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
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.
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.
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.
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.
- Toast Peppers, remove seeds and simmer in water to soften.
- Blend marinade ingredients together.
- Marinate pork.
- Grill pineapple and pork.
- Chop pork.
- Chop pineapple.
- Load in tacos and Eat!
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 1/2 tablespoons paprika
- 2 teaspoons white vinegar
- 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
- 1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
- 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
- 1/4 teaspoon ground cumin
- 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
- 1/8 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!
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 chiles. Dried 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.
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:
- Restaurant-Style Mexican Rice or Cilantro Lime Rice
- Corn Salad with Cilantro Lime Dressing or Grilled Corn on the Cob with Chipotle Lime Butter
- Southwest Salad with Creamy Avocado Salsa Dressing or Southwest Orzo Salad with Chipotle Honey Lime Vinaigrette
- Fruit Salad with Honey Citrus Dressing or Pina Colada Fruit Salad
- Mexican Street Fries with Salsa Ketchup
- and top it all off with Churros!
Now open wide!
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