How Spanish Influence Changed Mexican Barbecue Forever

Discover the origin and evolution of Mexican barbecue, from its roots in indigenous cooking to the introduction of ram meat by the Spaniards. Learn about the unique preparation techniques and the nutritional powerhouse that is birria.

How Spanish Influence Changed Mexican Barbecue Forever
A traditional Mexican barbecue, slow-cooked underground with hot stones, maguey stalks, and earth for maximum flavor.

Barbecue, a traditional dish that has become synonymous with outdoor cooking, has been around for thousands of years. The word barbecue originated from the Arawak language, spoken by the Taino indigenous people who lived mostly in the Greater Antilles. The Arawak word "barbacoa" referred to a type of dwelling built on trees or stakes, near rivers and lagoons. From this idea of scaffolding, the concept of parrilla or grill emerged.

Mexican barbecue has a rich history, dating back to the time of the country's indigenous people. In the past, different cooking techniques were not known, and the indigenous people of Mexico roasted meat over a fire, using firewood.

Eventually, the idea of a barbecue was born, where a hole was dug into the ground, and stones were placed inside. The stones were heated, and maguey stalks were spread over them to place the meat. The meat was then covered with more stalks, and earth, and left to cook overnight.

With the arrival of the Spaniards in Mexico, a new type of meat, ram, was introduced, which led to the development of Mexican barbecue. Today, different regions of Mexico prepare barbecues in their unique ways. In the State of Mexico, Capuluac is one of the most recognized towns for its production of barbacoa.

Barbecue is in high demand in Mexico, and to meet this demand, rams are imported in large quantities as Mexican producers do not have enough to raise them. In some regions, it is customary to stuff the lamb's large intestine with brains and spinal cord, prepared with onion and epazote, to make it a part of the barbecue.

The Preparation of Birria

One of the most interesting aspects of the preparation of Mexican barbecue is the collection of the drippings from the meat. A container is placed beneath the ram in the oven, which collects the drops of meat released while cooking. The next day, the container is uncovered, and the drippings are left to become a type of "consumé" called "birria." This birria has incomparable nutritional powers and is often served alongside barbecue in Mexican markets.

In the markets of the plazas, especially on Saturdays and Sundays, vendors often bring birria, as they know that those who have been partying on the weekend and have drunk alcohol excessively come to the markets in the mornings to drink their cup of consommé. This helps them recover their strength, stomach, and head, so they can resume their normal life.

The Perfect Pairing

The perfect drink to pair with a Mexican barbecue is salsa borracha, made with pulque and blue tortillas. Pulque is an alcoholic drink made from the fermented sap of the maguey plant, while blue tortillas are made from blue corn, which is high in antioxidants. This drink and food pairing is a match made in heaven and is often enjoyed by locals and visitors alike.


Mexican barbecue has a rich history and has become a significant part of the country's culinary culture. From its origins in the Arawak language to its evolution into a beloved dish, Mexican barbecue is now enjoyed by people all over the world. Whether you are trying it for the first time or are a seasoned barbecue connoisseur, there is no denying the unique and flavorful experience that Mexican barbecue offers.

In-Text Citation: Rosita Sánchez, Rosita and Estado de México. Conversación En La Cocina, Gastronomía Mexiquense. 1st ed., Mexico, Estado de México, 2006.