This Is What Chipotle's Barbacoa Is Actually Made Of

From its humble beginnings as a small taqueria in 1993 to the large international fast-casual chain it is today, Chipotle Mexican Grill has gained a wide following from loyal customers across the globe. By now, fans have go-to orders whenever they stop by a Chipotle location. Among the meats you can choose for your burrito bowl or tacos, however, one protein stands out from the rest as a fan-favorite option: Chipotle's barbacoa.

Barbacoa generally refers to any slow-roasted, barbecued meat. But the barbacoa at Chipotle is specifically beef, and it packs flavors that fans rave about. In a review of the fast-casual chain, Thrillist ranked its barbacoa as No. 1 among all of Chipotle's meat options — and even professional chefs love this juicy, seasoned beef. In 2019, chef and blogger Tariq Nasir told Insider that at Chipotle, "the most flavorful meat is the barbacoa, with its garlic and cumin fusion."

What makes Chipotle's barbacoa so special?

Chipotle takes pride in using what the fast-casual chain calls "responsibly raised" beef. The brand's website indicates that its meat suppliers raise animals on pastures with humane animal husbandry and no non-therapeutic antibiotics or added hormones. 

When Chipotle gets beef from a supplier, the cut used for barbacoa "mainly comes from the shoulder, because those cuts have enough fat to keep the meat moist during our long braising method," as seen in the chain's in-depth descriptions of its ingredients. This beef is cooked sous-vide to lock in moisture, marinated overnight in the brand's proprietary spicy chipotle pepper adobo, seasoned with spices including oregano, cloves, and bay leaf (via Chipotle's nutrition calculator), braised slowly at a low temperature until tender, and then shredded by hand.

Want to recreate the taste of that slow-roasted goodness at home? A copycat Chipotle barbacoa recipe is just what you need. Our recipe uses chipotles in adobo, rather than dried chipotle pepper, for a flavorful dish that's not overpoweringly spicy.

Is Chipotle's barbacoa healthy?

An average serving of Chipotle barbacoa contains 170 calories, 7 grams of fat (2.5 of which are saturated fat), 530 milligrams of sodium, 2 grams of carbs, 1 gram of fiber, and 24 grams of protein, via Eat This, Not That!. That's not terrible, but the outlet points out that the barbacoa does have more sodium than the chicken and steak options at Chipotle, as well as less protein than those options. Still, Eat This, Not That! ranks barbacoa as a better-for-you choice than the carnitas and sofritas on Chipotle's menu.

Of course, you're not eating the Chipotle barbacoa by itself, either. If you're looking for a healthy Chipotle order, you may want to steer clear of toppings like cheese and sour cream and load up your bowl with lettuce and veggies instead. Chipotle's brown rice also contains less sodium and more fiber than the chain's white rice, which may be something to keep in mind while building your order.