What Is the Difference Between Barbacoa and Carnitas?

Barbacoa and Carnitas difference

If you’re a foodie and you’re into Mexican food or you want to start getting into it and you’re interested in learning more about it beforehand, we got you covered! Mexican cuisine is not only unique and delicious, but it is also quite diverse as well.

There is no shortage of amazing dishes you can try to get a real taste of Mexico and its tasty cuisine, so choosing the right one to start your journey off may be a bit tricky.

Luckily, with our help, you won’t have to get confused and overwhelmed by hundreds of options online! Today, we provide you with all the info you need about two highly popular Mexican dishes – Barbacoa and Carnitas.

Once you see what these two dishes are, how they are made, and what the key differences between them are, you’ll be ready to embark on your delicious journey in no time! Let’s dive right into it.

What Is Barbacoa?

We’ll begin by explaining what barbacoa is and how it’s made so that you can understand the differences between the two dishes better. And remember, these two dishes may differ a little, but they are both delicious nonetheless!

Barbacoa is a traditional Mexican dish that is usually made with meat you can slow cook. You can choose between any meat that you can slow-cook, such as beef, goat, or lamb.

If you’re someone who’s into barbecue, you’re going to love this dish! After all, barbacoa is a Spanish word for barbecue.

The most interesting thing about this dish is how it is made. Traditionally, you would make barbacoa in a pit that’s dug into the ground and covered with agave leaves.

By slow cooking the meat in this way, you will get perfect delicious pieces that fall apart and melt in your mouth. The pit helps to seal all the moisture and still keeps that smoky meat flavor all BBQ lovers enjoy.

When it comes to seasoning, it’s important to note that seasoning is, in fact, what separates barbacoa from other slow-cooked meats out there. Apart from regular seasoning, including salt, pepper, cumin, and similar, you will also add dried guajillo and ancho chile peppers.

This is what will give your barbacoa that unique and special flavor that makes it what it is. You, of course, don’t have to dig a pit in the ground to prepare this dish. In most modern recipes nowadays, you will find that using a slow cooker is perfectly fine too.

What Is Carnitas?

Now that you know all about Barbacoa, it’s time to explain what carnitas is and how this tasty dish is prepared.

Carnitas is, as you probably already know, also a Mexican dish. The name of this dish literally translates to ‘’little meats’’. It is a dish made of pork, so if you’re more into pork than other meats out there, you’re gonna love it.

The pork is braised or simmered in oil for a while until it is perfectly tender. If you ever heard or know what pulled pork is, and you like the dish, you’re also going to like carnitas. It is basically a Mexican version of pulled pork.

Making carnitas takes approximately three to four hours since the meat has to be cooked until tender. What’s interesting about this dish is that the final step of making it requires you to fry or roast the meat. That gives it a crispy texture that makes this dish so much better and tastier!

If you want to respect Mexican tradition, you should make it in a copper pot. When it comes to plating and serving it, you should add chopped cilantro, diced onion, guacamole, tortillas, salsa, and (refried beans).

Barbacoa Vs. Carnitas – Key Differences

Barbacoa Vs. Carnitas

If you’re still unsure about what the differences between barbacoa and carnitas are, we’re going to provide you with a list of the main ones. Take a look below to find out what they are:

1. Meat

The most notable difference between barbacoa and carnitas is the type of meat used for these dishes. Barbacoa requires you to use goat, beef, or lamb since these meats are best for slow cooking and give this dish the needed tenderness and juiciness.

When it comes to carnitas, you can use either pork or chicken, no other meats. Pork is by far a more popular choice for carnitas, but you can try it with chicken as well—it’s still tasty.

2. Preparation

The next big difference we’re going to talk about is the preparation process. While barbacoa is made (traditionally) in a pit in the ground covered with agave leaves, carnitas is made in a copper pan.

Also, the seasoning and serving of these two are completely different. Although there are certain similarities between these two dishes, such as their look and the fact that they are both slow-cooked, the ultimate results and flavors are entirely different.

3. Flavor

The last difference between barbacoa and carnitas is flavor. Barbacoa has a much stronger and bolder flavor, so if you’re not into that, you should start your Mexican food journey with carnitas, then slowly make your way up to barbacoa.

Another thing to note here is the texture. Barbacoa meat tends to be more tender and juicy than carnitas. That is because it isn’t fried in the end, so it isn’t made to be crispy in the end.


Differentiating between barbacoa and carnitas may seem difficult at first considering that both of these dishes are Mexican and similar in appearance. However, when it comes to preparation, flavor, and texture, these two couldn’t be more different.

The best way to decide which one you’d like better is to, of course, try both of them. We provided you with everything you should know about preparation, so grab your cooking gear and start making these delicious dishes right away! We’re sure you’ll end up loving both of them.