Texas-Style Lamb Barbacoa
Food and Drink

Texas-Style Lamb Barbacoa

Prep time: four hours, plus the time to dig the pit Total time: six to nine hours Makes: six to eight pounds of cooked meat


10 to 12 maguey leaves

1 whole lamb head, thoroughly rinsed

12 to 15 garlic cloves

1/2 cup salt

3 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley



Shovel, rocks or firebricks

Mesquite wood chunks

Chimney starter

Five-foot-long metal cable

Prepare the pit:

  1. Dig a 36-inch-diameter hole four to five feet in the ground.
  2. Line the bottom of the pit with rocks or firebricks.
  3. Build the fire using large (six-by-18-inch) chunks of mesquite wood.

Prep the maguey leaves:

  1. Prepare an open fire on a grill.
  2. Use gloves when handling raw maguey leaves, as their juice is a natural skin irritant. Trim away the spines along the sides of each leaf. Best to do this outside as it can get messy!
  3. Cook the maguey leaves on a grill or over hot coals until they are pliable, and the liquid has been completely extracted; 10 to 15 minutes. You will hear them pop and sizzle.

Cook the lamb:

  1. Using a paring knife, make incisions in the lamb head and then stuff them with garlic cloves. 8. Use a large pot that has a top. Overlap the cooked maguey leaves vertically, to completely line the bottom and sides of the pot. The tips of the leaves may hang over or out of the rim.
  2. Place the lamb head inside the pot with the nose facing up. Fold over the maguey leaves to completely wrap the lamb head.
  3. Add three to four inches of water and then secure the lid to prevent steam from escaping. You can tie it or weigh it down with a rock.
  4. Use a metal cable to lower the pot into the pit in the ground. Make sure not to use rope as it could burn. Cover the hole thoroughly, so that no air can escape. For example, a piece of sheet metal on top. Corrugated roof panels can also work. Do not use wood as the fire is too hot. Cover the metal top and the area surrounding the hole with dirt. Covering the hole will cut off the oxygen source to the fire, leaving only the heated rocks and the burning coals, which allows hot steam to cook the meat.
  5. Steam until the meat falls off the bone, a process that should take eight hours. Be sure to watch your timing. If the meat isn’t fully cooked, the fire will no longer be hot enough to put it back in the ground and continue cooking.
  6. Remove the meat from the bones then separate it by cuts: tongue, cheek, and so on, and serve, or slice and serve all the meat mixed together.
  7. Reap the benefits of all your hard work.