In the U.S., barbacoa is often prepared with parts from the heads of cattle, such as the cheeks. In northern Mexico, it is also sometimes made from beef head, but more often it is prepared from goat meat (cabrito). In central Mexico, the meat of choice is lamb, and in the Yucatan, their traditional version, cochinita pibil (pit-style pork), is prepared with pork.
Barbacoa was later adopted into the cuisine of the southwestern United States by way of Texas, which had formerly been a part of northern Mexico. The word transformed in time to "barbecue", as well as many other words related to ranching and Tex-Mex cowboy or vaquero life. Considered a specialty meat, some meat markets only sell barbacoa on weekends or holidays in certain parts of South Texas and in all of Mexico. Barbacoa is also popular in Florida, as many Mexican immigrants living there have introduced this dish. Barbacoa is also well known in Honduras.
A traditional Mexican way of eating barbacoa is having it served on warm corn tortillas with salsa for added flavor; the tacos are often eaten with diced onions, chopped cilantro and a squeeze of lime juice.
It is believed that the word barbacoa comes from the mainland Taino Indians, as in the following source:
- "Pero tomemos el vocablo barbacoa, cuyo origen arauco (específicamente, taíno) es conocido gracias a las descripciones de Gonzalo Fernández de Oviedo en su Historia natural y general de las Indias, quien testimonia dos de sus acepciones".
- "But when we take the term 'barbacoa', which originates from Arauco (specifically, the Taíno language), it is known thanks to the writings of Gonzalo Fernández de Oviedo in his Natural and General History of the Indians, who described two of its meanings."
- The Great American Barbecue and Grilling Manual by Smoky Hale. Abacus Publishing, 2000. ISBN 0-936171-03-0
- "Barbecue | Define Barbecue at Dictionary.com". Dictionary.reference.com. Archived from the original on 8 April 2010. Retrieved 2010-04-04.
- "IV CILE. Paneles y ponencias. Eusebio Leal Spengler". Congresosdelalengua.es. Archived from the original on 11 April 2010. Retrieved 2010-04-04.