This tangy and spicy Tacos Al Pastor Recipe captures restaurant-style flair and flavor. It’s prepared, served, and seared with classic Mexican ingredients for an authentic taste and a crisp, tender texture.
What is Tacos Al Pastor?
Tacos al pastor is a Mexican dish with a Lebanese origin. A play on lamb shawarma, this “shepherd style” meal is seared with flavor and can be prepared (and enjoyed!) in a variety of ways. Al Pastor’s history is most likely a result of the shawarma spit-grilled meat brought by Lebanese immigrants to Mexico. It’s also similar to the Turkish doner kebab and the Greek gyros. Whereas shawarma typically uses lamb (thus the “shepherd style” name), gyros and tacos al pastor in Mexico are made using pork.
My tacos al pastor recipe contains Mexican oregano, epazote, and achiote paste for a truly authentic flavor. These ingredients are optional, but they add a beautiful depth that you won’t want to miss! They can be found in any Mexican supermarket.
You can marinate the meat overnight if you’d like – that’s what I do! But 4 hours is enough time to really tenderize and flavor the pork.
Read on and check out the video in this post to learn how to make this authentic and addictive Mexican dish. Now let’s make some al pastor tacos!
INGREDIENT NOTES AND SUBSTITUTIONS
- Pork – I use boneless pork shoulder for this recipe.
- Marinade – Along with white vinegar, onion, and garlic, this sweet and spicy combination is a mix of:
- Chili Seasoning – Check the recipe card to learn how to prepare your own, or use your favorite store-bought mix.
- Achiote Paste – For that iconic color and flavor. It can be found at any Mexican market, but it’s also easy to make at home!
- Pineapple Juice – This sweet and acidic tropical fruit will tenderize and flavor the pork, melding beautifully with the spicy chili seasoning.
- Cumin, Cinnamon, & Cloves – Three very warm, earthy, and rich spices.
- Mexican Oregano – Lemony, with a deep but mild hint of licorice.
- Epazote – This fresh herb is similar to oregano but with tones of mint.
- Assembly – Serve with tortillas, pineapple, onion, cilantro, and lime. I also recommend serving with Salsa Verde, Roasted Tomato Salsa, and Pico de Gallo for added freshness.
HOW TO MAKE MARINADE FOR TACOS AL PASTOR
1. Make the Marinade. Puree all marinade ingredients.
2. Prepare the Pork. Slice into ¼-inch slices for grilling or baking, or 2 to 4-inch chunks if slow or pressure cooking. The chunks can also be baked.
3. Marinate. Add the pork to a storage bag. Add the marinade and massage into the meat with gloved hands. Seal and refrigerate for 4-10 hours. Bring to room temperature before cooking.
HOW TO MAKE THIS TACOS AL PASTOR RECIPE ON THE GRILL
1. Prep the Grill. Heat the grill to 250°F.
2. Skewer. Layer cut pineapple bottoms on the skillet. Stick a skewer in the center of each.
3. Layer the Meat. Slide the pork slices down the skewers and repeat until all meat is used, leaving 1 inch of skewer uncovered. Top each skewer with trimmed pineapple.
4. Grill. Grill the meat to a safe internal temperature of 145°F-150°F — this takes my grill 3 ½ hours, but timing varies. In the last hour of grilling, baste with the skillet juices.
5. Slice & Serve. Slice down the layers to serve. Throw the slices back onto the grill as you carve, searing each piece for a perfect crust.
HOW TO MAKE THIS TACOS AL PASTOR RECIPE IN THE OVEN
For either method, preheat the oven to 250°F.
Method #1: Slices
- Layer the Meat. Skewer and layer the meat as described in the above section.
- Roast. Place onto the bottom rack of the oven. Roast for 3 ½ hours or until the pork heats up to 145°F-150°F.
- Slice & Serve. Slice down the layers of pork, then put the slices back onto the pan in the oven to get them nice and crisp.
Method #2: Chunks
- Slow Roast. Place the 3-4 inch chunks in a roasting dish, cover with aluminum foil, and slow roast for 5 hours. Peel back the foil and cook for another hour, then serve.
HOW TO MAKE THIS TACOS AL PASTOR RECIPE IN AN INSTANT POT OR SLOW COOKER
- Add the Meat and Marinade. Cut the marinated pork into 3-4 inch chunks. Add the meat and marinade to the pressure or slow cooker. Cover with the lid.
- Pressure or Slow Cook. To make in the Instant Pot, set the valve to “sealing.” Set to cook on High Pressure for 25 minutes. Afterward, do a Natural Pressure Release for 15 minutes, then manually release any remaining pressure.
For the slow cooker, cook on “High” for 4 hours or on “Low” for 8 hours.
- Broil. Move the pork to a baking dish and broil for 10 minutes. Remove and serve once the edges form a crust.
Tip: If the “BURN” notice appears on your Instant Pot, add a bit of chicken stock to the pot.
Chiles in al pastor
Pasilla chiles are chilaca peppers that are ripened and dried. They are meaty and almost black in color. Their flavor is rich but sharp, and they can be very hot.
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 salsa, chile sauces, soups and stews.
De arbol chiles are a bright green chile 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 has an incredibly spicy kick. I also use these in my Chile de Arbol Salsa.
A lot of al pastor tacos recipes out there use adobo chili paste, but I wanted to use my own adobo blend for this one.
The chiles I use here are Pasillas, Guajillo and De Arbol which come from my local Latin market. If these are not available to you, make a batch of my chili powder recipe. It’s a good substitute, preferably with guajillo chili powder. I think adding chipotle chiles is not needed or authentic really, but feel free if you like.
The options for chiles to use is endless. So, play around with them, experiment and enjoy the test tasting.
IMPORTANT: Wear disposable kitchen gloves when working with chiles – rubbing your eyes accidentally is a tearful experience.
What is al pastor sauce made of?
The marinade used in my al pastor tacos recipe has a bit of everything: sweet pineapples, sharp onions and garlic, tangy vinegar, and a whole mix of Mexican spices and seasonings for a deep, smoky heat.
How long does it take to make al pastor tacos?
It takes between 4-10 hours to marinate, but the overall cooking time depends on your cooking method of choice!
In an Instant Pot, it takes just under an hour. Cook time varies between 4-8 hours in the slow cooker.
Roasting in the oven takes between 3 ½ and 5 hours. Grilling takes at least 3 ½ hours and depends on the grill model.
This post, first published on Kevin Is Cooking April 5, 2017, was updated with new content in April 2022.
Tacos Al Pastor Recipe + Video
- 5 lbs pork shoulder (boneless)
- 1/3 cup chili seasoning (powder) (see below for quick option)
- 2 tbsp achiote paste optional, See note 1
- 1 white onion peeled and halved
- 3/4 cup pineapple juice
- 1/4 cup white vinegar
- 5 cloves garlic
- 3 tsp salt
- 1 tsp Mexican oregano (See Note 2)
- 1/2 tsp ground cumin
- 1/2 tsp cinnamon
- 1/8 tsp ground clove
- 2 tsp epazote (optional, See Note 3)
Homemade Chili Powder (optional)
- 3 pasilla (negro) dried chiles (2.5 tablespoons ground/powdered)
- 3 dried Guajillo chiles (2.5 tablespoons ground/powdered)
- 2 dried chiles de arbol (1 teaspoon ground/powdered)
If grilling or roasting in the oven, slice pork shoulder into 1/4 inch slices. For other methods, trim fat from the pork shoulder and cut meat into 3 to 4 inch chunks.
- If using your own chili powder, skip this step and make the marinade. Using gloves, remove the stems and scrape out the seeds from the dried chiles. Toast over low heat in a dry skillet for a few minutes. Allow chiles to cool, then grind to a powder in a spice/coffee grinder. Alternatively, soak the peppers in hot water for 20 minutes, then blend with the marinade ingredients.
- To a blender, add the chili powder, achiote paste, onion, pineapple juice, vinegar, garlic, salt, Mexican oregano, cinnamon, clove and epazote (optional). Blend until pureed.
- If grilling or roasting in the oven, slice pork shoulder into 1/4 inch slices. For other methods, trim fat from the pork shoulder and cut meat into 3 to 4 inch chunks. Place pork in a sealable food storage bag or container that can be covered with a lid. Pour the chile marinade over the pork. Wearing kitchen gloves, use your hands to toss the chile marinade and pork together, then cover container. Chill in refrigerator a minimum of 4 hours, or up to 10 hours. Allow meat to come to room temp prior to cooking.
For the Grill or Smoker:
- Preheat grill to 250°F. Shake off excess marinade. Place cut pineapple bottoms into a cast iron skillet or shallow baking pan. Insert a wooden or metal skewer or long wooden chopstick through the center of the pineapple. Start layering slices of marinated pork, repeating until meat is used, or you have 1 inch of skewer left. Leave 1 inch of skewer on top and cap it with trimmed pineapple top.
- Grill at 250°F for 3 1/2 hours, or until internal temp reaches 145°F-150°F. (See Note 4). Start basting with pan juices in last hour. Outside should be caramelized and crispy. Use large chef's knife to slice meat in downward motion. Put pan back on grill to crisp up the edges as you continue to slice remaining meat.
Oven Method #1: slices
- Remove all racks except bottom one from oven. Preheat oven to 250°F.
- Assemble meat onto skewers as described in Grilling instructions, above. Slow roast pork in oven for 3 1/2 hours, or until internal temperature reaches 145°F-150°F. Start basting with pan juices in last hour. Outside should be caramelized and crispy. Use large chef's knife to slice meat in downward motion. Put pan back in oven to crisp up the edges as you continue to slice remaining meat if you'd like.
Oven Method #2: chunks
- Preheat oven to 250°F. Shake off excess marinade and cut pork into 3 to 4 inch chunks. Transfer to an 11×13" roasting pan or stone bakeware dish
- Slow roast at 250°F covered with aluminum foil for 5 hours, or until internal temperature reaches 145°F-150°F. Remove the aluminum foil and continue roasting for 1 hour or until completely tender when pulled with a fork.
Instant Pot (Pressure Cooker)
- Shake off excess marinade and cut pork into 3 to 4 inch chunks. Place marinated pork chunks and remaining marinade in the pressure cooker. (See note 5). Attach lid and set valve to "sealing". Press Manual and High Pressure settings, then use the [+] button to choose 25 minutes pressure cooking time. When done, allow a Natural Pressure Release for 15 minutes, then release any remaining pressure from pressure cooker.Remove pork chunks and transfer to a baking dish or stoneware pan. Broil in oven uncovered for 10 minutes to render fat and crisp up edges. Check that internal temperature reaches 145°F-150°F.
Slow Cooker Method:
- Shake off excess marinade and cut pork into 3 to 4 inch chunks.Place marinated pork chunks and remaining marinade in the slow cooker. Cook for 4 hours on high or 8 hours on Low, or until internal temperature reaches 145°F-150°F. Remove meat from slow cooker and transfer to a baking dish or stoneware pan. Broil uncovered in oven for 10 minutes to render fat and crisp up edges.
- Serve in small tortillas topped with chopped onion, cilantro, squeeze of lime juice and hot salsa. I like diced pineapple on top as well, but this is optional.
- Achiote paste can be found in most Mexican markets, or you can make your own achiote paste. It creates the authentic deep red color and flavor that al pastor is known for.
Mexican oregano is a relative of Lemon Verbena and is native to Mexico, with notes of mild licorice and citrus.
Mediterranean oregano is a member of the mint family and most often is used in Greek and Italian recipes. Mediterranean oregano is the one most found in spice racks at supermarkets.
- Epazote is similar to oregano and fennel with minty notes. It’s found in Mexican cooking and is typically used in beans for flavor and helping reduce their tendency to cause flatulence.
- I grill on a Traeger smoker because it allows me to fine tune and control the heat at lower temperatures better than regulating a charcoal or gas grill. When grilling, times may vary depending on what type of grill you are using. Pork is done when internal temperature of pork is is 145°F to 150°F.
- I have an earlier model Instant Pot (December 2015) that is not as sensitive as newer models that show the BURN notice quite easily. If that happens to yours, add 1/2 cup to 1 cup of chicken stock if needed.
The information shown is an estimate provided by an online nutrition calculator. It should not be considered a substitute for a professional nutritionist’s advice.