Kiko Guerra has been honing his cabrito-cooking technique for about 20 years. He learned his method as a boy, when he would watch the cowboys who barbecued cabrito on his family’s ranch. Kiko says it takes observation and practice to learn how to cook cabrito correctly and to avoid under- or over-cooking the meat, especially given the inconsistencies of cooking with mesquite coals, the weather, and varying sizes of kid goats. In South Texas, one common place to get kid goats is at flea markets, where farmers will sell them either live or slaughtered.
This is the old technique used by goat-herders when they needed to roast a young goat. Minimal equipment is needed, but experience and a keen eye for fire management are essential.
Kid goats that are most prized for making Cabrito al Pastor are pen raised, and fed only milk until the age of 25 to 30 days, when they are processed and prepared for roasting. When goats are let out of the pen to eat brush, the flavor of their meat changes and becomes much stronger.
Some cooks choose to marinate the cabrito; others prefer simply to brush the cabrito while roasting with vegetable oil combined with seasonings such as crushed garlic, oregano, salt, and pepper. My personal favorite is even simpler seasoning of just salt and pepper.
There are several ways to cook a cabrito over mesquite coals; some methods or contraptions are more complicated than others. I prefer using a small mesh grill that sits low to the ground, approximately 16-by-30 inches with about eight-inch legs on the corners. The little grills are convenient, because they hold the cabrito really well and they’re easy to transport.
Roasted cabrito usually takes 3½ to 4 hours to barbecue over live coals. The temperature has to be steady and low for the entire cooking time, adding a few live coals when needed. I put a string of coals around the perimeter of the grill to cook the edge of the ribs and part of the leg. The heat moves into the middle area. You don’t want to dry it out or burn it, because the cabrito skin seals the juice in there, and it starts to bubble up inside, so you want to keep that going at a steady pace, and keep that perimeter heat so it’s steady and not too hot. I turn the cabrito every 15 minutes, until the last hour, when I add a few more live coals and spread them throughout the middle so it will be a full bed of coals to give the finished cabrito a golden crispy skin. Then you just have to watch it so it doesn’t burn or fall apart.
See related: An Interwoven Legacy