Smoked Birria Quesadilla

  • By: Jack Mancuso

Smoked Birria Quesadilla - Cuso Cuts

If you love rich flavors, a birria quesadilla is a great choice that I recommend to family and friends alike. There is a little bit of labor involved, but trust me, you can’t beat the results. The herbs and spices create a complex flavor profile. Add to that a dipping sauce, and ahhhhh, perfection. Yes, you dip these Quesadillas so bring napkins!

What is Birria?

Effectively, Birria is a stew, cooked in a broth of heady spices and topped with fresh salsa. On the side, tortillas wait for filling. Making Birria is not a “quick” meal so give yourself plenty of time. Rushing the process detracts from the savory results for which you’re aiming. If you want insane flavors, be patient.

Meat Selection 

Traditionally the Birria Quesadilla uses goat meat, but you don’t have to commit to that approach. A chuck roast, cooked until it’s shred-tender, works fine. Plus, it’s economical.

Birria Meat Ingredients 

3 lb. chuck roast

1 tsp freshly ground salt

1 Tbs extra virgin olive oil

1 Tbs apple cider vinegar

2 bay leaves

1 cup water

Birria Beef Instructions

  1. Cube the beef using a Chef’s Knife and cutting board. 
  2. Smoke the beef for three hours.
  3. Transfer the meat cubes to a slow cooker (or pressure cooker).
  4. Cook on low for 8 hours in the slow cooker.

Smoked Beef Birria Sauce Ingredients

2 cups water

4 Pasilla Negro chilies

4 Ancho chilies

2 Tai chilies

1 Tbs olive oil

3 cloves of garlic

3 small, firm tomatoes halved

1 white onion, halved

1 tsp cumin seed

½ cinnamon stick

3 whole cloves

8-10 peppercorns

1 tsp each oregano, marjoram, smoky paprika

3 tsp. Salt

2 cups beef broth

Birria Sauce Instructions

  1. Using protective gloves, remove the seeds from the chilies.
  2. Put the peppers into a saucepan with water. Boil.
  3. As the peppers come to a boiling point, put olive oil, onion, tomatoes, and cloves into a skillet, gently frying for 10 minutes (the onions should be soft). Set aside.
  4. Over medium heat, toast the cumin, cloves, peppercorns, and cinnamon (about five minutes).
  5. Blend the toasted spices using a spice grinder but for the cinnamon.
  6. Transfer the spices and the tomato mixture into a blender along with oregano, marjoram, smoky paprika, and beef stock. Blend until smooth.
  7. Strain through a sieve
  8. Sprinkle with green onion and cilantro (optional). Keep warm.

Quesadilla Assembly Ingredients

Large Tortillas

Cheese (mozzarella, asadero, or chihuahua)

Chopped onions

Shredded Birria meat

Chopped cilantro (optional)

Birria Quesadilla Assembly Instructions

  1. Take out a large skillet (iron is best) and warm it to medium heat.
  2. Dip tortillas into the sauce one at a time.
  3. Place the tortilla on the griddle.
  4. Sprinkle the entire surface with cheese
  5. Put Birria meat, onions, and cilantro on only one-half of the tortilla.
  6. Carefully fold the tortilla in half, pressing it down with your spatula
  7. Brush ½ Tbs. sauce onto the tortilla and flip it. Cook for 1-2 minutes
  8. Repeat on the 2nd side
  9. Serve with a healthy portion of sauce for dipping.

Fun with Birria Sauce

On the rare occasion when you have leftover Birria broth you can repurpose it in numerous ways. As it is, it makes a great soup stock (add some beans!). Use it for poaching. Garnish noodles, rice, or vegetables with it.

Side Dishes

  • Refried beans
  • Shrimp ceviche
  • Cilantro-Lime Rice
  • Spanish rice
  • Crispy cheese potato wedges
  • Tortilla soup
  • Fresh corn salad
  • Chili cheese dip
  • Jalapeno poppers

Pit Master’s Memo: The History of Birria

In the 16th century two cultures – Spanish and Mexican – began exchanging information, including about spices and favored cuisine. During times of famine, people got creative and the title of birriero (birria maker) began in common use. Goat meat became favored for meals because goats were considered nuisance animals. 

Compared to other meat sources, goat tastes gamey. The easiest way to counteract the potent flavor was through herbs and spices. The mixture was cooked in the earth or in kilns, which softened the meat. The end result was far more pleasing. 

The tradition of the birria continued. From that point forward the birria tradition grew, testing and trying other meat including chicken, lamb, and beef. Each household held claim to a “secret” sauce and guarded it with care. 

Nowadays it appears at many gatherings including holidays and weddings. People believe it is a hangover cure! Street stands sell it often in the morning or at lunchtime.

Trivia Tidbit: One of the translations for Birria is “mess.” You will come to appreciate the designation after your first few bites.

From the Bar

Aquas frescas




Rose (dry)


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