Barbacoa Glossary

Barbacoa Glossary

A Pie de Horno: Literally “at the foot of the oven”.  It is a phrase used to tell customers that there is a traditional pit on-site and sometimes you can literally sit at the foot of it. However, it’s worth noting that some less-reputable barbacoa joints will have a pit on-site, will serve their barbacoa from it, but they may have actually cooked their barbacoa in a steamer or modern oven.  It is not a guarantee of quality since many of the best barbacoyeros cook their barbacoa off-site in their traditional pits and then bring it to wherever they will sell it.

Agave: A genus of succulents and monocots native to the Americas and very important to Mesoamerican peoples as a food and fiber. The leaves (see “penca”) are used to wrap and cover barbacoa while cooking. Its sap (aguamiel) is used as the base for making pulque and cooked down to make agave syrup.  Its root (piña) is cooked and used in the product of tequila and mezcal. Agave is also called “maguey,” a hispanicization its Caribbean name. The Aztecs called it “metl”.

Barbacoa: Likely the hispanicization of an indigenous American word of Caribbean or Mesoamerican origin with a similar sound. Most experts seem to believe that it originally referred to a rack for cooking food slowly over coals.  This word may have also been the origin of the English word “barbecue”.  Barbacoa refers to the meat cooked in an earth oven (or intended to mimic such). There are many regional variations, but the most common type of traditional Mexican barbacoa is pit-cooked lamb wrapped in maguey pencas, seasoned with little more than salt.

Barbacoyero: The person who cooks barbacoa, traditionally male, though even pre-Conquest women seem to have had significant roles in the process even if their cooking duties were often more focused on sauces and dishes made with corn.

Consome: The soup produced from the drippings of the barbacoa into an olla, or pot, placed under the meat while it is cooking. Water, aromatics, vegetables, rice, chile, and other seasonings, often even the feet of the animal being cooked, are also added to the pot before cooking.

Horno de la Tierra: Earth oven or traditional Mexican barbecue pit, often just “horno”. Other terms include “hoyo,” “pozo,” and the Mayan “pib”.  While originally they were dug out of the earth and heated with rocks and coals prior to the Conquest, many today are made from brick and above ground.

Hoyo: See “Horno de la Tierra”

Maguey: See “Agave”

Montalayo: See “Pancita”

Pancita: Literally, “little belly” and refers to the stomach.  More widely, this term is used to refer to the soup of beef tripe also called “menudo”.  However, at most places serving barbacoa, it refers to the stomach (of the animal being cooked) stuffed with offal (from the animal), usually chopped or ground, with seasonings. A red, or “roja”, pancita is most common, which has dried red chiles and spices, but there is also “pancita verde,” a green pancita made with fresh herbs and chiles, and “pancita blanca,” which typically has very little seasoning other than chile pequin.  Also often referred to as “panza.”  “Montalayo” is a regional term for pancita most often used in Queretaro.

Penca: The leaves of the agave plant. Generally these are longer than they are wide, often much longer, and come to a point. They are often used to wrap and protect meats that are cooking in an horno.  They are also used to cover foods cooked in an horno and also add a unique flavor to the barbacoa and consome.  They can even be used as a plate, bowl, or cup.

Pib: See “Horno de la Tierra”

Pibil: Meat cooked in a “pib,” the Mayan version of a horno de la tierra.  Today, chicken (pollo) and pig (cochinita) are the most common meats used.  But pre-Conquest, many animals were cooked this way, as were non-meat dishes, such as Mayan tamales.

Pozo: See “Horno de la Tierra”