Slow Cooker Birria Recipe

If you've been around any Mexican restaurants in the past few years, you've probably noticed the rising popularity of quesabirria tacos. Juicy, soft, beef-filled tortillas with the telltale cup of broth served alongside held a tight grip on the taco world for years — and they still do. These tacos didn't just come out of nowhere; birria has been around for centuries in Mexico, largely eaten as a stew for breakfast or lunch. In fact, birria was created as a means to use the goat that had overpopulated and devastated Jalisco. Tough and gamey, the meat required generous spices and long cooking times to taste good. The taco version originated a little later in Tijuana, utilizing the stew in a unique way that incorporated the skimmed fats, tender meat, and broth. Thanks to immigration and social media, birria eventually became popular in the United States, too.

The typical preparation for birria involves a long simmering time on the stove or in the oven. And with this recipe by Michelle McGlinn, a flavorful birria is also a simple and straightforward process in the slow cooker. The meat breaks down slowly, becoming tender in the spicy broth. It's just as juicy, melt-in-your-mouth, and flavorful as a stovetop birria, but with fewer steps and less heat in the kitchen. And the best part? It yields an all-you-can-eat array of those delicious tacos.

Everything you need to make slow cooker birria

Nowadays, birria is likely to be made with inexpensive meats like pork, veal, and beef. In this recipe, we're using beef chuck roast and short rib, two tender cuts with bones that work to thicken the broth slowly. You'll need salt and pepper to season the meat and a neutral oil to sear it. To build the broth, you'll need onions, tomato, garlic, cinnamon, bay leaves, beef stock, and dried chiles. The most important chile to include is guajillo, while ancho chile and chile de árbol will add smokiness and heat. You'll also need Mexicano oregano, chili powder, and cumin to season the broth. If you plan on making the birria into tacos, grab some flour tortillas (these hold the broth better than corn), white onion, and cilantro.

Sear the meat

This step is technically optional, so if you are low on prep time, feel free to skip it. However, searing the meat will add a lot of flavor and texture to the beef as it stews. It's also quick, taking less than 10 minutes, so we highly recommend working it into your birria process.

To sear the meats, place an oiled cast iron skillet over medium high heat. You don't need a deep pot for this, since the meat will be transferred to the slow cooker afterwards. Once the skillet is hot, add the salted and peppered meat, working in batches as needed. Sear for a couple of minutes per side, just long enough to form a dark brown crust on the outside of the meat. The meat will not be cooked through, so you're only worrying about the outer layer here.

Add everything to the slow cooker to stew

Transfer the seared beef directly to your slow cooker and cover with all the chopped vegetables, seasonings, de-seeded and de-stemmed chiles, and broth. The broth won't quite submerge the meat, but it should come up about halfway and submerge the dried chiles. Through this method, the chiles are rehydrated in the broth, then blended and combined later on. This saves a few steps in prep and results in the same great flavor. Stew the meat until fork-tender; about 6-8 hours on high or 8-10 hours on low, meaning you can definitely prep this before work in the morning.

Shred the beef

In some preparations, the beef is left as large chunks or kept entirely whole, like braised short ribs often are. In this case, you can keep the beef whole, slice it into stew meat, or shred it, which is ideal for tacos. To shred the beef, remove the meat from the pot (the short ribs will likely fall off the bone) and pull it apart using two forks. The meat will pull away easily with little resistance; if it is tough and dry, it hasn't been cooked long enough.

Blend the chile sauce

To get the most flavor out of those rehydrated chiles, blend them with the onions, garlic, and tomatoes in a blender and return them to the broth. Don't worry about scooping every piece of tomato out of the broth — the important part is the peppers, which should be easy to find in the few cups of broth.

Once blended, you'll have a deeply flavorful red sauce to serve with the beef. Season it to taste with salt. From here, you can serve the dish a multitude of ways. For a traditional brothy birria, add the sauce back to the slow cooker with all of the broth, along with the meat. This consomé will be soup-like in consistency, a common way to serve the dish. For a more stew-like consistency, blend 1-2 cups of broth with the chile sauce until slightly thinned, then add the shredded beef to the sauce to serve. For tacos, use the remaining broth to dip the tortillas before you fry them, then serve the tacos with a cup of broth with a bit of chile sauce stirred in.

Make and serve birria tacos

Birria tacos have a specific preparation that makes them unique in the taco world. Because they are prepared with birria stew meat, they are cooked in the fat from the top of the broth, which softens the tortilla and dyes it a bright orange hue. Dip the tortilla into the broth gently, then lay it flat on a griddle or skillet. Add some of the shredded beef, cilantro, and onion (and Oaxacan cheese for quesabirria) on one side of the taco, then wait for the shell to bubble. Once you see bubbles form, fold the taco over and brush with more of the broth. Remove from the skillet and serve with a cup of the blended pepper and beef broth mixture, also called consomé.

Serve the tacos or birria stew alongside a fresh margarita, Mexican rice, and homemade yuca fries. Leftovers are easy to store and keep in airtight containers in the refrigerator for up to a week, so birria can also be a great meal prep option for an especially fancy week.

Slow Cooker Birria Recipe
5 from 50 ratings
When made in the slow cooker, Mexican beef birria is a set-it-and-forget-it dish to prep in the morning and enjoy for an unforgettable dinner.
Prep Time
Cook Time
birria stew in a bowl
Total time: 8 hours, 5 minutes
  • Salt and pepper, to taste
  • 3-5 pounds beef chuck roast
  • 3-4 pounds beef short ribs
  • 2 tablespoons canola oil
  • 2 yellow onions, quartered
  • 1 large tomato, chopped
  • 4 garlic cloves, peeled and smashed
  • 5 dried guajillo peppers, stemmed and deseeded
  • 4 dried chiles de árbol, stemmed and deseeded
  • 3 dried ancho chile peppers, stemmed and deseeded
  • 2 cinnamon sticks
  • 3 bay leaves
  • 2 cups beef stock
  • 1 tablespoon whole cumin seeds
  • 1 tablespoon Mexican oregano
  • ½ tablespoon chili powder
Optional Ingredients
  • Flour tortillas
  • White onion
  • Cilantro
  1. Season the beef with salt and pepper on all sides.
  2. Heat oil in a cast iron skillet or dutch oven over medium high heat until almost smoking. When very hot, add the chuck roast and sear until deeply golden brown, about 2-3 minutes per side. Remove the chuck roast and repeat the searing process with the short ribs, searing each side until deeply golden brown. The meat will not be cooked through at this stage.
  3. Add the chuck roast and short ribs to a slow cooker along with the onions, tomato, garlic, chiles, cinnamon, bay leaves, beef stock, cumin, oregano, and chili powder. Cover and cook on low for 8-10 hours, or on high for 6-7 hours. Stir occasionally, ensuring that the meat is covered in liquid and the chiles are submerged.
  4. Once beef is fork-tender, remove from the slow cooker and shred using two forks. Discard any bones.
  5. Add the chiles, tomato, onion, and garlic to a blender and blend until very smooth. Combine with 1 cup broth from the slow cooker, or more for the desired consistency (for tacos, use 2 cups). Discard any remaining broth and solids. Season consomé with salt to taste.
  6. To serve as a stew, add the shredded beef to the consomé. Serve with rice. To serve as tacos, heat an oiled skillet over medium low heat. Dip a tortilla into the consomé to coat. Place it in the skillet and add ¼ cup shredded beef, white onion, and cilantro. Heat until tortilla is bubbling, then fold into a taco. Brush each side with consomé, then remove from the skillet. Serve tacos with extra consomé for dipping.
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