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

The world of Chipotle is a fascinating one. With its variety of meats, salsas, and toppings, the flavor combinations are endless. While many of us have our go-to orders, it’s always intriguing to try new dishes and explore the depth of flavors that Chipotle has to offer.

Today, we will dive into a delicious exploration of two popular meat options: Barbacoa and Carnitas. Join us as we uncover the differences between these two mouthwatering choices and help you decide which one is your next must-try dish.

Origins: A Tale of Two Meats


Barbacoa and Carnitas are both traditional Mexican dishes with rich histories. Understanding their origins will give you a greater appreciation for the flavors and cooking methods used to prepare them.


Barbacoa has its roots in the Caribbean, where the indigenous Taíno people cooked meat on a wooden framework over an open fire, known as “barabicu.” The Spanish later adopted this cooking method and brought it to Mexico, where it evolved into the modern version we know today. In Mexico, Barbacoa is typically made from goat or lamb, slow-cooked in an underground pit for several hours until tender and flavorful.


Carnitas, on the other hand, has its origins in the Mexican state of Michoacán. It is made from pork shoulder, which is braised and then simmered in its own fat (a process called “confit”) until tender and crispy. The word “carnitas” means “little meats” in Spanish, referring to the small, tender pieces of pork that result from this cooking process.

Flavor Profiles: A Symphony of Taste

While both Barbacoa and Carnitas share a common origin, their flavors are unique and will appeal to different palates.


Barbacoa is known for its tender, juicy texture and its bold, smoky flavor. The meat is marinated in a blend of spices, including cumin, oregano, and chipotle peppers, which give it mild to medium heat. The slow cooking process allows the flavors to meld together, creating a deep and complex taste that pairs well with other strong flavors, such as those found in Chipotle’s salsas and toppings.


Carnitas is characterized by its crispy, golden exterior and tender, juicy interior. The flavor of Carnitas is milder than that of Barbacoa, with the pork’s natural flavors taking center stage. The confit cooking process imbues the meat with a rich, savory taste that is enhanced by the addition of minimal spices, such as salt, pepper, and a hint of citrus. Carnitas works well with a variety of salsas and toppings, making it a versatile choice for customizing your Chipotle experience.

Cooking Techniques: A Journey Through Heat and Time

The cooking methods used for Barbacoa and Carnitas are what set them apart and give them their distinct textures and flavors.


To create Chipotle’s version of Barbacoa, the beef is first seared to lock in flavor, and then it is slow-cooked in a blend of spices, chipotle peppers, and adobo sauce for several hours. This slow cooking process allows the meat to become tender and absorb the flavors of the marinade, resulting in the smoky, savory taste that Barbacoa is known for.


The process for making Carnitas at Chipotle involves first braising the pork shoulder in a mixture of water, salt, and spices until it becomes tender. The meat is then simmered in its own fat until it achieves a crispy, golden exterior. This confit-style cooking method is what gives Carnitas its signature texture and rich, savory flavor.

Nutritional Differences: Fuel for Your Body

Barbacoa and CarnitasNutritional Differences

When choosing between Barbacoa and Carnitas, it’s essential to consider the nutritional differences between these two meat options.


A serving of Barbacoa at Chipotle (4 oz.) contains 170 calories, 7 grams of fat (2.5 grams saturated), 24 grams of protein, and 530 mg of sodium. Barbacoa is a lean meat option that provides a good source of protein, making it suitable for those looking for a lower-calorie and lower-fat choice.


A serving of Carnitas at Chipotle (4 oz.) contains 210 calories, 12 grams of fat (4 grams saturated), 23 grams of protein, and 500 mg of sodium. While Carnitas is also a good source of protein, it contains more calories and fat than Barbacoa due to the confit cooking process. However, it is still a relatively healthy choice when enjoyed in moderation.

Customizing Your Chipotle Experience

The beauty of Chipotle lies in its customizable menu, allowing you to create a meal tailored to your tastes and preferences. When choosing between Barbacoa and Carnitas, consider the salsas, toppings, and sides that will complement each meat’s unique flavors.

Barbacoa Pairings

The bold, smoky flavor of Barbacoa pairs well with Chipotle’s spicier salsas, such as the tomatillo-red chili salsa or the hot red chili salsa. To add balance and contrast to the dish, consider adding a scoop of sour cream or guacamole. For a fresh, tangy touch, try adding the cilantro-lime rice and a squeeze of lime.

Carnitas Pairings

With its milder, savory flavor, Carnitas is versatile and pairs well with a variety of salsas, from mild fresh tomato salsa to medium green tomatillo salsa. To enhance the dish’s richness, add a scoop of guacamole or cheese. For added crunch and brightness, try incorporating the romaine lettuce and a spoonful of corn salsa.

Spice Levels: Heat It Up or Tone It Down

Spice Barbacoa

When deciding between Barbacoa and Carnitas, the spice levels of each dish may play a significant role in your choice, especially if you have a preference for either spicier or milder flavors.


As mentioned earlier, Barbacoa has a mild to medium heat level due to the use of chipotle peppers and adobo sauce in its marinade. The smoky, spicy undertones make it a popular choice for those who appreciate a bit of heat in their meal. However, if you’re sensitive to spice, you can still enjoy Barbacoa by pairing it with milder toppings and salsas to balance out the flavors.


With its minimal use of spices, Carnitas is a milder option that can cater to a wider range of palates. If you prefer a more subtle and savory taste, Carnitas is an excellent choice. The mildness of the dish also allows you to customize the spice level to your liking by adding your preferred salsas and toppings, ranging from mild to hot.

Versatility: Beyond the Burrito

Chipotle's Burrito

While Barbacoa and Carnitas are both popular choices for burritos and bowls at Chipotle, their unique flavors and textures lend themselves well to other dishes on the menu. Experimenting with these different options can provide a new perspective on these delicious meats.

Barbacoa Tacos

The tender, juicy texture of Barbacoa makes it an excellent filling for Chipotle’s soft or crispy tacos. Paired with a generous helping of fresh cilantro, diced onions, and a squeeze of lime, Barbacoa tacos offer a delicious, handheld taste sensation.

Carnitas Quesadilla

The crispy, golden exterior and tender interior of Carnitas make it a fantastic choice for a Chipotle quesadilla. The rich, savory flavors of the meat meld beautifully with the gooey, melted cheese, creating a comforting, indulgent treat.

The Art of Choosing: Trust Your Instincts

deciding between Barbacoa and Carnitas

Ultimately, the decision between Barbacoa and Carnitas comes down to your personal tastes and preferences. If you’re still unsure which to choose, consider these factors:


Listen to your body and think about which flavors and textures you’re craving. Are you in the mood for something smoky and spicy, or do you prefer something milder and more savory?

Dietary Preferences

If you’re watching your calorie or fat intake, Barbacoa may be the better option for you, as it is leaner than Carnitas. However, both types of meat are good sources of protein, so either choice can be part of a balanced meal.


Don’t be afraid to try new things! Whether you’re a seasoned Chipotle fan or a first-time visitor, exploring different menu items and combinations can lead to exciting new discoveries and help you find your ideal meal.

Final Words

In the showdown between Barbacoa and Carnitas at Chipotle, there is no clear winner – it all depends on your personal preferences and the flavors you enjoy. Barbacoa offers a smoky, bold taste that pairs well with stronger flavors, while Carnitas provides a milder, savory experience that can be enhanced with a variety of salsas and toppings. Whichever you choose, you can’t go wrong – both dishes are delicious and offer a unique taste of Mexican cuisine. So why not mix things up on your next Chipotle visit and try something new? You might just discover a new favorite.