How To Make The Best Mexican Tacos Al Pastor
As lovers of Mexican foods, tacos al pastor is one of our favorite types of tacos. Tacos al pastor is an excellent meal for any day, especially for people looking to save money on a food budget.
The best tacos are from Mexico, where people can find different types in almost every restaurant. Tacos al pastor are the most popular tacos in Mexico City, making it one of the best places to find authentic tacos al pastor. However, we believe that people don’t have to go to Mexico or visit a Mexican restaurant to eat delicious tacos.
We believe that people can make any tacos, even tacos al pastor, with the right ingredients at home.
What Are Tacos Al Pastor
All tacos varieties have common elements like fresh corn tortillas, onions, lime juice, and freshly chopped cilantro. The meat makes the difference, and in tacos al pastor, we use pork.
Al pastor means shepherd style, and the components that make it unique from other tacos are the grilling and marinade.
The marinade for the tacos might differ depending on who is cooking, but the basics are the seasoning and citrus juices, making it one of the best. We marinate the pork in fresh pineapple, spices, and chilies, after which we stack and vertically roast them on a turning spit.
We also place a fresh pineapple on the top, which infuses the pork with its citric juices. The outer edges of the pork turn beautifully crisp and caramelized, but the inside remains juicy. Once it’s ready, we slice off the al pastor from the spit-grilled meat in thin slices and serve it alongside fresh pineapple chunks.
People compare tacos al pastor to tacos arabes from Puebla and Northern Mexico tacos de adobada. People also confuse it with carnitas because they are both made using pork.
The main difference between the two dishes is the cooking method and seasoning. Carnitas is Mexico’s variety of pulled shoulder, prepared using pork shoulder and seasoned with onions, cumin, garlic, oregano, orange juice, and jalapeno.
Where Did Tacos Al Pastor Come From?
Tacos al pastor originated from central Mexico, and the recipe was derived from that of shawarma introduced by Lebanese Immigrants in the 1900s. The Lebanese immigrants stacked thin meat slices in con-like shapes and cooked them on a vertical spit grill.
Mexicans created a guajillo chile marinade with a signature tangy child flavor and used it on pork instead of the lamb that Lebanese immigrants used or other meats.
What Is In Tacos Al Pastor?
The first ingredient is corn tortillas, which we then pile with charred thin slices of marinated and roasted pork, Pico de Gallo, pineapple, lime juice, and cilantro. We also add other toppings like sour cream, salsa Verde, guacamole, or avocado.
How to Make Tacos Al Pastor
Making authentic tacos a pastor is challenging, especially the traditional way using a trompo. In the United States, it is difficult to find authentic tacos al pastor. However, we have developed a recipe to help people make the best tacos al pastor on a taco night with friends or family.
- Chili peppers (ancho peppers, chiles de arbol, and guajillo peppers)
- Garlic and onion
- Fresh pineapples
- Canned pineapple juice
- Chipotle peppers
- Achiote paste
- Apple cider vinegar
- Orange juice
- Brown sugar
- Seasonings (salt, chili powder, Mexican Oregano, and cumin)
- Boneless pork shoulder
- Warmed corn tortillas
- Olive oil
- Garnish like lime wedges, fresh herbs, sliced peppers, and pineapple slices
First, we dry toast the guajillos, anchos, and chilies de arbol on a hot pan for a few minutes on each side to remove the oils. We then remove the stems and seeds then add them to a bowl of warm water for about 20 minutes.
After that, we drain the water, add the peppers into a food processor, and add the canned pineapple juice, garlic, onion, chipotle peppers/ sauce, orange juice, achiote paste, vinegar, oregano, brown sugar, salt, and cumin and process until we get a smooth mixture.
We set aside the marinade and slice the boneless pork shoulder into strips around ½ inch thick. This way, they are big enough to remain on the grill gates. For the vertical skewer method, we slice them into ¼ inches.
To make it easier to slice the pork, we put it in the freezer for two to four hours to make it hard and easier to maintain its shape.
We then add the pork strips into a bowl, add the marinade, mix them until all pork strips are evenly covered, then cover and put them in the refrigerator for at least two hours. For more flavor, we leave them overnight.
Once we are ready to start cooking, we pre-heat the gas grill gates to medium-high heat, then oil them. If indoors, we make them in a grill pan on our stovetop or in an instant pot.
We then remove the pork from the fridge, remove the pork slices, shake off any excess marinade, and grill them for six to seven minutes until they have a crispy char.
We thread the pork slices onto a vertical skewer after shaking off the excess marinade for the skewer grilled method. We then pre-heat the grill till 250 degrees F and grill the pork strips over indirect heat for approximately three and a half hours.
The outer edges are usually charred and crispy, and the inside reaches around 145 degrees F.
Once the pork slices are ready, we chop them into bite-sized pieces and serve them over warm tortillas, either corn or flour tortillas. Finally, we top them with grilled or fresh pineapple slices, jalapeno, chopped onion, lime juice or lime wedges, cilantro, hot sauce, and spicy chili flakes.
Tips for Making the Best Tacos De Pastor
Using canned pineapple juice in the marinade ensures that our pork slices are infused with the taste and remain firm. Fresh pineapple juice has a lot of enzymes that could break down the meat, leaving it mushy after marinating for a short time.
While people can get store-bought tortillas, we recommend making corn or flour tortillas from home using the tortilla press for more taste. Guajillo peppers are very hot, and we always wash our hands immediately after removing their stems and seeds.
Achiote paste is one of the essential ingredients to give the tacos al pastor its red-orange color. It is usually made from annatto seeds and has cumin, cloves, oregano, cinnamon, garlic, salt, and black pepper.
If we don’t have it, we make a substitute using:
- 1 ½ tablespoon of paprika
- ½ teaspoon of dried oregano
- Two teaspoons of white vinegar
- ¼ teaspoon of garlic powder
- ¼ teaspoon of black pepper
- 1/8 teaspoon of cloves
- ¼ teaspoon of cinnamon
- ¼ teaspoon of ground cumin
We get these ingredients should be in addition to the ones above if we don’t have the paste.
When serving the tacos al pastor, we can also serve it with salsa, one of the best being the chipotle and tomatillo-based salsa. We usually add pineapple juice to this salsa too, and its taste goes perfectly with that of the tacos. We can also substitute it with salsa Verde, salsa Roja, or ranchera.
For people who enjoy making tacos al pastor, slow cooker pork carnitas tacos, fried avocado fish tacos, chorizo, potatoes tacos, and barbacoa tacos are also excellent recipes we recommend.