Venison Barbacoa Recipe

Venison Barbacoa Recipe

Of all the taco preparations I make, this one is the crowd favorite. This cooking method for the full front shoulder originated in the Caribbean by the Taino people and was later brought to Mexico. Traditionally, the meat in this recipe is cooked in the ground, covered in agave leaves or in a clay pot.

In this recipe we will use a pellet grill, cast iron Dutch oven, and conventional cooking oven to mimic the effects of the original methods. This is a slow-cooking process that incorporates both dried and fresh peppers to capture the flavor profile of traditional barbacoa. Because this recipe is somewhat time consuming, it’s easy to double the ingredients and freeze the leftovers for quick meals from the freezer.

Serving size


Time to make

5–6 hours


Deer or antelope front shoulder

3 guajillo peppers

2 dried chipotle peppers

3–4 fresh Anaheim chili peppers

3–4 tomatillos

1–2 tbsp. taco seasoning

2 cups stock

1 tbsp. brown sugar

1 tbsp. Mexican oregano

1 tbsp. ground cumin

2 tsp. ground cloves

4–5 bay leaves

5–6 cloves garlic

1 medium onion

1 large or 2 small limes, juiced


1 white onion

1 bunch cilantro

Cotija cheese or queso fresco

Also works with

Any large roast

Special equipment

Pellet grill, blender, Dutch oven


  1. Preheat pellet grill, smoker, or barbecue to 350°F.
  2. Season the shoulder with taco seasoning. Chop the tomatillos, onions, and green chili peppers in half. Add the fresh vegetables and shoulder to the grill.
  3. Brown both sides of the shoulder over high heat for approximately 7 to 10 minutes per side. You want all the connective tissues and fat to brown well and begin to shrink and contract. The vegetables should have a slight char on the surface.
  4. Remove the seeds from the dried guajillo and chipotle peppers and rehydrate them in 2 cups of water in a small saucepan. Heat the water to a slow boil until the peppers are soft.
  5. Add the guajillo and chipotle peppers, the green chilies, tomatillos, onions, stock, juiced limes, and remaining spices (except the bay leaves) to a large blender. Puree until smooth.
  6. Place browned meat in a large cast iron skillet or Dutch oven if you have one large enough. If not, a large disposable aluminum roasting pan will work. Pour the blended ingredients over the top of the shoulder and add the bay leaves. Cover with a lid or tin foil. Place the meat in an oven at 275°F for 5 to 6 hours.
  7. After 5 or 6 hours, remove the dish from the oven. Place the shoulder on a large tray with a lip such as a rimmed cookie sheet to catch the juice that comes with it. Allow the meat to cool slightly before shredding. Use two forks to shred the meat into bite-size pieces. Discard the bones, put the meat back in the sauce, and mix all the ingredients to coat evenly.
  8. Serve in a corn tortilla or over a bed of rice with fresh chopped cilantro, onion, and a Mexican cheese such as cotija cheese or queso fresco.