These Tacos Al Pastor are thinly sliced pork in a flavorful tangy Mexican marinade that is grilled, diced and made into tacos using warm flour or corn tortillas, topped with grilled pineapple, chopped onion, cilantro and served with your favorite salsa.
Authentic tacos al pastor are cooked on a spit. Unfortunately, this would be hard to recreate at home unless you own a vertical spit or rotisserie. But let me tell you, this al pastor recipe does not disappoint. It is as flavorful as the popular street tacos or one that you order from taquerias or a Mexican restaurant.
What are tacos al pastor
In Mexico, al pastor pork are cooked in a vertical rotating spit (rotisserie) or trompo with marinated thin slices of meat stack on top of one another. A vertical cooking element cooks the outer layers while slowly rotating.
The cook or taquero slices the outer layers of meat as it cooks with a sharp knife onto a warm corn tortilla then topped with grilled pineapple, chopped onion and cilantro.
This cooking method was introduced by lebanese immigrants with their version of shawarma on a spit.
You can serve it with wedges of lime or lemon and salsa like chile de arbol, salsa verde, pico de gallo, guacamole or your favorite salsa.
What meat to use
Traditional al pastor uses pork, typically pork shoulder or pork butt although any part of pork meat will do. For a leaner version, use pork loin. Pork shoulder and pork butt are laden with fat, so trim as much fat as you can.
It is common to find al pastor made of chicken especially in the US. It is best to use boneless thighs. They are moist compared to chicken breast.
This al pastor marinade is tangy and savory. It is infused with delicious tangy flavors from pineapple and orange juice and savory flavors from chiles, spices and seasonings.
Dried guajillo chiles are stemmed, seeded and boiled. When handling chile peppers, use kitchen gloves as it can burn your hands. Cut dried guajillo chiles in half, remove seeds and veins and cut into smaller pieces (2 in X 2 in). Place in a small pot covered with water. Simmer for 10 minutes to hydrate peppers. Turn off heat and let it sit with lid on for about 15-20 minutes. Chile peppers are added to the marinade and water is discarded.
Place marinade ingredients including boiled guajillo chiles in the blender. Puree until combined and smooth. Strain on a fine sieve for a smoother marinade otherwise it is not necessary.
Place sliced pork in a big bowl or zip lock bag then pour marinade. Remove air and seal zip lock bag then toss around so pork can mixed well with marinade. Marinate overnight or for a full day in the refrigerator. Citrus ingredients help tenderize the meat but marinating for too long will break down the protein making it mushy.
Tip: This marinade is not hot, it is mild. To make it spicy, serve hot salsa on the side or add one large fresh poblano pepper boiled with the dried chile. Keep the seeds if you want it real spicy otherwise remove the seeds before adding in the blender. Poblano pepper adds so much flavor to the marinade. Make sure to wear kitchen gloves when handling chile.
Another Tip: If cooking the marinated pork on a cast iron or skillet, I prefer to strain the marinade. It is a bit grainy plus it sticks to the cast iron and burn, if not strained.
More tip: If using fresh pineapple in the marinade, marinate only for 4 hours. Pork can get mushy if marinated for a long time.
Pork Shoulder or Pork Butt – substitute with pork loin or boneless chicken thighs.
Dried Guajillo Chiles – substitute with dried ancho chile.
Achiote Paste – This is available in Mexican stores. For substitute, I have used 2 packets of Sazon Goya con Culantro Y Achiote (Coriander and Annatto). You can find this in the Mexican aisle in grocery stores. You can also use the achiote powder but I prefer the Sazon Goya.
Canned Pineapple – substitute with fresh pineapple. Note: Pork can get mushy if marinated for a long time in fresh pineapple. Marinate only for 4 hours.
Ways to cook al pastor pork
GRILL – It doesn’t take long to cook slices of meat on the grill. A quick 3-4 minutes each side until edges are crispy or charred.
STOVE-TOP – Cooking on cast-iron or skillet works perfectly too. Shake pork to remove excess marinade then slice pork into narrow strips and cook with a little bit of oil. Fry depending on your preferred doneness. Cook pork in batches and do not overcrowd. You want the pork to fry, not steam. Pork should sizzle when placed in the skillet. Also, add bite-sized pineapple and fry as well.
OVEN – I don’t suggest stacking meat on top of each other to recreate the authentic al pastor tacos. First, it is hard to keep it upright. Second, the outer layers are fully cooked or charred while the inner layers are not fully done. Third, it takes hours to cook. I made it once and “no” I won’t do it again. I want my tacos now!
To cook in the oven, lay each piece of meat on a sheet pan with rack, single layer and broil for 15-20 minutes or longer depending on how thick the slices are.
Tip: It is best to use an instant read thermometer if meat slices are thicker than ¼ inch. It is done when pork internal temperature reaches 145 degrees F.
AIR FRYER – Remove excess marinade from meat. Place sliced pork directly on air fryer basket. Set air fryer to 375 degrees F, do not pre-heat and cook for 11-12 minutes. If you have it in a foil, cook for 12-15 minutes. This cooking time applies if pork thickness is ¼ inch. For thicker slices, it will cook longer. Do not overcrowd and do it in batches if you have a small air fryer.
In my opinion, air frying is the easiest way to cook the al pastor pork and it came out perfect.
Storing and reheating
As much as possible, store leftover tacos al pastor ingredients separately. It is better to warm the tortillas and pork separately. Do not assemble tacos ahead of time.
Place tortilla on electric stove top at low and warm for 10 seconds each side, in a skillet 15-20 seconds each side or in the microwave for 20-30 seconds covered with a damp cloth or paper towel.
Warm the meat in the microwave for 30 second increments until heated through then assemble the tacos.
No, for food safety discard marinade.
Try other delicious, easy tacos recipe
Tacos Al Pastor Recipe
- 3 pounds pork shoulder thinly sliced ¼ inch thick
- salt and pepper to taste
Al pastor marinade
- 3-4 dried guajillo chiles stemmed, seeded and boiled
- 1 piece chipotle pepper in adobo sauce
- 4 cloves garlic peeled
- 1 tablespoon fresh Mexican oregano
- 1 small white onion quartered
- 2 tablespoons white vinegar
- 2 tablespoons achiote paste
- ¾ cup pineapple juice use the juice from the sliced pineapple can
- 2 orange juiced or ½ cup orange juice
- 2 bay leaves
- ½ teaspoon ground cumin
- 1 teaspoon ground black pepper
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1 medium white onion chopped
- 1 can 20 ounces pineapple slices, juice will be used in marinade
- bunch of cilantro washed and finely chopped
- 10-12 small flour or corn tortillas
- salsa of your choice
- lemon or lime wedges optional
- Cut dried guajillo chiles in half, remove seeds and veins and cut into smaller pieces (2 in X 2 in). Place in a small pot covered with water. Simmer for 10 minutes to hydrate peppers. Turn off heat and let it sit with lid on for about 15-20 minutes. When ready to use, discard water.
- In a blender, puree marinade ingredients including boiled guajillo chiles until combined and smooth. Note: You can strain marinade on a fine sieve for a smoother texture otherwise it is not necessary.
- Season sliced pork with salt and pepper and place in a big zip lock bag then pour marinade. Release the air in the bag and seal. Toss around zip lock bag so pork can mix well with the marinade, repeat after 4 hours. Refrigerate overnight or for a full day.
- Let meat come to room temperature before grilling.
- Grill until pork is fully cooked, about 3-4 minutes on each side until edges are crispy or charred, if desired. Also, grill pineapple for a few minutes.
- Dice pork or cut into narrow strips. Cut pineapple into tidbits.
- Assemble tacos – place pork in warm tortilla then top with grilled pineapple, chopped onion and cilantro. Serve with lime or lemon wedges and your favorite salsa, if desired.
- This marinade is mild. If you like it spicy, serve hot salsa on the side or add one large fresh poblano pepper boiled with the dried chili. Keeping the seeds will make it real spicy otherwise remove the seeds before adding in the blender. Poblano pepper adds so much flavor to the marinade. Make sure to wear kitchen gloves when handling chiles.
- Some ingredient substitute can be found on the post above.
- When cooking pork in cast iron or skillet, I prefer to strain the marinade. It is a bit grainy and it can stick in the cast iron and burn, if not strained. Also, shake pork to remove excess marinade so it fry and not steam. Fry in batches with 2-3 tablespoons oil. Cook over medium-high heat. Oil should be hot and pork should sizzle when added to cast-iron or skillet. For cooking in the oven or air fryer, please refer to the post above.
- If using fresh pineapple in the marinade, marinate only for 4 hours. Pork can get mushy if marinated for a long time.
- If pork slices are thicker than ¼ inch, use an instant read thermometer for doneness. Pork internal temperature should reach 145 degrees F.
- Storing and Reheating Leftovers - Store leftover ingredients separately. It is better to warm the tortillas and pork separately. Do not assemble tacos ahead of time. Place tortilla on electric stove top at low and warm for 10 seconds each side, in a skillet 15-20 seconds each side or in the microwave for 20-30 seconds covered with a damp cloth or paper towel. Warm meat in the microwave for 30 second increments until heated through then assemble the tacos.
- Salsa is not included in the nutritional value.