The Best Guatemalan Hilachas: Easy Instapot and Slow Cooker Shredded Beef Stew

Hilachas is a traditional Guatemalan dish similar to the Mexican Ropa Vieja recipe. It is a flavorful and easy-to-make shredded beef stew simmered in a velvety tomato-based recado sauce. Like most beef stews, this traditional Guatemalan food takes time to cook but preparing it is very simple when you use an Instapot or slow cooker. In this post, you will find easy step-by-step instructions on making Hilachas, a hearty Guatemalan beef stew. And trust me, it is one of the most delicious Guatemalan foods you’ll ever taste!

Guatemalan hilachas easy recipe

If you’re looking for an easy traditional Guatemalan recipe with your Instapot or slow cooker, this easy recipe for hilachas de Guatemala is perfect! This shredded beef stew recipe is ideal for a weekday dinner since you can throw all the ingredients in your slow cooker or cook the beef quickly in your Instapot. 

I love that I can now make this at home all the time. Sitting down with a warm bowl of hilachas drenched in rich tomato sauce and accompanied by potatoes and carrots always brings back memories of my childhood. It is one of those recipes that we would have a few times a month when I was growing up, and it’s such a delicious comfort food that is perfect cold weather. 

What is Guatemalan Hilachas de Carne?

Hilachas is a popular Guatemalan beef stew made from brisket or flank steak and potatoes, simmered in a savory tomato-based sauce (recado). Its raggedy consistency comes from the boiled beef shredded into fine strips. 

The recado sauce brings a mildly spicy taste and creamy texture into this Guatemalan dish. It infuses this shredded beef recipe with all its richness and flavor. Guatemalans typically love adding white rice as a side dish, making this traditional Guatemalan recipe a full meal. It is the ultimate Guatemalan comfort food to enjoy when the weather gets cooler!!

best hilachas recipe traditional Guatemalan food

What are the Ingredients for Guatemalan Hilachas?

  • Beef brisket or flank steak 
  • Tomato-and-pepper-based Recado (sauce)
  • Potatoes

The main ingredient for Guatemalan hilachas is shredded beef brisket simmered over a rich tomato sauce. The potatoes add depth and a grainy texture, making it a delicious and filling beef stew.

Why are they called Hilachas?

The English translation for this traditional Guatemalan dish is literally “threads.” It is the perfect description of the raggedy appearance the shredded beef has when cut into strips. And even though it goes by different names, you will find that this traditional dish is widely spread throughout Latin American cuisine.

(Hilachas) traditional dish of Guatemalan cuisine, rice, potatoes, tomato sauce and tortillas.
(Hilachas) traditional dish of Guatemalan cuisine, rice, potatoes, tomato sauce, and tortillas.

Mexican Ropa Vieja vs Guatemalan Hilachas

As bordering neighbors, Mexico and Guatemala share a rich history and traditions rooted in colonial Spain. So, no wonder Mexican food and Guatemalan cuisine are remarkably similar; a fitting example of this closeness is the traditional Guatemalan Hilachas.

Mexicans called them “ropa vieja” (old rags), while in Guatemala, it is known as hilachas de carne (shredded beef). Yet, the differences are so subtle that you can barely tell them apart.

Mexican food is usually a tad spicier than Guatemalan, which is the most significant difference in these dishes. Like Guatemalan hilachas, ropa vieja is a Mexican shredded beef stew cooked in savory tomato sauce. However, Hilachas Guatemaltecas only have sweet red bell peppers in the recado sauce, while the Mexican recipe typically includes jalapeños or other spicy peppers, making this dish spicier.

My Mexican friends have told me that they love adding olives and capers to the stew, delivering a saltier taste. However, others prefer their Mexican ropa vieja recipe with more herbs and spices, adding oregano and cumin to the sauce. It gives any shredded beef stew a tangier twist from the original recipe.

Although this delicious, shredded beef stew may have different names, there is no denying that it is a popular dish across Latin America. Countries like Cuba, Costa Rica, Honduras, Colombia, and Puerto Rico have their version of this savory beef stew as part of their traditional food menus.

Super Easy Recipe for Guatemalan Hilachas

Cooking beef so you can shred it can take a bit of time. That is why I decided to modify the original, or should I say, the more traditional method of cooking hilachas and simplify things by making hilachas on your Instapot. I have also included how to make hilachas in your slow cooker.  

I prefer the slow cooker method as I can just throw all the ingredients into my slow cooker in the morning, and by the end of the day, the hilachas are done and ready to serve for dinner. 

best hilachas from Guatemala recipe

Easy Instapot Recipe  for Guatemalan Hilachas:

Yields about six portions

Ingredients

For the Meat:

  • 1 lb. of boneless beef brisket (or flank steak) 
  • 2 Garlic cloves
  • Salt and pepper to taste

For the Recado (sauce):

  • 10 Tomatoes, ripe
  • 2 Red bell peppers
  • 10 Tomatillos (miltomate)
  • 2 Onion
  • 2 Garlic cloves
  • ½ teaspoon of sugar
  • Salt and pepper to taste

For the beef stew:

  • 1 lb. of potatoes, peeled and sliced
  • 1 teaspoon of powdered beef bouillon

Instructions

Cook the meat:

  1. Place the beef in an instant pot with water, two garlic cloves, and a pinch of salt and pepper.
  2. Secure the lid, and cook for 90 minutes at high pressure. Let the pressure release naturally.
  3. Take the beef out of the pot, place it on a plate, and let it sit until cooled. Set aside one cup of boiled water for the stew.
  4. Shred the beef into strips using a pair of forks. The meat will be tender enough to fall apart. 

Make the Recado (sauce):

  1. While the meat is cooking, take out a large pot, pour enough water to cover the tomatoes, tomatillos (miltomates), red peppers, onion, garlic, and sugar. Add salt and pepper to taste and bring to a boil until they are soft and the tomato skin starts coming off. 
  2. Peel the tomatoes so as not to have any coarse flakes and put everything in a blender. Blend until smooth (it should look like a thin sauce), adding a little of the water you set aside from the boiled beef.
  3. Return the recado (sauce) to the same large pot and check the seasoning.

Putting together the shredded beef stew:

  1. Add the shredded beef, potatoes, and beef bouillon to the recado sauce. Cook on low heat for about 10 to 15 minutes. Check the potatoes for doneness, making sure you don’t overcook them.
  2. The beef stew will be ready when the potatoes are fully cooked, and all the flavors are well blended.
  3. Serve with white rice.

Make Ahead of Time

This savory Guatemalan dish is one of my favorite comfort foods, a beef stew that is easy to make! However, the meat could take a little bit of prep time. You can cook everything the same day or take a shortcut and make the recado (tomato-based sauce) a couple of days before. 

When cooking traditional Guatemalan food, if I see that the recipe has recado sauce, I instantly make a double batch. This way, I have leftover sauce for other delicious (but time-consuming) recipes like Guatemalan chuchitos. Besides, you can use the sauce on everyday meals, like drizzled on top of quesadillas, perfect for kid’s snack time!

You can also make Hilachas a couple of days in advance, save them in your fridge, or freeze them for up to 3 months. Just be careful: the consistency of this Guatemalan dish will thicken when frozen, so I add a little water when reheating. 

Making Hilachas in Your Slow Cooker 

This recipe for Hilachas is so easy to make that you can “throw” all the ingredients on your Crock-Pot or slow cooker (with minimal prep work). And, of course, the best thing about slow cookers is that you can dump everything and forget about it! 

slow cooker hilachas shredded beef stew

Although I made the more traditional Guatemalan version using an Instapot, I love the “dump-and-cook” kind of recipes that simplify your life. So, here are the things you should take into account if you are going the slow cooker route:

  • Add all of the ingredients to the Crock-Pot or slow cooker early in the day or the night before. For example, if you are planning Hilachas for dinner, you can cook them early in the morning.
  • Set the Crock-Pot on low and cook for about 7-8 hours or until the meat is tender.
  • Remove the beef and shred it into strips using a pair of forks. Return the meat to the pot and cook on low for 30 minutes.

Tips for making Hilachas:

  • You can use beef brisket, flank steak, or beef chuck for this recipe. These types of meat are a bit “hard,” needing a longer cook time to soften. But if you use an Instapot, it will cut your prep time significantly.
  • If I’m planning to freeze the hilachas, I skip the potatoes. Instead, I add them when reheating the beef stew, as potatoes get soggy when frozen.
  • When making the recado sauce, it is better to peel the boiled tomatoes than press the sauce through a strainer. In my experience, using a blender helps your sauce retain its body and tangy flavors. It may take a couple of more minutes, but it will be worth it!

easy hilachas from Guatemala shredded beef stew

What To Serve with Traditional Guatemalan Hilachas?

I typically serve this Guatemalan dish with white rice and fresh corn tortillas. I like putting a little bit of sour cream and fresh cilantro on the side to give this beef and rice stew more flavor. You can also serve it with some chiltepe (Guatemalan spicy chile) or hot sauce to give it a bit of spiciness. This beef stew is the ultimate comfort food, packed with a rich sauce and incredible flavors. 

As a whole, I consider this recipe a complete meal, starchy friends, and all! But to balance this incredible Guatemalan meal, toss a green salad to add freshness. And if you have leftover meat, why not turn it into some fantastic Mexican shredded beef tacos or quesadillas.

Other Traditional Guatemalan Recipes

easy slow cooker Guatemalan cocido recipe

  • Guatemalan Pepián De Pollo: This Guatemalan chicken stew is rich in flavors and filled with roasted spices. You can make Pepián with chicken, beef, or pork and then stew it in a tomato-based sauce flavored with roasted seeds and peppers.
  • Guatemalan Rellenitos: Rellenitos are ripe plantains stuffed with beans and covered in sugar. Although the combination might seem strange, this sweet plantain recipe is one of the most delicious Guatemalan foods.
Rellenitos de platano recipe
Guatemalan rellenitos de platano.

I am always thinking of new ways to bring traditional Guatemalan food into my everyday meals, and hilachas is the perfect dish. And with this easy-to-follow instant pot recipe, you can make this tasty Guatemalan shredded beef stew that will have your kids asking for seconds! It is a dish I love making for my family on a chilly day!

Guatemalan hilachas easy recipe

Instapot recipe for Guatemalan Hilachas

An easy-to-follow Instapot slow cooker recipe for Hilachas de Carne, a delicious Guatemalan shredded beef stew,

Ingredients

For the Meat:

  • 1 lb. of boneless beef brisket (or flank steak)
  • 2 Garlic cloves
  • Salt and pepper to taste

For the Recado (sauce):

  • 10 Tomatoes, ripe
  • 2 Red bell peppers
  • 10 Tomatillos (miltomate)
  • 2 Onion
  • 2 Garlic cloves
  • ½ teaspoon of sugar
  • Salt and pepper to taste

For the beef stew:

  • 1 lb. of potatoes, peeled and sliced
  • 1 teaspoon of powdered beef bouillon

Instructions

Cook the meat:

  1. Place the beef in an instant pot with water, two garlic cloves, and a pinch of salt and pepper.
  2. Secure the lid, and cook for 90 minutes at high pressure. Let the pressure release naturally.
  3. Take the beef out of the pot, place it on a plate, and let it sit until cooled. Set aside one cup of boiled water for the stew.
  4. Shred the beef into strips using a pair of forks. The meat will be tender enough to fall apart. 

Make the Recado (sauce):

  1. While the meat is cooking, take out a large pot, pour enough water to cover the tomatoes, tomatillos (miltomates), red peppers, onion, garlic, and sugar. Add salt and pepper to taste and bring to a boil until they are soft and the tomato skin starts coming off. 
  2. Peel the tomatoes so as not to have any coarse flakes and put everything in a blender. Blend until smooth (it should look like a thin sauce), adding a little of the water you set aside from the boiled beef.
  3. Return the recado (sauce) to the same large pot and check the seasoning.

Putting together the shredded beef stew:

  1. Add the shredded beef, potatoes, and beef bouillon to the recado sauce. Cook on low heat for about 10 to 15 minutes. Check the potatoes for doneness, making sure you don’t overcook them.
  2. The beef stew will be ready when the potatoes are fully cooked, and all the flavors are well blended.
  3. Serve with white rice.
Nutrition Information:
Serving Size: 1 cup
Amount Per Serving: Calories: 285

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