Mexican BBQ

Tijuana Barbecue, c. 1920

Most sources list the origin of the word “barbecue” to the Spanish barbacoa, which originally meant meat grilled over a framework of green branches.  Later, in Mexico, that word came to mean pit barbecue–with the pit being in the ground rather than in a metal smoker of today.  In central Mexico, large outdoor restaurants cook lamb in brick pits and serve it with salsa; in western Mexico lamb is served birria-style–rubbed with ground red chile and roasted on a rack in a metal pit.  However, in Mexico there is no tradition of smoked meats as there is in the southern United States.  The image at top left seems to belie this statement, as obviously there is a lot of smoke in the air.  But considering Tijuana’s immediate proximity to San Diego, I have to guess that this is an American event being held in Tijuana for whatever reasons.

But another form of barbecue is popular in Mexico, and that is grilling.  After all, grilling is easier and quicker than smoking because it’s the application of direct heat rather than indirect heat and smoke.  I searched my files for Mexican grilling recipes and found one that I’ve prepared many times and it is similar to the citrus-marinated rotisserie chicken often found at informal stands at markets.  This recipe can be grilled over charcoal coals or on a gas grill.

Pollo Enchilado (Grilled Chile-Chicken)

In this case, the word “enchilado” means “enchilied,” or covered in chile.  This recipe was collected in Querétaro, but I’m not sure that it originated there.  It is also wonderful cubed and served in tortillas, fajita-style, with a spicy salsa of your choosing. Note that this recipe requires advance preparation.

2 cloves garlic, peeled

6 ancho chiles, toasted, seeds and stems removed, chopped

3 chiles de árbol, toasted, seeds and stems removed

3 cascabel chiles, toasted, seeds and stems removed

3/4 cups apple cider vinegar

2 tablespoons vegetable oil

1 sour orange, juiced (or substitute 1 orange and 1 lime)

1 teaspoon Mexican oregano

2 cloves

1/2 teaspoon cumin

Salt and pepper to taste

1 chicken, sectioned

Lettuce leaves

Avocado slices

Corn or flour tortillas

In a blender, combine the garlic, chiles, vinegar, oil, orange juice, oregano, cloves, cumin, pepper and salt and process until it is thoroughly blended. Marinate the chicken in this mixture overnight.

Roast the chicken over hot coals until done. Or, bake uncovered in a 400 degree oven for 40 minutes. Serve with lettuce and avocadoes with warmed tortillas.

Yield: 4 to 6 servings

Heat Scale: Medium

For more food history and recipes on the subjects of Mexican and Southwestern cuisine, just click on the image below.

AboutDave Dewitt

Dave is known in the media as "The Pope of Peppers" because of the 36 books he's written on chile peppers and spicy food around the world. He's also co-producer of the National Fiery Foods & Barbecue Show and editor and publisher of the Fiery Foods & Barbecue SuperSite at His latest book, with chile breeder Dr. Paul Bosland, is The Complete Chile Pepper Book.

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