The Carnicería Connoisseur: The Best Barbacoa on the Planet?

BROWNSVILLE, Nov. 24 – The sign out front of Vera’s Backyard B-B-Q in Brownsville advertises barbacoa en el pozo con lena de mesquite (barbacoa pit-smoked with mesquite wood). This morning, I picked up a half a pound of cheek meat for five bucks.

The moist, tender barbacoa meat at Vera’s is a little drier that the steamed stuff you usually get at the carniceria. It has a sharp mesquite wood aroma and a distinctive smoked meat flavor. It is by far the best barbacoa I have ever eaten and maybe the only barbacoa that truly deserves the name.

Barbacoa means barbecue in Spanish. The original method called for seasoned meat to be wrapped in maguey leaves (later canvas or aluminum foil) and buried under wood coals. In modern times, county health departments have banned this sort of cooking, and over the years most restaurants and carnicerias have abandoned the old barbacoa pits. A few pits that were operating before the regulations were enacted were “ grandfathered.” Vera’s and a grocery store in Eagle Pass have the only two I have ever heard of.

After sampling the meat by itself, I made some breakfast tacos on warm corn tortillas with a little onion, cilantro, lime juice and salsa. ¡Que rico! – Robb Walsh

Vera’s Backyard B-B-Q, 2404 Southmost Blvd., Brownsville, 956-546-4159 (Barbacoa is served Saturday and Sunday mornings only)

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