Tacos Al Pastor (Video!)

Authentic Tacos Al Pastor exploding with restaurant flavor made with thinly sliced chile pineapple marinated pork, grilled to perfection and served with caramelized pineapple.

I am SO excited for you to try this Tacos Al Pastor recipe!  Al Pastor is surprisingly simple to make but with explosive multi-dimensional flavor – all coming from your very own grill.  I’ve included tips and tricks, hopefully answered any questions you might have about how to make Al Pastor, including how to make this recipe even if you don’t have a grill.  Because everyone needs Al pastor in their lives.  often.  

TACOS AL PASTOR RECIPE VIDEO

up close top view of al pastor pork on a corn tortilla with grilled pineapple, pico de gallo and avocado on a white board

I recently shared in my Al Pastor Kabobs post, that I am obsessed with Al Pastor.  When we go out, I usually order it in some form or another from authentic Tacos Al Pastor to Ada Haba Pina California Burrito (burrito with Al Pastor, pineapple, French fries, sour cream, guacamole, cheese, etc.) to Al Pastor Nachos.

The combination of smoky, tangy, chile pork, with grilled pineapple is 1000X crave worthy so I knew I was up for a challenge to create a traditional al pastor tasting recipe that was homemade BUT, I think we have done just that and  I can honestly say this is arguably one of the best homemade Al Pastor recipe out there.

My foodie critic husband (who loves Mexican food even more than me – which is barely possible) would agree.  He loved the Al Pastor as it was coming off the grill, he loved it as it was barely warm after photos and he loved it reheated the same night.  In fact, he had three teenage boys from our church youth group over to our house to eat the leftovers that night – and they ate ALL of it.

I think they liked it.

I hope this Al Pastor recipe joins the ranks of my Mexican Chicken, Salsa Verde Chicken, Carnitas, Chipotle Pork, Carne Asada, Beef Barbacoa and Chipotle  Chicken as one of your favorite new Mexican protein staples.  Or exceeds them.

What is Al Pastor?

If you aren’t familiar with Al Pastor, (meaning “shepherd style” in Spanish), it is a popular pork dish in Central America in which pork is marinated in pineapple, chilies and spices then stacked and vertically roasted on a slowly turning spit with a pineapple on top which bathes the pork with its juices.

The outside edges of the pork become beautifully crisp and caramelized while the inside remains splendidly juicy.  The Al Pastor is sliced off the spit-grilled meat to-order in thin slices accompanied by chunks of fresh pineapple.  Heaven.

up close of best Tacos Al Pator with pineapple, pico de gallo and avocado on a white board

Where did Al Pastor Come From?

I am always fascinated by the origins of popular “authentic” food so I was surprised to learn the concept for Al Pastor was brought to Central Mexico by Lebanese immigrants in the early 1900s. These immigrants cooked their thin cuts of meat stacked together in a cone-like shape on a vertical spit-grill, known as shawarma (one of my favs, coming soon!), much like Greek gyros.  As the rotisserie rotates, the outside cooks and thin pieces are continually shaved off.

The “pastor” in Al Pastor is the name given to the Lebanese merchants who brought the concept of shawarma with them. The citizens of Mexico developed their own guajillo chille marinade with its signature tangy chile flavor and applied it to pork instead of lamb or other meats.

What kind of meat is al pastor?

Al Pastor is traditionally spit-roasted pork but for our homemade Al Pastor we are going to use boneless pork shoulder.   Pork shoulder is a relatively inexpensive cut of meat and layered with enough fat that when marinated and cooked on high heat, it emerges tender and juicy.

top view of 5 best Tacos Al Pator with pineapple, pico de gallo and avocado on a white board

What is the Difference Between Al Pastor and Carnitas?

I love them both!!!  Both Al Pastor and Carnitas are made with pork but the difference lies in the preparation and seasonings.

Carnitas is made with pork shoulder and is Mexico’s version of pulled pork.  It is seasoned with oregano, garlic, cumin, onion, jalapeno and orange juice and braised until fall-apart tender.  The shredded pork is then oven-roasted until slightly crispy.

Authentic Al Pastor, on the other hand, is spit-roasted pork and seasoned with guajille chiles, achiote paste, pineapple juice, etc.   It is thinly sliced vertical shavings of caramelized pork served with pineapple.

What is in tacos al pastor?

Al Pastor and Tacos Al Pastor are almost interchangeable terms.    Tacos Al Pastor traditionally begin with a corn tortilla and are piled with charred, thin shavings of marinated, roasted pork, pineapple, pico de gallo, cilantro and lime juice.  Other optional toppings include salsa verde, salsa, sour cream, avocados or guacamole.  I also am a huge fan of a drizzle of Cilantro Lime Dressing –  not authentic but incredible. 

top view of a line of tacos al pastor with a hand grabbing one of the tacos

How to Make Al Pastor

Tacos Al Pastor is very easy to make once you have all of the ingredients.  Slicing your pork will probably take the most time and once that is done, you’re more than half way done! Once your pork is marinated, all you have to do is grill it up and chop, making it a fabulous make ahead dinner or meal for entertaining.

To make Al Pastor:

  • Thinly slice pork.
showing how to make tacos al pastor with thinly sliced pork in a glass bowl
  • Toast Peppers, remove seeds and simmer in water to soften.
showing how to make al pastor marinade by removing seeds from guajillo chiles on a white cutting board
  • Blend marinade ingredients together.
showing how to make al pastor marinade with guajillo chiles, ahciote paste, onions, garlic, pineapple juice in a blender
showing how to make al pastor with blended marinade that is bright red
  • Marinate pork.
showing how to make tacos al pastor with thinly sliced pork in a glass bowl covered in bright red mariande
  • Grill pineapple and pork.
showing how to make Tacos Al Pastor by grilling thinly sliced marinated pork on the barbecue
showing how to make Tacos Al Pastor with thinly sliced al pastor meat on a cutting board after it has been grilled
  • Chop pork.
showing how to make al pastor with chopped al pastor on a cutting board
  • Chop pineapple.
showing how to make authentic Tacos Al Pastor by chopping grilled pineapple on a white cutting board
  • Load in tacos and Eat!
up close of Tacos Al Pastor with chopped al pastor, pineapple, pico de gallo and guacamole

Tips and Tricks to make Tacos Al Pastor

  • Boneless Pork Shoulder. I purchase my boneless pork shoulder at Costco.  It can come in up to 10 lb quantities, which is perfect to slice into thirds and freeze the other two parts  for later use such as my Pork Carnitas or Chipotle  Sweet Pulled Pork.
  • Cut Pork. I recommend cutting your pork into more manageable sections for slicing later – about 8 smaller pieces, otherwise you are trying to slice thin pieces off of meat that is much longer than your knife.
  • Freeze Pork.  Freezing any type of meat before trying to slice it thinly is a life saver otherwise your meat is moving all over the place and it is difficult to slice evenly.  After you chop your pork into smaller sections, add it to a freezer size bag and freeze for 2-4 hours so it is hard enough to holds its shape when you slice it, but soft enough that it will still slice.  I recommend only removing one section of pork at a time from the freezer and slicing it otherwise the rest will start to defrost while they wait their turn.
  • Slice Pork. I try and slice my pork on the wide side of the section vs the thin side so there is more surface area on the grill (AKA go for fat thin slices vs. long thin slices).
  • CANNED Pineapple Juice.  Please use only CANNED pineapple juice in the marinade!  Canned pineapple juice will infuse your pork with flavor without leaving it mushy if it’s not marinated too long.  Fresh pineapple juice still contains enzymes that could break down your pork and more likely to leave it mushy in a short amount of time.
  • Handle Guajillo Chiles with Care.  After you remove the seeds from your dried guajillo chiles, immediately wash your hands.  Take care not to touch your eyes while you are working with them!  (More on guajillo chilies below.)
  • What is Achiote Paste?  This spice paste is made from the annato seed that gives the Al Pastor its traditional bright red-orange color.  Unlike Tandoori Chicken, Al Pastor is 100% al natural in coloring.  Achiote paste also contains oregano, cumin, cloves, cinnamon, black pepper, garlic and salt.  It is slightly sweet, peppery, nutty and smoky.  You can find it in any Mexican market or you can Amazon-it.
  • Achiote Paste Substitute:  (will not provide the authentic red color). And yes, add these seasonings in ADDITION to the ones listed in the recipe if you are not using achiote paste.
    • 1 ½ tablespoons paprika
    • 2 teaspoons white vinegar
    • ½ teaspoon dried oregano
    • ¼ teaspoon garlic powder
    • ¼ teaspoon black pepper
    • ¼ teaspoon ground cumin
    • ¼ teaspoon cinnamon
    • ⅛ teaspoon cloves
  • Your Marinade Will Taste Spicy, Your Pork Will Not.  If you taste the marinade it will taste quite spicy and you might be worried your al pastor will be too spicy as well – but don’t worry!  The pork does not absorb all of the heat; it emerges. tangy, sweet and smoky but not spicy!
showing how to make al pastor with up close of bright red marinated al pastor pork thinly sliced

What are Guajillo Chilies?

Guajillo Chilies are the base of traditional Al Pastor marinades.  They belong to the holy trinity of chiles commonly used in Mexican cuisine and is essential to authentic Al Pastor.  Guajillo chiles boast a sweet berry-toned heat (think cranberries) combined with a mild smokiness.  We enhance this smokiness by adding our guajillo chiles to a hot skillet and and toasting them until blistered in spots and fragrant, turning occasionally, about 3 minutes.

Guajillo chiles are dried chiles from the mirasol chili, and are considered medium heat with a rating 2,500 to 5,000 on the Scoville scale in comparison with the jalapeño which can reach 8,000 SHU.  The guajillo chiles add wonderfully complex flavor to our Al Pastor marinade but our Tacos Al Pastor are far from spicy, simply flavorful.

Where Can I Find Guajillo Chilies?

If you’ve never purchased or cooked with guajillo chiles, before, don’t be intimidated!  For our purposes we are going to use dried guajillo chilesDried guajillo chiles can be found at any Mexican market as well as many grocery stores (and almost all super Walmarts) in either the Mexican aisle or produce section.  Many produce stores such as Sprouts and Whole Foods also carry packages of dried guajillo chiles.  If you can’t find them or simply want a one-click option, then you can Amazon-it.

up close of authentic Al Pator with pineapple, pico de gallo and avocado on a white board

Can I make Al Pastor If I don’t Have A Grill?

Yes!  You can cook Al Pastor using an indoor grill pan with great success or a heavy duty skillet.  Take care you line the pork in the pan in a single layer so it sears and doesn’t steam.  Just note, it will take longer to cook you Al Pastor with this method because you will need to cook in several batches.

Cook  per the same instructions as the grill, cooking over high heat for  2-4 minutes per side, just until seared and cooked thorugh.

What Sides Should I serve with Tacos Al Pastor?

Tacos Al Pastor go fabulously with:

Now open wide!

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up close top view of al pastor pork on a corn tortilla with grilled pineapple, pico de gallo and avocado on a white board

Tacos Al Pastor

The BEST Tacos Al Pastor you will ever eat and SO EASY! They are exploding with restaurant-style flavor made with thinly sliced chile pineapple marinated pork, grilled to perfection and served with caramelized pineapple.
Servings: 6 -8 people
Total Time: 43 mins
Prep Time: 25 mins
Cook Time: 18 mins

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Ingredients

  • 3 -3 1/2 pounds boneless pork shoulder sliced 1/4” inch thick (see note)***
  • 1 ripe pineapple peeled and sliced into 1/2” thick rings

Marinade

Instructions

Marinade

  • Heat a skillet over medium-high heat. Add guajillo chiles and toast until blistered in spots and fragrant, turning occasionally, about 3 minutes. Transfer peppers to a cutting board. Once cool enough to handle, cut tops off chiles, cut in half and remove seeds, taking care not to touch your eyes.
  • Add chiles back to skillet and cover with water. Simmer 3-5 minutes until softened. Remove softened chilies to blender along with all Marinade ingredients and blend until smooth.
  • Add pork to a shallow dish or freezer size bag. Add marinade and stir to combine so every piece is evenly coated. Cover and marinate in the refrigerator for 8 -24 hours.

GRILL

  • Grease grill or grill pan and heat to high heat. Add pineapple and grill until lightly charred, about 5 minutes per side. Transfer to cutting board and chop once cool enough to handle, discarding center rind.
  • Grease grill once again and heat to high heat. Remove the pork from the marinade and add to grill (you might need to work in batches). Grill over high heat until lightly charred and just cooked through, 2 to 4 minutes per side. Transfer to cutting board and let rest for 5 minutes before chopping into bite size pieces.

Serve

  • Serve Al Pastor in warm tortillas with chopped pineapple and favorite toppings such as pico de gallo, salsa, guacamole, sour cream, cilantro, lime etc.

Video

Notes

Don’t miss the “how to make” recipe video at the top of the post!
  • Boneless Pork Shoulder. I purchase my boneless pork shoulder at Costco.  It can come in up to 10 lb quantities, which is perfect to slice into thirds and freeze the other two parts  for later use such as my Pork Carnitas or Chipotle  Sweet Pulled Pork.
  • ***Cut pork. I recommend cutting your pork into more manageable sections for slicing later – about 8 smaller pieces, otherwise you are trying to slice thin pieces off of meat that is much longer than your knife.
  • Freeze pork.  Freezing any type of meat before trying to slice it thinly is a life saver otherwise your meat is moving all over the place and it is difficult to slice evenly.  After you chop your pork into smaller sections, add it to a freezer size bag and freeze for 3-4 hours so it is hard enough that it holds its shape when you slice it, but soft enough that it will still slice.  I recommend only removing one section of pork at a time from the freezer and slicing it otherwise the rest will start to defrost while they wait their turn.
  • Slice pork. I try and slice my pork on the wide side of the section vs the thin side so there is more surface area on the grill (AKA go for fat thin slices vs. long thin slices).
  • CANNED Pineapple Juice.  Please use only CANNED pineapple juice!  Canned pineapple juice will infuse your pork with flavor without leaving it mushy if it’s not marinated too long.  Fresh pineapple juice still contains enzymes that could break down your pork and more likely to leave it mushy in a short amount of time.
  • Where do I find Guajillo chiles? If you’ve never purchased or cooked with Guajillo chiles, before, don’t be intimidated!  For our purposes we are going got use dried Guajillo chilesDried Guajillo chiles can be found at any Mexican market as well as many grocery stores (and almost all super Walmarts) in either the Mexican aisle or produce section.  Many produce stores such as Sprouts and Whole Foods also carry packages of dried Guajillo chiles.  If you can’t find them or simply want a one-click option, then you can Amazon-it.
  • Handle Guajillo chiles with care.  After you remove the seeds from your dried Guajillo chiles, immediately wash your hands.  Take care not to touch your eyes while you are working with them!  (more on Guajillo chilies below).
  • What is Achiote Paste?  This spice paste is made from the annato seed that gives the Al Pastor its traditional bright red-orange color as well as oregano, cumin, cloves, cinnamon, black pepper, garlic and salt.  It is slightly sweet, peppery, nutty and smoky.  You can find it in any Mexican market or you can Amazon-it.
  • Achiote Paste Substitute:  (will not provide the authentic red color). And yes, add these seasonings in ADDITION to the ones listed in the recipe if you are not using achiote paste.
    • 1 ½ tablespoons paprika
    • 2 teaspoons white vinegar
    • ½ teaspoon dried oregano
    • ¼ teaspoon garlic powder
    • ¼ teaspoon black pepper
    • ¼ teaspoon ground cumin
    • ¼ teaspoon cinnamon
    • ⅛ teaspoon cloves
  • Your marinade will taste spicy.  If you taste the marinade it will taste quite spicy and you might be worried your al pastor will be too spicy as well – but don’t worry!  The pork does not absorb all of the heat.  It emerges. tangy, sweet and smoky but not spicy!’
 

Can I Make Al Pastor If I Don’t Have A Grill?

Yes!  You can cook Al Pastor using an indoor grill pan with great success or a heavy duty skillet.  Take care you line the pork in the pan in a single layer so it sears and doesn’t steam.  Just note, it will take longer to cook you Al Pastor with this method because you will need to cook in several batches.
 

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44 Comments

  1. Allie says

    Good Morning Jen! My goodness, you certainly to your homework. Fascinating reading about the history of El Pastor.

    Reading through the recipe and seeing what ingredients I have on hand, I want to get clear on how much pork to use. We actually need only 3 1/2# of pork, yes? Thanks. Allie

    • Jen says

      Thanks Hi Allie! The marinade is enough for 3 1/2 pounds but you can certainly use less or half the marinade and pork 🙂 I hope you absolutely love it!

  2. Virginia Graves says

    I found this very interesting. Thank you so much for sharing.

    • Jen says

      You are so welcome! I hope you can try them soon!

  3. Cary says

    This looks so good! I’m going to put it on my shopping list. We love the Al Pastor tacos in Mexico!

    • Jen says

      Thank you Cary! I hope you absolutely love it!

  4. Chris says

    My husband and I have been making Al Pastor for awhile now. Just came across your recipe today and I love your instructions for how to make this on a grill without a rotisserie or, if you don’t even have a grill at all. My husband doesn’t have a shawarma set-up but we do have a regular rotisserie and that works well, too.
    Great recipe and instructions.

    • Jen says

      Thank you so much Chris, I’m so happy you found my recipe! Al Pastor is one of my favs so I wanted everyone to be able to make it at home 🙂 That is awesome you have a rotisserie, I am sure it will be fabulous using that as well!

  5. Shon says

    Hi, I have a food truck from the Midwest and I’m passionate about my work and expanding into new menu options. I’m good at what I do; winning numberous awards and my family was recently on a new show for The Food Network called Family Food Showdown that will air in March.

    I was told by a sibling how awesome Al pastor was and needed to add it to my truck. I found your recipe and followed it to the T. I served one of these tacos to a patron earlier tonight who is a foodie that loves Mexican food. He schooled me on the best towns in Mexico that make the best Al Pastor by using wood in their vertical broilers and he told me that mine was the best taco Al pastor he’s ever eaten in our city and state, and was very close to the best he’s had in Mexico.

    So there ya go 🙂 Forget every other Al pastor recipe out there, this one is the best. I bet the other recipes here are equally good and I can’t wait to try them all.

    • Jen says

      Wow, Shon, thank you so much for making my day! First of all, that s awesome you were on The Food Showdown – I will have to watch for you! I love that you have a food truck and get to share your recipes with the rest of the world. I am thrilled and honored this is the best Tacos Al Pastor recipe you and your patron have tried! I hope you find many new recipes to love here! Thanks for taking the endorsement and taking the time to comment!

  6. Shauna says

    If I put the marinade on my pork this morning but don’t have time to cook it, can I freeze it with the marinade on and thaw it out Wednesday to grill

    • Jen says

      Great question! Yes, you can absolutely do that!

  7. Shauna says

    If I put the marinade on my pork this morning but don’t have time to cook it, can I freeze it with the marinade on and thaw it out a few days later and grill?

  8. Colleen Frank says

    Hi. This sounds fantastic!!! Due to time constraints I’m wondering if I could completely make the meat ahead of time and freeze after grilling and cooling. Have you ever tried this with success? Thank you!!!

    • Jen says

      Hi Colleen, I have never tried freezing the meat but I think it should work just fine! Just make sure it’s not overcooked initially because it will be reheated. Good luck!

  9. Josey says

    To die for! I used some leftover al pastor for taco today I am in love. Best tacos ever.

    • Jen says

      YAY! Thank you Josey! I’m thrilled you love this al pastor as much as us!

  10. Tyler says

    I’m going to try this tonight! Do you blend the 1/2 onion as well for the marinade? In the picture of the blender I don’t think I see the onion.

    • Jen says

      Hi Tyler, yes you blend the onion with the marinade. Enjoy!

  11. Bethany says

    Can you use pork loin instead of pork shoulder?

    • Jen says

      I think that will work just fine, enjoy!

  12. Stephanie says

    This Al Pastor was fantastic and so full of flavor. I’ve tried making other recipes with mediocre results but this was so authentic tasting, just loved it. Didn’t have the grilled pineapple but I made up some pico de gallo and chopped avocado. Our family likes to go to a small mexican restaurant on most Sundays after church and my husband will almost always get their Pastor tacos. Since everything has been shut down for a couple months he’s been craving Pastor so of course your recipe delivered. Also made your cilantro lime rice, WOW! LOVE LOVE LOVE your Carlsbad Cravings blog.

    • Jen says

      Thank you Stephanie, I love you and your awesome comments/recommendations! I’m thrilled these Tacos Al Pastor hit the spot after being deprived for so long! It sounds like you make dinnertime special at your house – no doubt your kids are making lots of special memories during this crazy time thanks to you!

  13. Kay Pea says

    I have been sitting on this recipe for a while, and I just now finally got around to deciding to give it a shot. I made the marinade today with plans to grill the pork tomorrow. I tasted the marinade and OH MY DEAR LORD it is effin’ delicious. I just know that these are going to be some of the most legit tacos EVER.
    I’m thinking of doing them on my vertical spit, but we’ll see.

    • Jen says

      Thanks Kay! I’m so pleased you got around to making this recipe – I hope you love the tacos even more than the marinde!

      • Kay Pea says

        Hello again! So, I made the tacos last night. As planned, I used the vertical spit on my grill, but it was taking too long so I finished it in the oven. The pork was so tender and sliced so easily. Once the tacos were assembled, I couldn’t believe how delicious they were! I never have to set foot in a taqueria ever again. Thank you for sharing this recipe!

        • Jen says

          That’s awesome Kay, I’m honored they are restaurant delicious! Thank you so much!

  14. Don says

    QQ: what size can of pineapple juice? Is it a typical 15oz can or one of the big cans?

    • Jen says

      I purchase 6 oz. cans of just pineapple juice and measure from that. Enoy!

  15. alexander malave says

    Hello i’m really interested in making this recipe it seems to be my favorite from all that i searched but i want to change the amount of serving for about 8 people and about 6 lot 8 pounds of pork how can i adjust the serving without adding to much of something , thank you

    • Jen says

      Hi Alexander, for this particular recipe, I would use 8 pounds of pork and double all of the ingredients and it will turn out great. Enjoy!

      • alexander malave says

        thank you so much will do, i’m super excited

  16. Cathy Lynn says

    Can I use Pork Tenderloin?

  17. Brittany says

    Hello! I am a high school FACS teacher and we are studying Mexico this unit in Global Foods. Due to the constraints of cooking in a classroom lab, we do not have access to grills. I saw that you noted that this recipe can be cooked in a skillet. However, I wonder how long it would take to cook the pork shoulder in a skillet. Could we chop up the meat before it goes in the pan to speed up the cooking process?

    • Jen says

      Absolutely! I would cook it in batches. If it’s sliced thin it will just take a couple minutes per side and if it’s chopped probably closer to 5-7 minutes, just until cooked through. Good luck!

  18. Mark says

    Hello – is it possible to make this the day before and then serve? If so, what I the best way to reheat the meat?

    • Jen says

      Hi Mark, I would slice the meat thicker so it is less likely to dry out then undercook it a bit so it doesn’t overcook when you reheat it. Reheat in a cast iron skillet or in the oven until it reaches desired temperature. Hope this helps!

  19. Lori Lou says

    This was delicious! While it’s nothing like the “real thing”, It was more than satisfying!!! We loved the bite from the chipotle chile and the caramelized pineapple. This time around, I didn’t do the rotisserie part, but rather grilled it in a cast iron grill pan. So good! Next time though, we’ll follow the cooking instructions to a “T”. Thanks for sharing this!

    • Jen says

      You’re so welcome Lori Lou, I’m so pleased it was a winner!

  20. Christina says

    Winner! One of my supreme delights as a home cook is recreating my favorite restaurant dishes at home. This one nailed it. I’ve never used dried chiles (found at Wegmans) and had to Amazon the achiote paste, but now that my pantry is stocked with these ingredients and I added them to my culinary comfort zone, I can’t wait to make this dish again. Flavorful, juicy, satisfying, and best of all it was devoured by kids and adults.

    • Jen says

      Thank you so much for the glowing review Christina! I love hearing it was worth the new ingredient splurge and will be on repeat!

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