker Birria (For Tacos And More) Recipe

Beef birria may be considered traditional by now, but it's a more recent tradition if so since the dish as we know it may only date back to the mid-20th century. In the U.S., however, birria didn't really become trendy until the 2020s, owing its newfound popularity to, yes, you guessed it, social media. (If a tree falls in a forest and no-one tweets about it, does it make a sound?) Even the chicken chain El Pollo Loco jumped on the birria bandwagon in 2022, offering its own birria tacos, burritos, and quesadillas.

You need not go out to a restaurant to experience this popular dish, however. Recipe developer Patterson, who calls birria "one of the most comforting foods on the planet," has come up with a recipe that calls for ingredients that are fairly easy to source, including beef short ribs and dried guajillo chiles (look for these with the dried spices and/or in the Latin American foods aisle at the grocery store). To make things even easier, this stew simmers for half a day in the slow cooker, allowing you to get on with household chores as your meal cooks. The result, as per Patterson, is "fork-tender hunks of meaty goodness," and ones that are "thoroughly infused with garlic, onion, herbs, spices, and smoky chili peppers all harmoniously combined in a glossy broth." Add some tortillas or maybe a bowl of rice and you'll be all set for a delicious dinner.

Assemble the ingredients for slow-cooker birria

The base of this birria is beef short ribs. Patterson insists that the ribs be bone-in rather than boneless, explaining, "The bones enhance the flavor of [the] broth/consommé [and] help maintain moisture in the meat." She also says that the bone marrow helps to thicken the broth.

Additional ingredients you'll need for this recipe include olive oil and beef broth for cooking as well as salt, pepper, garlic, oregano, cumin, dried guajillo chiles, and canned chipotles (the kind packed in adobo) for seasoning. You will also bulk up the stew with some chopped onion and carrot.

Sear the short ribs

As short ribs tend to come out of the package somewhat damp, pat them dry with a paper towel. Sprinkle them with salt and pepper, then heat a pan on a stove burner set to medium high (or use the slow cooker's sauté setting, if it has one). Once the pan is warm, heat the oil, swirling it so it covers the bottom. Sear the ribs in the oil, flipping them until they've cooked for 2 minutes on each side. Take the ribs out of the pan.

Sauté the vegetables

Put the onions, garlic, and carrots into the pan, then stir them around a bit so they're all mixed up. Cook them for about 2 minutes, then stir in the oregano and cumin.

If you've been cooking on the stove top, scrape the vegetables into the slow cooker and add the ribs. If you have a fancy crock pot that sautés, the vegetables should be all set to go, so just add the ribs to the pot.

Let the crockpot take over the cooking for a few hours

Pour the broth into the slow cooker along with both types of chiles. Check to make sure that the ribs are mostly underwater (or under broth, as it were). If not, add water as necessary. Close the lid and set the slow cooker to cook for 4 hours -– this will generally be the "high" setting as the "low" setting tends to be for dishes that take 8 hours.

Shred the meat and puree the peppers

Put the peppers into a food processor (a blender could also work here) with some of the broth that you removed from the slow cooker. Puree them until they resemble a smooth paste, pouring in a little more broth if necessary.

Take a couple of forks and use these to shred the rib meat and pull it off the bones. (You can also use your hands to help, as long as you wash them first.) Stir the shredded meat back into the slow cooker along with the chile puree. Check the temperature of the birria and cook it for a few more minutes if you think it's too cold.

Serve the birria

To eat the birria, just scoop some out into a bowl, making sure to get both broth and meat. If you want to wrap it or dip it, warm corn tortillas are traditional, but the tortilla police aren't going to show up at your door if you prefer flour ones, instead. You could even eat your birria atop rice or mashed potatoes or just straight from the bowl with no carby intervention. As for toppings, Patterson suggests using chopped onions, cilantro, and/or a squeeze of lime juice. You can also add some hot sauce if you want more spice.

Patterson tells us that with birria, "leftovers are the best part," suggesting these be used to make pan-fried tacos, quesadillas, French dip sandwiches, or breakfast tacos. If you'd like a little break from birria, though, you can also freeze the leftovers until you want to eat it again.

Old-School Slow Cooker Birria (For Tacos And More) Recipe
5 from 53 ratings
You can make old school birria tacos right in your own home — the slow cooker will do all of the work!
Prep Time
Cook Time
birria with cilantro and onions
Total time: 4 hours, 30 minutes
  • 4 pounds bone-in beef short ribs
  • kosher salt, to taste
  • cracked black pepper, to taste
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • ½ cup diced yellow onion
  • 4 garlic cloves, peeled and minced
  • ½ cup diced carrot (from 1 medium or ½ large carrot)
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 6 dried guajillo chiles
  • 1 tablespoon canned chipotle chiles in adobo
  • 4 cups beef broth
Optional Ingredients
  • corn tortillas, warmed
  • minced yellow onion
  • chopped fresh cilantro
  • lime wedges
  1. Pat the short ribs dry with paper towels and thoroughly season them with salt and pepper.
  2. Heat a pan over medium-high (or, if your model allows, set the slow cooker to its sauté setting).
  3. Once the pan is hot, add oil and swirl it to coat the bottom. Add the seasoned short ribs and sear on all sides, about 2 minutes per side.
  4. Once the ribs are seared, remove them from the pot and set them aside on a large plate.
  5. Add the onions, garlic, and carrots to the pot, stirring to combine. Sauté until fragrant, about 2 minutes.
  6. Add the dried oregano and cumin to the pot and stir to coat the vegetables.
  7. If cooking on the stove, transfer the aromatics to the slow cooker and add the seared short ribs. If sautéing in the slow cooker, add the short ribs back to the pot.
  8. Put the dried guajillo chiles, chipotle chiles, and broth in the slow cooker, adding water if necessary to ensure that the ribs are mostly submerged.
  9. Cover and program the slow cooker to "slow cook" under normal heat for 4 hours.
  10. At the 4-hour mark, check the doneness of your short ribs; they should be fork-tender and almost falling off the bone. If not, slow-cook the birria for an additional hour or two.
  11. Once the ribs are tender, remove them from the pot along with the chiles and ½ cup broth.
  12. Puree the chiles in a food processor along with some of the reserved broth Add more broth if necessary to make a smooth paste.
  13. Using a couple of forks, remove the meat from the bones and shred it into bite-sized chunks.
  14. Return the chili purée and shredded meat to the pot and stir to combine them with the broth.
  15. Reheat the birria, if necessary.
  16. To serve, portion the birria between bowls, making sure to get a good balance of meat and broth.
  17. Accompany the birria with corn tortillas for dipping, sopping, or tacos, if desired, along with other optional toppings such as onion, cilantro, and lime wedges.
Calories per Serving 1,881
Total Fat 171.6 g
Saturated Fat 72.6 g
Trans Fat 0.0 g
Cholesterol 344.7 mg
Total Carbohydrates 9.7 g
Dietary Fiber 1.8 g
Total Sugars 3.3 g
Sodium 1,731.2 mg
Protein 71.0 g
The information shown is Edamam’s estimate based on available ingredients and preparation. It should not be considered a substitute for a professional nutritionist’s advice.
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