Smoked Cow Head Barbacoa

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Smoked Cow Head Barbacoa is a favored breakfast meal in Mexico, especially for Sunday mornings.

Sorry, we do not have whole cow heads in our online store, but just ask your local butcher. He or she can surely set you up with one, so you can have the Mexican ethnic food adventure and enjoy some Smoked Cow Head Barbacoa.

Smoked Cow Head Barbacoa

(Photo Attributed to Author: Elton Rodriguez)

Smoked Cow Head Barbacoa Recipe-

  • 1 medium sized whole beef head – about 15 to 20 lb., thawed (if bought frozen, which is typical)
  • 1 large yellow onion, peeled and quartered
  • Freshly ground coarse sea salt and black peppercorns
  • 2 dried Anaheim Chili peppers, rehydrated, cored, stems and seeds removed
  • 5 lb. hickory wood smoking chunks, soaked in water for at least 1 day—the longer the better, as the more waterlogged they are, the more smoke they will produce
  1. Plan ahead! You should be able, in most parts of the world, to find a local butcher shop or meat market that can get you whole cow or calf heads, but it may not be fast—expect 4 days to a week. When the head arrives, ask the butcher to saw the head in half. This will reduce the cooking time and also make it easier to remove the meat when your “cabeza” (Spanish for “head”) is finished cooking.
  2. Your cabeza will most likely arrive frozen, so you will need to thaw it. Depending on the size, this can take 2 to 3 days. If you have any family members with squeamish stomachs, preferably in an out of sight place—it’s a rather gruesome sight.
  3. When your cabeza is fully thawed, fire up your smoker or smoking-enabled barbecue grille.
  4. As the smoker is heating up, cut the tongue out of the head—for some reason, leaving it in imparts a bizarre taste to the finished barbacoa. Save it, though, you will cook the tongue separately.
  5. Place chili peppers and onion quarters into cavities in the cabeza, generously salt and pepper the heads inside and out, then wrap it in several layers of aluminum foil.  Also wrap the tongue in foil. Wrap tightly, it will not prevent the smoky flavor from penetrating the meat.
  6. Place the wrapped packages in smoker or barbecue grille, and smoke over low heat, about 160 degrees for 8 to 10 hours, adding hickory wood chunks as needed. Expect to use at least 5 pounds of hickory, in order to keep the smoke billowing up prolifically the entire time.
  7. You will know when your barbacoa is fully cooked when it is a nice golden, dark brown color, and when you peel back the foil and poke it with a fork the meat is very tender, and the aroma is making your mouth water.
  8. To serve your Smoked Cow Head Barbacoa, either place each half of the cabeza on a separate plate, and dine on it whole with one other person, or, you can fork out all the edibles, shred and combine them together, and feed several people by using the meat in tacos or enchiladas.