Tacos al pastor are known for their flavorful taste and are a favorite in Mexico. The perfect balance of smokiness from the roasting meat and the tanginess from the marinade is something you’ll love!
Tacos al pastor is a popular Mexican street food dish. They are made with marinated pork slices stacked onto a trompo (a vertical rotisserie) and slow-cooked as it rotates and bastes in its own juices.
The marinade adobo sauce used for tacos al pastor typically consists of a combination of dried chilies, such as guajillo, pasilla, and ancho chilies, as well as vinegar, pineapple juice, and various spices like cumin, oregano, and garlic.
Tacos al pastor are then served by slicing the meat into small bites and placing it on a small corn tortilla and then topping it with pineapple bites, chopped cilantro, onions, and salsa.
- Pork Meat: I used pork shoulder cut into 1-inch chunks.
- Chilies: I am using ancho, pasilla, and guajillo chiles. Those chiles can be found at any Mexican store or on Amazon. You can also use chipotles in adobo peppers.
- Spices: Garlic, dried oregano, thyme, pepper, whole cloves, and cumin.
- Achiote: This is a paste used to make many traditional dishes in Mexico, such as cochinita pibil. It adds tons of flavor and a beautiful red-ish color to the meat. Achiote can be found at any Mexican or Latin American grocery store or on Amazon.
- Tortillas: Typically small corn tortillas are used to make al pastor Mexican tacos but feel free to use any size you have available. Or you can also use flour tortillas which are easier to find.
- Salsas: We strongly recommend making your own salsa to go with tacos al pastor. Verde or Roja doesn’t matter as long as it’s made with fresh ingredients. Stay away from store-bought salsas!
How To Make Tacos Al Pastor
Start with the al pastor marinade:
Cut the dried chiles lengthwise and discard the seeds. Wash through the chilies and place them in a bowl with hot water. Let chilies soak for about 15 minutes.
Drain the chilies and place them into a blender. Add achiote, garlic, pepper, whole cloves, cumin, thyme, and oregano.
TOP TIP: You can replace achiote with 2 teaspoons of paprika + 1 teaspoon of orange juice + garlic clove + 1 teaspoon of lemon juice.
Pour in pineapple juice and blend until smooth. If you see is needed, add 1 or 2 tablespoons of soaking water to help the ingredients to blend together.
In a large bowl place the meat and add salt (about 2 tsp). Pour in the chili sauce and coat evenly turning the meat with tongs.
Cover with cling film and leave the pork meat to marinate preferably overnight, or for at least 2 hours (see notes).
Cut the pineapple into chunks the same size as the meat. Also, if you using wooded skewers soak them in cold water for 20 minutes before continuing with the recipe.
Now, thread the marinated pork chunks into the skewers placing one chunk of pineapple at both ends of each skewer.
Cook the meat
Heat a grill until smoky and then cook the meat from all sides until nicely charred and cooked through. It will take from 20 to 25 minutes, turning over the skewers as needed.
Place the cooked al pastor meat on a plate or container and keep it covered while you finish. Covering allows the meat to keep moist and tender.
Once all meat is cooked, take a skewer standing up and slice it into small bites with a sharp knife. You need to do this step while the meat is still hot as it will be easier to slice.
Cut into bites also pineapple chunks and keep everything well covered to prevent the ingredients from drying out.
Assemble Tacos al pastor
Heat the tortillas on the same grill until soft and pliable.
Make tacos placing first the thin slices of pork in the middle of a tortilla. Top with chopped onions, cilantro, and pineapple bites.
Pour in your favorite sauce and a squeeze of lime. Enjoy!
- The key to flavorful tacos al pastor is well-marinated pork. Take the time to marinate the meat for at least a few hours or ideally overnight to allow the flavors to penetrate the pork.
- For tacos al pastor, it’s best to use a fatty cut of pork, such as pork shoulder or pork butt. The fat will help keep the meat juicy and tender during the cooking process. If you want to add a lean cut use pork loin instead.
- Replace fresh pineapple with unsweetened canned pineapple if you want. Do not add them to the skewers as they will fall apart during cooking, grill the slices separately and then cut them and top your tacos with them.
How To Serve Al Pastor Tacos
Tortillas: Corn tortillas are the first option, but flour tortillas de harina can be good too.
Toppings: Sliced fresh pineapple, chopped onions, cilantro, and lime wedges. Arrange these toppings on a serving platter or set them out individually for guests to customize their tacos.
Salsas: We love our tacos al pastor with this salsa verde, or for a mild option try also our salsa taquera recipe. If you’re more of a guacamole person, this guacamole salsa for tacos is the perfect pairing!
Drinks: To wash down these delicious tacos al pastor nothing like agua fresca de piña, agua de melón, or this refreshing agua de sandia (with watermelon). The fruity and sweet beverages help with the spiciness of the tacos and salsas.
How To Store & Reheat
Cooked meat for tacos al pastor stores nicely also for 5 days in the fridge in a glass container with a tight lid. It can also be frozen for up to 2 months.
Toppings like cilantro and onions can be made a day ahead and kept well in airtight containers in the refrigerator. While salsas can be made 3 days ahead or even frozen for up to 3 months.
To reheat al pastor meat leftovers
Heat a little bit of oil or pork lard in a sauté pan over medium-high heat. Add the meat and a splash of water or beef stock and stir for 2-3 minutes until the meat is nicely warm and there are no liquids left.
Is al pastor meat spicy?
Traditionally, the adobo marinade used for al pastor does contain dried chilies, such as guajillo and ancho chilies, which can contribute some mild to moderate spiciness.
What is the difference between al pastor and adobada?
While they share some similarities, there are a few key differences between the two:
Al pastor uses a marinade that includes pineapple juice and achiote. Adobada, on the other hand, is marinated in a red chili sauce called adobo, which doesn’t include neither pineapple juice or achiote paste.
The cooking method for al pastor involves stacking the marinated pork onto a vertical spit called a trompo, which is then slowly rotated and cooked. The meat is typically cooked using a flame or heat source at the top of the trompo, resulting in a charred and flavorful exterior. Adobada, on the other hand, is often cooked on a grill or griddle, similar to other grilled meats.
Who invented carne al pastor?
The exact origin of tacos al pastor is a topic of debate, but it is widely believed to have been influenced by Lebanese immigrants to Mexico. In the early 1900s, Lebanese immigrants brought with them the tradition of spit-roasting meat, similar to shawarma, which they adapted to the local ingredients and flavors of Mexico.
What is in a taco pastor?
A taco al pastor typically consists of thinly sliced, marinated pork and small bits of grilled pineapple. Corn tortillas, which provide a soft and pliable base for the taco. And common toppings such as diced onions and chopped cilantro.
To enhance the flavors, a squeeze of fresh lime juice and salsa verde or salsa roja can be added according to personal preference.
More Street Tacos Recipes
Have you tried this tacos al pastor recipe? Leave a comment below to let us know how it turned out! Also, don’t miss out on our latest blog posts! Follow us on Instagram, Facebook, Pinterest, and YouTube.
Tacos Al Pastor
- 2.2 lb Pork shoulder (cut into 1-inch chunks )
- 5 Guajillo chilies (stem and seeds removed)
- 2 Ancho chilies (stem and seeds removed)
- 3 Garlic cloves (peeled)
- 2 Whole cloves
- ½ teaspoon Black peppercorns
- ½ teaspoon Ground cumin
- 2 teaspoons oregano
- ½ teaspoon thyme
- 1 Tablespoons Achiote paste (see notes)
- 1 cup Pineapple juice
- Pork lard (or any oil you prefer)
- 16 small Corn Tortillas (see notes)
- 1 cup Pineapple (diced, see notes)
- 1 medium White Onion (chopped)
- 1 bunch Fresh cilantro (chopped)
- 2-3 Limes
- Salsa (see notes)
- Place the chilies in a bowl with hot water. Soak for 15 minutes.
- Drain the chilies and place them into a blender with achiote, garlic, pepper, whole cloves, cumin, thyme, and oregano.
- Add pineapple juice and blend until smooth.
- In a large bowl place the meat and add salt (about 2 teaspoons).
- Pour in the chili sauce and coat evenly turning the meat with tongs.
- Cover with cling film and leave meat to marinate preferably overnight, or at least 2 hours (see notes).
- Cut the pineapple into chunks the same size as the meat.
- Thread the marinated pork chunks into the skewers placing one chunk of pineapple at both ends of each skewer.
- Heat a grill until smoky and then cook the skewers from all sides until nicely charred and cooked through. It will take from 20 to 25 minutes, turning over the skewers as needed.
- Once all meat is cooked, take a skewer standing up and slice it into small bites with a sharp knife.
- Cut into bites also the pineapple chunks and keep everything well covered to prevent the ingredients from drying out.
- Heat the tortillas on the same grill until soft and pliable.
- Make tacos placing first the meat in the middle of a tortilla.
- Top with chopped onions, cilantro, and pineapple bites.
- Pour in your favourite sauce and a squeeze of lime.
- You can replace achiote with 2 teaspoons of paprika + 1 teaspoon of orange juice + garlic clove + 1 teaspoon of lemon juice.
- The longer the meat marinates, the more delicious the flavor.
- This amount of meat serves 16 small tacos or about 10-12 regular tacos (with larger tortillas)
Maricruz Avalos Flores is a Mexican cook and photographer living in Italy where she shares authentic Mexican & Italian recipes that can be easily made at home using easy-to-find ingredients.