Since the dawn of civilization, humans have been experimenting with different ways of cooking meat that could provide them with nutrient-rich food. In more recent years, we’ve experimented with different ways to make our food taste better and healthier. In this article, we are going to look at two of the most well-known foods and compare them against one another.
What Is Barbacoa?
Before we can compare the two foods, let’s first go through what they are. Barbacoa is a dish from the Caribbean where meat is slow-cooked (usually for about 8 hours) and then shredded. It is usually prepared with goat or beef (usually seasoned with spicy sauces) and served as a main dish.
The most common barbecue sauce used in barbacoa has onion, garlic, cumin, oregano, thyme, jalapeño peppers and a variety of herbs/spices. The dish is usually smothered in the sauce (some would even add cheese) and then wrapped in banana or plantain leaves and then grilled.
What is Carnitas?
Next, we have carnitas which is a common meat dish from Mexico. Generally, they are made with pork belly (usually from fresh tenderloins). These tenderloins are thrown into boiling water for about 10 minutes to get them ready for the grill or smoker. They can be added to a marinade prior to serving. Once they are ready, they are usually grilled until crispy but not burnt.
In most cases, some of the remaining marinades are dabbed on the meat to give it additional flavor. In some recipes, cooked rice is added to give a more filling meal but it is mostly served as-is. Other Mexican recipes call for limes or lime juice to be added prior to serving the dish.
Barbacoa vs Carnitas
Now that we know what each dish is, let’s compare them and see if there is a clear winner. In terms of taste, both dishes share quite a lot in common. Both are spicy and can be served with different sides for added flavor. The main difference between the two is that barbacoa is not usually served with rice like carnitas is.
On the other hand, barbacoa is typically made with goat or beef. However, chicken can also be used for this dish. When it comes to cooking time, both require a considerable amount of time to cook – don’t expect to have a meal within an hour’s time. Lastly, the main difference between the two is that barbacoa is slow-cooked in foil while carnitas is usually grilled over an open fire.
What’s the difference between Barbacoa and Carnitas?
Carnitas are often served as a main dish (often with rice and/or tortillas), while barbacoa is usually served as the main (unless you want to use it as a filling for tacos). Barbacoa is typically made with goat and then slow-cooked in a moist environment (with onions, spices, and limes) for several days. Carnitas are mostly made with pork belly and then are cooked over an open flame until they are crispy.
What are the Similarities between Barbacoa and Carnitas?
- both are meat dishes using mainly pork
- both use onions as a primary ingredient in their marinade
- both are slow-cooked, with the meat being cooked for 3-4 days (although barbacoa is usually served as a main dish)
- both have plenty of flavors (although barbacoa’s spices and herbs make it more flavorful than carnitas by itself)
- both are spicy, though carnitas has rice in some cases.
- both can be served with tortillas and rice.
Barbacoa vs Carnitas – Summary
Although barbacoa and carnitas share a lot in common, there are distinct differences between the two. One being that barbacoa is typically made with goat while carnitas are made with pork. Other than this, the two dishes share a lot in common. This means that it is up to you which one you want to serve next time you go out for dinner or BBQ.
How to Make a Homemade Barbacoa
Homemade barbacoa is really simple to make. The preparation is much simpler than beef brisket or pork ribs. All you need to do is marinate the meat in a mixture of oregano, cumin, salt, garlic, and vinegar, then cook it slowly over the fire or grill. The slow cooking process prevents the meat from becoming tough and stringy.
The key to making great barbacoa is using high-quality fresh ingredients. This is particularly true for the meat. You need to use a good cut of lamb, which can be purchased from a reputable butcher or supermarket. More importantly, make sure that there is no sign of pinkness when you are preparing the meat for cooking. The meat should be completely cooked and tender. Your butcher can also provide you with some tips on preparing the meat for this recipe if you are not sure.
Once you have purchased your lamb, the next thing is to marinate it in a mixture of fresh spices and seasonings. The most important ingredient in any barbacoa recipe is garlic. So make sure that you include plenty of minced garlic in the mix.
The garlic will add a distinct flavor, but also prevent the meat from becoming tough. For the spices and seasonings, you can go with any type of mix that you prefer. However, what is important is to include at least salt and cumin in the mix. This will give a good depth of flavor in your barbacoa.
You can use any type of vinegar here. However, use only white vinegar as this will provide the best flavor during the cooking process.
Once you have made your seasoning mixture, you are ready to marinade your lamb for about an hour or so. The key here is to let it sit on a plate or dish without covering it up while it is marinating.
Next, you need to cover the meat with plastic wrap or aluminum foil and let it sit until all the flavors penetrate the meat. This will allow for a moist and flavorful lamb in your finished barbacoa.
Although you can make a large batch of barbacoa at one time, you can actually split the meat into several smaller batches during your preparation time. This makes preparing the marinade and cooking process much easier. As long as you have plenty of time to prep everything before your meal, this should be no problem.
Prepare for this meal by mixing all the fresh ingredients together for the marinade and have everything ready to go. Once you are ready, simply wrap the meat in foil and place on a rack over a pan with water. Then cover it up and let it cook for about 3-4 hours, checking about halfway through to make sure that there is enough water in the pan at all times.
Once your lamb is cooked, the secret to serving up good barbacoa is mixing your lamb with some good bread.
How to Make a Home Made Carnitas
If you want to make your own pork carnitas at home, this is how. First, you have to start with some good meat. Whether it be pork butt or tenderloin, both can work for this recipe. The key here is the shoulder cut of beef as it will add flavor and fat to your meal. Cut out all of the extra fat and fat caps to make sure that the meat will cook evenly during your time in the crockpot.
The spice mix for making carnitas at home really depends on where you are from since each region has a different specialty when it comes to its recipes. In California, you’ll find a lot of spices that are used in Mexican cooking, while in South Texas there is a heavy influence of Latin American and Caribbean spices. For this recipe, we’re going to go with the latter as I was raised on pork carnitas served over fried corn tortillas and topped with pico de gallo.
barbacoa and carnitas are similar in several ways. Both dishes are spicy and full of flavor. However, if you are looking for a savory dish that is quick to prepare, then barbacoa is probably your best choice. Carnitas on the other hand is good for large groups and can be prepared while you wait but they do take a longer time to complete.
Agnes is a kitchen and cooking enthusiast as well as a fitness fanatic. She loves to help readers upgrade and furnish their kitchen with the best available products! She is the primary writer behind SmartKitchenImprovement.com and hopes to share little tidbits of knowledge she’s picked up over her years as a mom and wife.