Birria is a popular Mexican stew traditionally made with goat meat or mutton. In this birria recipe, chunks of juicy lamb and tender beef are braised in a broth of dried chilis, toasted spices, onion, and tomatoes, then shredded and garnished with diced onion, cilantro, and fresh limes.
What is Birria?
Birria (pronounced “beer-ya” with long rolling rrrr) is a delicious Mexican dish originating in the state of Jalisco, Mexico. Traditionally made with goat meat or mutton, it is not uncommon for birria to be made with beef (birria de res), lamb, chicken, or pork. Often served around holidays or special events, birria is also used to sweat out a cruda, or hangover.
To make birria, the meat is slowly cooked in a chili pepper and tomato broth until it is fork-tender and falling apart and is often served in the braising liquid (con consommé) with chopped onion, cilantro, lime wedges, and warm corn tortillas.
For the full list and amounts of ingredients, scroll down to the recipe card at the bottom of the page.
- Meat: I will sometimes make birria with just beef and other time with a combination of beef and lamb. I like to combine a couple of the following: lamb shoulder, lamb shank, bone-in beef short rib, beef oxtail, beef cheek, brisket, or chuck roast.
- Dried chile peppers: You can’t have authentic birria without dried chile peppers. This recipe calls for dried ancho chile peppers, guajillo chile peppers, and arbol chile peppers. Both ancho and guajillo chiles are mild. However, chiles de árbol are spicy. If you are sensitive to spicy foods, reduce the number of arbol chiles and remove the seeds.
- Onion, Tomatoes, Garlic
- Herbs and spices: Fortunately, you may already have a handful of these in your pantry. You’ll need cumin seeds (not cumin powder), whole black peppercorns, cloves, cinnamon sticks, ground ginger, dried thyme, oregano, marjoram, and bay leaves.
- Orange juice: I know it sounds weird, but it works. Or you can use beef broth or beef stock.
- Apple cider vinegar: Vinegar helps tenderize the meat. It also adds a nice flavor.
Some birria recipes may also include dried chipotle peppers or chipotle peppers in adobo sauce. Though I really do love chipotle peppers, I did not add them here.
How to Make Birria
1. Prepare the dried peppers: Cut each chili open to remove the seeds. If you can’t remove all of the seeds, that’s ok.
2. Toast the chiles in a large skillet set over medium heat until fragrant. Be careful not to toast the chiles for too long, as dried chilies will quickly turn bitter.
3. Rehydrate the dried chiles by transferring them to a large pot filled with boiling water (15-30 minutes). Push the chiles down with a wooden spoon so that they are fully submerged.
4. Sauté the onions and garlic: Add one tablespoon of olive oil to a large skillet set over medium-high heat. Cook the onions until they start to soften and turn golden about 3-4 minutes. Then add the smashed garlic cloves and continue to cook until the garlic is fragrant.
5. Brown the tomatoes: Remove the garlic and onions to a clean plate, then add the whole tomatoes to the same pan set over medium-high heat. Cook each side for 1-2 minutes, then remove the tomatoes to the same plate as the onions.
6. Toast the whole spices: Add a tablespoon of oil to the skillet set over medium heat (you may also do this step in a dry skillet). Add the cumin seeds, black peppercorns, whole cloves, and cinnamon stick. Mixing continuously, toast the spices for 1-2 minutes or until fragrant. Reduce the heat if necessary to prevent the cumin seeds from burning.
7. Add the dried herbs: Combine the onions, smashed garlic cloves, and tomatoes with the toasted spices, then stir in the ground ginger, thyme, oregano, and marjoram. Remove from heat and set aside.
8. Transfer everything to a blender: Transfer the onion, tomato, and spice mixture to a large, high-speed blender. Note: I have a Vitamix, so even the cinnamon stick went in there. If you’re concerned about hurting your blender, substitute the cinnamon stick for half a teaspoon of ground cinnamon. Transfer the rehydrated chilies plus 1-2 cups of the soaking liquid to the blender.
9. Blend until smooth. Start on low and increase speed until the mixture is smooth and pureed. Optional – pour the mixture through a fine mesh strainer.
10. Marinate the beef (optional) – Now is the time to marinate your meat. It’s optional and not necessary, but it makes for a great place to press pause, marinate overnight, and cook the next day. Simply mix your meat chunks in your sauce, cover, and transfer to the refrigerator until ready to cook.
11. Cook: Transfer the prepared sauce to a large Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add the bay leaves and stir in the orange juice and apple cider vinegar. Add the beef and lamb and bring to a simmer. Cover, reduce heat to medium-low, and cook for at least 3-4 hours. Remove the meat and shred, saving the leftover birria broth (aka consommé).
12. Serve: Transfer the desired amount of meat to a large bowl and ladle birria broth over the top. Garnish with chopped white onion, cilantro, and a squeeze of fresh lime juice.
Can Beef Birria be Made in the Slow Cooker or Instant Pot
Slow Cooker (Crockpot): Prepare and blend the sauce as instructed. Transfer the meat to a large slow cooker and cover it with the blended chili sauce, orange juice, apple cider vinegar, and bay leaves. Cook on low for 6-8 hours or high for 5-6 hours.
Instant Pot (Pressure Cooker): Prepare and blend the sauce as instructed. Then place the blended chili sauce, orange juice, apple cider vinegar, meat, and bay leaves in a large Instant Pot. Cook on manual, high pressure for 50 minutes with natural pressure release. Please note, given the amounts listed in this recipe and for safety reasons, I would pressure cook your meat in two separate batches.
Storage and Freezing
- To make ahead: The birria recipe can be made a few days in advance. I love making a big batch and using the leftovers to make quesabirria tacos and birria ramen. Keep the leftover meat and birria broth stored separately in sealed containers in the refrigerator for up to 5 days.
- Freezing: Transfer leftover birria to an airtight container. Freeze for up to 3 months. Thaw in the refrigerator overnight before reheating.
Difference Between Birria and Barbacoa
The most noticeable differences between the two are that,
- Birria is spicy (or potentially spicy). Of course, the heat levels will vary from one dish to another. Barbacoa, on the other hand, is typically always mild.
- Birria is typically served as a stew thanks to the flavorful and delicious chili sauce. Some people may add more liquid to make more broth, while others may pick the meat from the stew and enjoy it wrapped in warm tortillas.
How to Serve Birria
Serve birria with a warm tortilla and garnished with diced onion, fresh cilantro, and lime juice. Or, “con consomé,” aka floating in the broth (like a soup or stew). The most popular way to enjoy birria – at least these days – is in crispy, cheesy tacos or ramen.
More Amazing Mexican Food,
- Caldo de Pollo Recipe (Mexican Chicken Soup)
- Albondigas Soup Recipe (Mexican Meatball Soup)
- Refried Beans (How to Make Refried Black Beans)
- Homemade Taco Seasoning Recipe
- 20-Minute Ground Beef Tacos Recipe
- Carne Asada
- Carnitas Recipe (Mexican Slow Cooker Pulled Pork)
If you try making this Birria Recipe, please leave me a comment and let me know! I always love to hear your thoughts.
- 6 pounds meat - see notes
- 5 dried ancho chiles
- 5 dried guajillo chiles
- 6 dried chilies de arbol - see notes
- Olive oil - divided
- 1 large onion - roughly chopped
- 5 tomatoes - (I used Roma tomatoes)
- 10 cloves garlic - peeled and smashed
- 1.5 teaspoon cumin seeds
- ½ teaspoon black peppercorns
- 2 whole cloves
- 1 whole cinnamon stick
- ½ teaspoon ginger
- 1 teaspoon dried thyme
- 1 teaspoon dried oregano
- 1 teaspoon dried marjoram
- 2 bay leaves
- 2-3 cups chili liquid - (see notes)
- 1 cup orange juice
- ½ cup apple cider vinegar
- 1 teaspoon salt - plus more to taste
- Chopped onion
- Lime juice
- Corn tortillas
- Gather ingredients. For a recipe like birria, it helps to gather your ingredients before getting started. It will keep you feeling organized.
- Prepare the chilies. Use kitchen scissors to cut open each chili and remove the seeds. Then, heat a large skillet over medium heat and toast the chilis until fragrant (1-2 minutes or so) taking care not to toast too long as dried chilies will quickly turn bitter. Transfer the chilies to a medium pot filled with simmering water and soak until rehydrated, approximately 15-30 minutes.
- Brown the onion and tomatoes (see notes). Add one tablespoon of olive oil to the same skillet over high heat. Add the onions and let them cook, undisturbed, for 1-2 minutes. Mix well and continue to cook for an additional minute or so. Add the crushed garlic, sauté for 30-60 seconds, then remove everything to a clean plate. Add the whole tomatoes, cook on each side for 2 minutes and remove to the same plate as the onions.
- Toast the whole spices. Add the remaining tablespoon of olive oil to your pan. Add the cumin seeds, black peppercorns, whole cloves, and cinnamon stick. Cook, mixing continuously, for 1-2 minutes, or until fragrant.
- Add the dried herbs and seasoning. Return the onions, garlic, and tomatoes to the toasted spices and mix well to combine. Stir in the ginger, thyme, oregano, and marjoram. Remove from heat.
- Blend. Transfer the onion, tomato, and spice mixture to a large, high-speed blender (I have a Vitamix so even the cinnamon stick went in there). Transfer the rehydrated chilies plus 1-2 cups of the soaking liquid to the blender and process until smooth.
- Cook. Transfer the prepared chili sauce to a large, deep Dutch oven set over medium-high heat. Add the bay leaves and stir in the orange just and apple cider vinegar. Add the beef and lamb and bring to a simmer. Cover, reduce heat to medium-low, and cook for at least 3-4 hours.
- Serve. When ready to serve, transfer to a large bowl and serve garnished with chopped white onion, cilantro, and a squeeze of fresh lime juice.
- Traditionally, this recipe is made with goat meat or mutton. These days, beef is the more commonly used as it’s more readily available and less expensive. Feel free to make your birria with just beef, or a combination of beef and lamb. The best cuts of meat include lamb shoulder, lamb shank, bone-in beef short rib, beef oxtail, beef cheek, chuck roast, or beef brisket.
- After you’ve seeded and toasted your dried chilies, you will transfer them to a bowl filled with hot (nearly boiling) water. After your chilies are rehydrated, save the left-behind “soaking liquid” to use when blending the chile sauce.
- Arbol chiles are spicy. If you are sensitive to spicy food, reduce the amount of arbol chiles added and remove the seeds.
- Keep leftovers stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 5 days.
(Nutrition information provided is an estimate and will vary based on cooking methods and specific brands of ingredients used.)