Traditional tacos al pastor start with layers of marinated pork that are slowly grilled on a spit, reminiscent of shawarma for gyros. My version is done in the kitchen, and I’m sharing two ways to make it. One method in a Instant Pot pressure cooker and a the other slow roasted in the oven. Imagine marinated pork shoulder, flavored with various chiles, pineapple, onion, garlic and cinnamon roasting. Sound good?
I for one don’t see why carnitas needs to get all the attention. Tacos Al Pastor is one to try! 🙂
However you choose to make this, know that your house will have the absolute best aroma to entice anyone for a delicious meal. Al Pastor is the new carnitas.
While I LOVE me some carnitas, al pastor is another house favorite that needs the spotlight. Even if I don’t always make carnitas fresh at home, we hit up our local Old Town Mexican Cafe and grab their crispy carnitas with fresh off the griddle flour tortillas. Even when friends like Nagi from RecipeTin Eats come to town, we took her there. She was blown away by them and I think this Al Pastor recipe is another Mexican classic to consider.
But, back to Tacos Al Pastor! I enjoy the process of creating in the kitchen. One of my favorite cuisines is Mexican, it’s culinary flavors excite and usually with long patient roasting, it turns out to always be worth the effort and wait.
Besides my slow roast oven version, I’ve come up with a new method using my Instant Pot, then a crisp up in the oven after to cut the time by half! You don’t need to crisp them up after coming out of the Instant Pot, but it adds another layer of flavor.
For my Tacos Al Pastor I cut the pork into chunks then marinate overnight, but this is not mandatory, a few hours is OK. For that super red color of authentic Mexican al pastor I add achiote paste. You can read about it here if you like, this is optional, too. In the marinade is a key ingredient – pineapple.
Aside from adding some sweetness and acidity, pineapple also has an enzyme called bromelain that breaks down proteins making the meat tender. The aroma that permeates the house while cooking is amazing!
Served on small tortillas with chopped onions, cilantro and topped with a squeeze of lime juice and hot salsa and you are set.
A little history lesson on Al Pastor is that it was initially developed in Central Mexico, most likely as a result of shawarma spit-grilled meat brought by Lebanese immigrants to Mexico. It’s also similar to the Turkish doner kebab and the Greek gyros. Where the shawarma is usually lamb based, gyros and tacos al pastor are made from pork.
A lot of recipes out there use adobo chili paste, but I wanted to use my own blend for this one. The chiles I use here are Pasillas, Guajillo and De Arbol. I pick these up at my local Latin market and the chiles are endless, play around with them, experiment. Use gloves though in the kitchen when working with chiles – rubbing your eyes accidentally is a tearful experience. If these are not available to you, a substitute of chili powder is good, with guajillo chili powder preferred.
A little chili lesson for you: Pasilla chiles are the chilaca ripened and dried. They are meaty and almost black in color. Their flavor is rich but sharp and they can be very hot. The Guajillo chiles are one of the most common chiles grown in Mexico. The Guajillo is a shiny, deep orange-red chile. It has berry tones with a sweet heat and is commonly used in salsas, chile sauces, soups and stews. Lastly I used the De Arbol. The fresh chile is a bright green that ripens to bright red, a color it retains when it’s dried. It’s long and skinny (about 3 inches by 1 inch) with a smooth skin. Be aware, it’s exceedingly hot. These are all soaked in hot water for 20 minutes and blended with the ingredients and marinate the pork overnight. The longer the better!
Whether you take the marinated meat and grill it to your liking, use the Instant Pot or pressure cooker of choice for super fall apart meat or even slow roast in the oven, this is an amazing Tacos Al Pastor recipe. The spices, pineapple and cinnamon flavors all mix with the super tender and juicy meat.
Just to recap the two cooking methods, well three if you include straight from the marinade to the grill, my indoor cooking methods are these.
- Place marinated pork and remaining marinade in the pressure cooker and cook for 1 1/2 hours. Remove from pressure cooker and place pork chunks in a 11×13″ baking pan or stone. Roast uncovered for 1 hour in 225°F oven to render fat and crisp up edges.
- Slow roast at 225°F covered with aluminum foil for 4 hours. Remove the aluminum foil and continue roasting for 1 hour or until completely tender when pulled with a fork.
There you have it! I hope you give this a try. Enjoy!
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- 5 lbs pork shoulder
- 4 Pasillas chiles (optional, See note 1)
- 4 Guajillo chiles (optional, See note 1)
- 3 De Arbol chiles (optional, See note 1)
- 3 tbsp achiote paste (optional, See note 2)
- 1½ cups fresh pineapple
- 2 onions (separated)
- 5 cloves of garlic
- 1 tbsp cinnamon
- 2 tsp kosher salt
- 1 tsp Mexican oregano
- corn or flour tortillas
- 1 bunch cilantro
- Using gloves, crack the stem off and scrape out the seeds from the dried chiles. Place them in a blender and cover with hot water. Allow to soften for 20 minutes.
- To the blender add one onion, skin removed and halved, the pineapple, garlic, cinnamon, salt and Mexican oregano. Blend until pureed.
- Trim fat from the pork shoulder and slice meat into small chunks. Place in a plastic bag that seals or container that can be covered with a lid and pour the chile mixture over the pork. Using gloves, mix the chile marinade and pork and chill in refrigerator overnight. 8 hours is fine, but 24 hours is better.
- Pressure Cooker Method:
Place marinated pork and remaining marinade in the pressure cooker and cook for 1 1/2 hours. Remove from pressure cooker and place pork chunks in a 11x13" baking pan or stone. Roast uncovered for 1 hour in 225°F oven to render fat and crisp up edges.
- Oven Method:
- Shake off excess marinade and place pork chunks in a 11x13" baking pan or stone.
Slow roast at 225°F covered with aluminum foil for 4 hours. Remove the aluminum foil and continue roasting for 1 hour or until completely tender when pulled with a fork.
Serve over rice and beans or in small tortillas topped with chopped onions, cilantro and a squeeze of lime juice and hot salsa (See Note 3).
1. If dried chiles are not available substitute 1/4 cup chili powder (guajillo preferably) total with 1/4 water when blending with marinade ingredients.
2. Achiote paste can be found in most Mexican markets and adds that authentic deep red color and flavor. Read more about it here.
3. I like diced pineapple on top as well, but this is optional.