Goat meat, also known as chevon or cabrito, is a popular type of meat in Mexican cuisine. The Spanish word cabrito literally means “little goat” and refers to young goats under one year old. Cabrito is the most common name for goat meat in Mexico and is considered a delicacy, especially in central and northern regions of the country.
The Popularity of Goat Meat in Mexico
Goats have been raised for meat and milk in Mexico since the time of the Aztecs. Today, Mexico has a population of over 10 million goats and is one of the world’s top producers of goat meat. Goat farming and goat meat consumption have grown steadily in Mexico over the past decades. According to FAOSTAT data, Mexico produced over 84,000 tonnes of goat meat in 2020.
Goat meat is an integral part of traditional Mexican cuisines like cabrito al pastor from Monterrey, birria from Jalisco, and barbacoa from central Mexico. It is most popular in the northern states of Chihuahua, Coahuila, Nuevo León, and Sonora. The demand for cabrito rises significantly around Easter and the Christmas holidays when it is part of many family celebrations. Cabrito birria (goat meat stew) and tacos de cabrito are iconic dishes found across Mexico.
Several factors contribute to the popularity of goat meat in Mexican food culture:
- Goats are well-adapted to the scrublands and semi-arid climate in Mexico which makes goat rearing an efficient livestock option.
- Goat meat was eaten by indigenous groups like the Aztecs and Mayans, making it a traditional meat source.
- Goats mature faster than cattle and sheep, making them a good source of meat production.
- The meat is leaner and lower in fat and cholesterol compared to beef or pork.
- Roasted and grilled cabrito has a distinct sweet and gamey flavor that is coveted in Mexican cooking.
Cabrito vs. Birria – What’s the Difference?
In Mexico, goat meat preparations are primarily divided into two types – cabrito and birria. While they both refer to goat meat, there are some key differences:
- Refers to meat from milk-fed kids or young goats under 12 months old.
- The meat is pale pink in color and very tender.
- Cabrito is traditionally roasted or grilled on a spit and served whole.
- It has a milder flavor compared to mature goat meat.
- Considered a delicacy and fête food.
- Mostly the legs, ribs, loin and shoulders are eaten.
- Made from meat of older goats usually over 1 year old.
- The meat has a darker red color.
- Used to make birria – a spicy goat meat stew or soup.
- The meat is braised or slow-cooked until very tender.
- Flavor is richer and gamey.
- Utilizes the whole carcass including head and offal.
While cabrito is reserved for special occasions, birria is more commonplace. Both impart distinct flavors and textures to Mexican goat meat dishes.
Goat Breeds Raised for Meat in Mexico
There are several goat breeds that are primarily raised for cabrito and birria production in Mexico:
- A South African meat goat breed now popular across the world.
- Known for fast growth rates, excellent carcass quality and high fertility levels.
- Cabrito from Boer goats has a mild flavor and tenderness that is highly desirable.
- An old English breed originally from Africa, now globally distributed.
- Reputed for being docile, high-yielding milking goats.
- Also reared for tasty high-quality meat.
- Their milk is used to raise tender cabrito kids.
- A descendant of the goats originally brought to Mexico by Spanish colonizers.
- Excellently adapted to the native environment.
- Makes flavorful cabrito and birria.
- A hardy landrace breed well-suited for smallholder farms.
- A French dairy goat also raised for meat.
- Higher milk yield means good quality cabrito kids for meat.
- The demand for Alpine goat meat has grown due to its lean texture and mild taste.
Several other imported breeds like La Mancha, Oberhasli and Saanen are also being raised. But native Mexican goats still form the majority of the goat population.
How Cabrito is Prepared and Cooked
Traditional cabrito is prepared using special techniques that enhance its tenderness and flavor:
- Slaughter Age: Kids are slaughtered at 3-6 weeks old for the most tender meat.
- Milk Diet: Only milk-fed kids are used for top-quality cabrito.
- Whole Carcass: The whole baby goat is roasted or grilled.
- Marination: The meat is marinated in chiles, garlic, oregano to infuse flavor.
- Slow Roasting: Cabrito is roasted slowly on a spit for 2-3 hours.
- Pit Cooking: Some cooks use traditional underground pit ovens for smoky flavor.
The most authentic cabrito is made using wood fire or charcoal for roasting. Common preparations include:
Cabrito al Pastor
The cabrito is marinated in a paste of guajillo chiles, garlic, oregano, onion, vinegar, olive oil and rubbed with lime before roasting. Originated in Monterrey.
Cabrito al Horno
Roasted in an outdoor wood-burning oven or “horno” in Oaxaca. Marinated with oregano, sesame and chiles.
Cabrito en Salsa
After roasting, the cabrito is served with salsa made from guajillo or pasilla chiles and tomatoes for added flavor.
The roasted cabrito meat and bones are cooked in a seasoned broth with chiles to make birria goat stew.
In recent times, restaurants have begun experimenting with chargrilled, deep-fried and braised cabrito preparations. But traditional wood-roasted cabrito is still considered the gold standard.
|Cooking Method||Preparation||Flavor Profile|
|Wood roasting||Whole baby goat marinated and slow roasted on spit||Smoky, deep robust flavor|
|Charcoal grilling||Chops, ribs, legs grilled over charcoal||Char-grilled smokiness|
|Braising||Tough cuts stewed in chiles, tomatoes, spices||Tender, rich spicy flavor|
|Barbecuing||Leg of cabrito basted with sauce during roasting||Infused with barbecue sauce flavors|
Where to Find the Best Cabrito in Mexico
Here are some highly-rated restaurants and food stalls to try authentic cabrito and birria goat meat dishes in Mexico:
El Vilsito – Monterrey, Nuevo León
Famous roadside restaurant dishing out sumptuous Monterrey-style cabrito al pastor for over 60 years. Don’t miss their signature roasted cabrito tacos.
Birrieria las Calandrias – Guadalajara, Jalisco
Iconic birria joint popular for their melt-in-the-mouth goat meat birria stew. Try the quesataco – cabrito birria taco with melted cheese.
Birrieria Diaz – Tijuana, Baja California
Their specialty is Tijuana-style birria made with goat meat slow-cooked for hours until unbelievably tender.
Los Tacos de Cabrito – Mexico City
Top-rated food stall serving grilled norteño-style cabrito tacos with onions, cilantro and salsa on handmade corn tortillas.
Pozol y Tacos Ayuntamiento – Oaxaca City, Oaxaca
Don’t leave Oaxaca without trying their melt-in-the-mouth wood-roasted cabrito cooked in the traditional Oaxacan horno oven.
Health Benefits of Goat Meat
Beyond being a tasty Mexican specialty, goat meat also boasts an impressive nutritional profile. Here are some of the health perks associated with this underrated red meat:
Lower in Calories and Fat
Goat meat contains 139 calories and 3.6 grams fat per 100 grams serving. This is significantly lower than lamb, beef or pork making it a healthier red meat choice.
Abundant in Protein
Goat meat contains over 25 grams of protein per 100 grams serving. Proteins are vital for building and repairing muscles, skin and organs in the body.
Rich in Iron
Goat contains higher iron than other meats providing 6.77 mg iron per 100 grams. Iron is essential for preventing anemia and boosting blood circulation.
High in Vitamin B12
Goat meat has excellent levels of vitamin B12 which aids the normal functioning of the nervous system and cell metabolism.
Some research indicates that compounds in goat meat may have anti-inflammatory effects helping prevent disease.
The meat has low sodium levels and minimal saturated fat content compared to regular lamb and beef. Many people find goat easier to digest. Cabrito and birria can be healthy additions to your diet when consumed in moderation.
Where to Buy Goat Meat in Mexico
If you want to cook authentic cabrito or birria at home, fresh goat meat can be purchased at:
- Outdoor markets like mercados municipales and tianguis markets in cities across Mexico.
- Butcher shops called carnicerias that specialize in goat meat cuts.
- Directly from goat ranches.
- Online meat delivery services.
- Large supermarkets like Soriana, La Comer and Chedraui.
Prices range from 90 to 150 pesos per kilogram depending on the cut. Leg and shoulder cuts like paleta, pierna, and chambarete are popular. You can also buy goat offal like kidneys, liver and stomach to make birria.
Goat meat is an integral part of Mexico’s incredible culinary heritage. The Spanish name cabrito refers to the tender, milk-fed kids that are a specialty in many regions. While cabrito roasting is reserved for feasts, birria stew made from older goats is found daily in many Mexican homes. The meat imparts a unique sweet gaminess highly prized in the complex flavors of Mexican cuisine. Cabrito al pastor from the north, barbacoa from central Mexico and Oaxacan cabrito horneado each have their own iconic status. This ancient love for goat still continues today with Mexico as one of the top producers and consumers globally. So next time you are in Mexico, be sure to sample some delicious cabrito or birria goat meat dishes and experience the flavors of Mexico’s rich culinary culture.