Small Batch Barbacoa Beef for Tacos

There is something about big hunks of meat cooked over long periods at low heat that appeals to us at a very basic level. Pit-cooking traditions like hog roasts, barbacoa, and luaus aren’t just barbecues — they’re celebrations. They conjure up visions of earthen pits and long buffet tables with folding chairs, all set up for a multitude of guests.

This kind of cooking takes judgement and practice, though, so unless you host these kinds of events on a regular basis, you’re more than likely cooking blind. After all, you probably aren’t buying a whole lamb or calf more than a couple times a year. It could take you a few years to get it right.

But the guaranteed excitement of guests at the big reveal make it worth the effort. Wafts of rich, beefy steam escape from cracks in the ground-level sarcophagus as you pull back its earthen covering; the process is as impressive as the anticipation of beef itself.

The question then becomes one of scale. Not often do we throw celebrations with a hundred or more people, and even if we did, it isn’t all that easy to get access to whole animals. On a smaller scale, we’ve all done something similar in our crockpots with great results. But it seems like less of a celebration when there is no reveal.

An easy way to replicate the air-tight barbecue pit and to have a great moment of reveal is to caulk your Dutch oven with dough. Whether you have a coal-fired, American-style cast iron pot on legs (like the one pictured below) or an enameled French Dutch oven that goes into the oven, you’ll still get the same result. The best part of the whole process is that you simply crack the seal and shred the meat table side in tandem with your guests’ oohs and ahhs.