Traditional Tacos Al Pastor start with layers of pork marinated in pineapple juice and spices that are slowly grilled on a spit, reminiscent of shawarma for gyros. I’m sharing four ways to make it. One method slow roasted in the oven, another on the grill, the other in a Slow Cooker and lastly in the Instant Pot. Just imagine the aroma of marinated pork shoulder, flavored with various chiles, pineapple, onion, garlic and cinnamon slow 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. 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.
Origin of Al Pastor
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.
What kind of chile?
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 (see Notes) 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 three cooking methods, well four if you include straight from the marinade to the grill, my indoor cooking methods are these.
- For the grill: Preheat grill to 250°F. Shake off excess marinade. In a cast iron skillet or baking tray place the 3 inch cut pineapple bottom. Insert a metal skewer or long wooden chopstick in the center of the pineapple. Start layering pieces of marinated pork and occasional slices of onion, repeating until meat used or you have 1 inch of skewer left. Leave 1 inch of skewer on top and cap it with trimmed pineapple top. Slow roast at 250°F for 5 1/2-6 hours (we want an internal temp of 145°F-150°F). Start basting with pan juices in last hour. Outside will be caramelized and crispy, cut with knife in downward motion.
- For the oven: Slow roast at 225°F covered with aluminum foil for 5 hours. Remove the aluminum foil and continue roasting for 1 hour or until completely tender when pulled with a fork.
- For the Instant Pot: Place marinated pork and remaining marinade in the Instant Pot (Pressure Cooker) and close lid and lock. Press (Manual) and at the High Pressure setting, then use the [+] button to choose 25 minutes pressure cooking time. When done, Quick Release, remove from pressure cooker and place pork chunks in a 11×13″ baking pan or stone. Broil uncovered for 10 minutes in oven to render fat and crisp up edges.
- For a Slow Cooker: Place marinated pork and remaining marinade in the slow cooker for 4 hours on high or 8 hours on Low. Remove from slow cooker and place pork chunks in a 9×13″ baking pan or stone. Broil uncovered for 10 minutes in oven to render fat and crisp up edges.
There you have it! I hope you give this a try. Enjoy!
Watch how to make this below!
- 5 lbs pork shoulder (boneless)
- 1/3 cup chili powder (see below)
- 2 tbsp achiote paste (optional, See note 1)
- 1 white onion (skin removed 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 Blend (optional)
- 3 dried Pasillas chiles
- 3 dried Guajillo chiles
- 2 dried De Arbol chiles
If Making Chile Powder Blend:
- If making your own chili powder blend, otherwise go to Step 2 below: Using gloves, remove the stem and scrape out the seeds from the dried chiles. Toast over low heat in a dry skillet for a few minutes. Allow to cool and then grind to a powder in a spice/coffee grinder.
- 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, slice pork shoulder into 1/4 inch slices. For all other methods: Trim fat from the pork shoulder and slice meat into 2 to 4 inch chunks. Place pork 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 then chill in refrigerator, covered, 4 hours or overnight. Allow meat to come to room temp prior to cooking.
For the Grill: Thinly Sliced (see video)
- Preheat grill to 250°F. Shake off excess marinade. In a cast iron skillet or baking tray place the cut pineapple bottom(s). Insert a wooden or metal skewer or long wooden chopstick in the center of the pineapple. Start layering pieces 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.
- Slow roast at 250°F for 3 1/2 hours (we want an internal temp of 145°F-150°F). Start basting with pan juices in last hour. Outside will be caramelized and crispy, cut with knife in downward motion (See Note 4).
Oven Method: 2 to 4 inch chunks
- Preheat oven to 225°F. Shake off excess marinade and place pork chunks in a 11x13" roasting pan or stone (Pampered Chef stone bakeware).
- Slow roast at 225°F covered with aluminum foil for 5 hours. Remove the aluminum foil and continue roasting for 1 hour or until completely tender when pulled with a fork.
Instant Pot (Pressure Cooker) Method: 2 to 4 inch chunks
- Place marinated pork, remaining marinade (See Note 5) in the Instant Pot (Pressure Cooker) and close lid and lock. Press (Manual) and at the High Pressure setting, then use the [+] button to choose 25 minutes pressure cooking time. When done, Quick Release, remove from pressure cooker and place pork chunks in a 11x13" baking pan or stone. Broil uncovered for 10 minutes in oven to render fat and crisp up edges.
Slow Cooker Method: 2 to 4 inch chunks
- Place marinated pork and remaining marinade in the slow cooker for 4 hours on high or 8 hours on Low. Remove from slow cooker and place pork chunks in a 9×13″ baking pan or stone. Broil uncovered for 10 minutes in oven 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 and adds that authentic deep red color and flavor. Read more about it here.
- Mexican Oregano - A little information for you on the two different oreganos: Mexican oregano is a relative of Lemon Verbena and is native to Mexico. Similar in that it’s pungent like Mediterranean oregano, Mexican oregano has 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 and supermarkets.
- Epazote is similar to oregano and fennel with minty notes. It’s found in Mexican cooking and is typically used in beans, 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 you are using. Pork is done when internal temperature is is 145°F to 150°F when meat thermometer is inserted.
- 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.