What Is The Difference Between Barbacoa Vs. Carnitas At Chipotle?

Chipotle Mexican Grill is known for its fast and flavorful burrito offerings. Chipotle fans often struggle to choose between two popular menu items, barbacoa and carnitas. In this guide, we’ll discuss the differences between Barbacoa and Carnitas at Chipotle.

Both barbacoa and carnitas have distinct flavor profile that brings out different flavors in each dish. Barbacoa is more heavily spiced than carnitas which makes it robust in flavor while los carnitas are milder and slightly smokier tasting due to their cooking method creating balance within the flavor profile between these two dishes at Chipotle Mexican Grill Restaurant locations.

History of Barbacoa and Carnitas

The origins of them can be traced back to the early days of Mexican cuisine. Barbacoa is said to descend from the Aztecs and Carnitas from the Spaniards. Both dishes have unique and distinct flavors that derive from different cooking techniques, ingredients, and regional influences.

In this section, we will take a look at the history of each dish, the differences between the two, and how they are prepared.

Origin of Barbacoa

Origin of Barbacoa

Barbacoa is a specific Mexican dish that traces its origins all the way back to the ancient culture of the Taíno Indians in what is now Haiti and Jamaica. In this culture, ‘barbacoa’, or ‘barbecue’ as we know it today, was a method of slow-cooking meat over an open fire in an underground pit. The original word literally translates to mean “sacred fire pit”.

In Mexico today, barbacoa is not just any type of slow-cooked barbecue, but a specific preparation of beef or mutton cooked over a low fire or smoke for as long as seven hours. The result is incredibly tender, succulent meat served with corn tortillas and salsas.

Depending on the region, and even family recipes, there are recipes for barbacoa prepared with pork and chicken as well. Generally speaking, however, when ordering barbacoa in Mexican restaurants you will be served a combination platter of various meats that can include beef cheek meat and even spines!

Origin of Carnitas

Origin of Carnitas

Carnitas is a traditional Mexican dish made of seasoned, slow-cooked pork that has a rich history dating back to the conquest of Mexico by the Spanish. As legend has it, Hernan Cortes, the Spanish conquistador, hosted a celebratory banquet at his palace in Coyoacan in 1521 to mark the fall of Tenochtitlan and the Aztec Empire. To feed his guests, Cortes slaughtered a pig and cooked it using its own lard, serving the tender, juicy meat with Tlaxcalan cornbread.

This is believed to be the origin of carnitas, which translates to “little meats” in Spanish. Over time, carnitas became a staple in Mexican cuisine, particularly in the states of Michoacán and Jalisco, where it is still prepared using traditional methods, such as cooking the pork in large copper pots over an open flame until it is crispy and flavorful.

Today, carnitas is enjoyed all over the world, both in authentic Mexican restaurants and in modern fusion cuisine.

Carnitas are usually served with warm tortillas, spicy salsas or guacamole, and a selection of accompaniments such as chopped onions or radish slices.

Description of Barbacoa

Barbacoa is a type of Mexican barbecue. It is traditionally made with beef, pork, lamb, goat, marinated in spices like cumin and oregano, and then slowly cooked over an open flame or in a pit.

At Chipotle, barbacoa is made with responsibly raised beef braised with a blend of spices and cooked in their own juices.

Let’s take a closer look at this popular Mexican dish.

Barbacoa - How to make it


Barbacoa and carnitas are two popular Mexican dishes that incorporate slow-cooked, flavorful meats. They were both traditionally cooked in an underground pit large enough for the animal carcass to be fully immersed in embers and smoke. While both are slow-cooked, they have distinct ingredients, flavors, and textures.

The main component of barbacoa is beef that is slowly cooked over several hours until it is soft and tender. Commonly used cuts of meat include chuck roast, short rib meat, beef brisket, beef cheek or neck meat.

Most recipes call for the inclusion of aromatic herbs such as garlic or oregano or chili seasonings such as guajilloor pasilla pepper to enhance flavor. It can be served either shredded or whole with an optional accompaniment such as salsas and condiments like cilantro onion relish and pickled onions for extra flavor.

Cooking Method

The cooking method of barbacoa and carnitas is one of the main differences between the two. Barbacoa is cooked in an underground traditional barbeque pit with a large stone or metal vessel and charcoal for a few hours until it becomes tender, juicy, and succulent.

On the other hand, carnitas is cooked in a large pot over medium to low heat on a stove top for several hours or overnight until it becomes crispy on the outside and tender on the inside.

The slow cooking method of barbacoa helps create a savory dish that almost melts in your mouth due to its tenderness. The dish also has notes of smoky flavor from being cooked in an underground barbeque pit. 

All these factors help create the unique flavors of barbacoa that makes it stand out from other dishes.

Description of Carnitas

It is a Mexican dish that is prepared from slow-cooked pork. It is a popular item in many Mexican restaurants, including Chipotle. The pork is usually cooked on low heat in a crock pot or similar vessel for several hours, often with spices and seasonings, resulting in a tender and juicy inner texture.

Let’s explore what makes them different from Barbacoa.


They are a type of Mexican dish that has become popular both in Mexico and throughout the United States. The name “carnitas” translates to “little meats” and is prepared by simmering shredded pork in lard or other fat for several hours.

This method of cooking produces incredibly tender, flavorful meat that can be served on tacos, sandwiches, salads, or even eaten alone. Carnitas often have a layer of flavorful fat on the outside that adds moisture and flavor to the dish.

Cooking Method

Carnitas is a Mexican dish made with pork that’s been slow-cooked until it’s tender and flavorful. The pork is simmered in flavorful juices until it becomes truly fork-tender, then it’s shredded and caramelized in its own rendered fat. This cooking method produces a savory dish with soft and crunchy pieces that are intensely satisfying.

Comparison of Barbacoa Vs. Carnitas

Whether you are trying to decide between ordering Barbacoa or Carnitas from Chipotle, it can sometimes be difficult to choose. Both of these dishes have unique flavors and textures that you can enjoy.

These two meals are so popular that many people like to include it in their wedding menu. A wedding day is a very special occasion that requires a lot of attention to detail. Aside from the dessert table, there should always be a main course and Barbacoa or Carnitas could be a perfect dish for it.

To help you make your decision, let’s compare these two items and look at the differences between the two.


When it comes to the flavor profiles of barbacoa and carnitas, both are slow cooked using distinct methods. Both types of meat have unique and complex flavors.

Barbacoa is made from various cuts of beef that are traditionally slowly cooked with spices, such as garlic and chili, herbs, citrus juice, and bay leaves in an underground pit with hot stones or sealed in oven-safe dishes with an aluminum foil lid.

The cooking process tenderizes the beef and creates a rich flavor profile. The end result is a juicy cut of beef that comes shredded or diced in tacos or burritos it’s also referred to as barbacoa de res.

It is made from pork, usually shoulder or loin cut. It’s marinated overnight in either orange juice, beer or cola before being slowly cooked over low heat until it becomes very tender and has a classic golden brown carnitas crust when done properly.

This pork variety has been around since the 16th century in Mexican cooking culture, so it’s perfect for traditional taco fillings topped off with cilantro, onions and limes for extra zesty flavor.


Comparison of Barbacoa Vs. Carnitas - Texture

The texture of it differs from that of barbacoa. Barbacoa is slow-cooked in a broth, and it shreds easily with a fork into soft, moist shreds. They are traditionally simmered in lard, and the pork is often roasted at higher temperatures to get a crispy exterior.

Chipotle updates the traditional recipe with their special mix of spices to give you a juicy yet caramelized texture. When ordering online or in person at Chipotle, you can ask for your meat to be extra crispy if desired.


They are two traditional Mexican dishes that have become popular with Americans in recent years thanks to their introduction to the menu at Chipotle Mexican Grill. While they may look similar, there are some differences between barbacoa vs. carnitas when it comes to nutrition.

If you’re looking for something a little healthier, barbacoa might be the choice for you. It has fewer calories and fat, fewer carbohydrates, and lower sodium content than carnitas. Barbacoa has about 150 calories per three ounces of cooked meat, five grams of fat, zero carbs and 360 mg of sodium.

In comparison, carnitas contains about 270 calories per three ounces of cooked meat, 13 grams of fat, two carbs and 470 mg of sodium.

However, if your fitness goals call for consuming more protein each day or makes for pre or post workout meals one might choose carnitas over barbacoa; Carnitas contains slightly more protein with 15 grams per serving compared to 13 grams in barbacoa.

Carnitas also contains zinc which is an important mineral involved in immune system functioning while Barbacoa does not provide any significant amounts according to nutritional charts on Chipotle’s website.

Regardless, both items offer complete proteins which include all essential amino acids the body needs but cannot produce itself as well as other essential vitamins and minerals making them great additions to anyone’s diet looking for a little Mexican flare in their meal plan!


Difference Between Barbacoa Vs. Carnitas - FAQs

1. What’s better: Chipotle steak or barbacoa?

It ultimately depends on personal preference, as both the steak and barbacoa at Chipotle are delicious options. Some customers prefer the heartiness of the barbacoa, while others opt for the leaner option of steak.

It’s worth noting that both options can be high in sodium, so it’s important to balance your meal with other healthy options, such as vegetables and beans. Ultimately, it’s best to try both and decide for yourself which one you prefer.

2. What part of the cow is barbacoa?

Traditionally, barbacoa is made using the head of a cow, specifically the cheeks, although other cuts of meat like beef brisket or chuck can also be used. While it may not sound appetizing to some, the cheeks are actually a very tender and flavorful cut of meat due to the high amount of connective tissue in the area.

At Chipotle, the barbacoa is made with beef, but the specific cut of meat used may vary depending on availability and sourcing.

3. What’s healthier chicken or barbacoa?

chicken or barbacoa - what's healthier

Chicken is generally considered to be a healthier option than barbacoa at Chipotle. While both options are good sources of protein, chicken is lower in fat and calories compared to barbacoa, which is made from slow-cooked beef. However, the healthiness of your meal ultimately depends on the other ingredients you choose to add, such as rice, beans, and toppings.

4. Can I choose both barbacoa and carnitas on my Chipotle order?

Yes, you can choose to have a combination of both on your Chipotle order. This is a great option for those who want to try both meats or want to add more variety to their order.

5. Are there any vegetarian or vegan options at Chipotle?

Yes, Chipotle offers a variety of vegetarian and vegan options such as sofritas (spicy tofu), black beans, pinto beans, fajita veggies, and guacamole. They also have a vegan salad dressing and corn tortillas are vegan-friendly.


Overall, the difference between barbacoa and carnitas at Chipotle is that barbacoa is made from beef and carnitas from pork. Barbacoa is seasoned with Mexican spices and cooked for a longer period of time. Carnitas are seasoned with citrus juice, herbs, and spices, then cooked until crispy. Both are great options to add to your favorite Chipotle meal!

Barbacoa adds a deep, smoky flavor that pairs well with burritos or tacos while carnitas have a nice crunchy texture that works well in salads or as nachos. While they both offer different flavors, they can also be combined to create an even more flavorful experience. Ultimately, you can’t go wrong with either option!