Tacos Al Pastor

Tacos Al Pastor

Pinable image for Tacos Al Pastor, an amazing Mediterranean and Mexican fusion dish.

I have a deep love and passion for Mexican food. It has always been my favorite to both eat and cook. I love the depth of flavors and spice. I’ll take any excuse to use smoky chiles like ancho, pasilla, chipotle, and guajillo.  Growing up in California and several trips to Mexico when I was a teen gave me a great appreciation for Mexican food. That was how I first came across tacos arabes and the similar, but more common, tacos al pastor. These dishes are, in my opinion, the absolute pinnacle of fusion cuisine. The amazing fusion of Mediterranean and Mexican is unbeatable in flavor and texture.

A plate of two tacos al pastor with black beans and lime. Toppings include onions, cilantro, and roasted beets.

I’ve cooked many different Mexican-inspired recipes over the years. I have a traditional Taco Seasoning recipe that creates the perfect tasty taco every time. I’ve also strayed from the classics and tried different things like Chicken Salad Tacos. And I have just about mastered making Mexican Rice. I’m really excited to finally share with you the recipe that started it all.

As some of you may know, Heather and I recently moved to beautiful Costa Rica! I thought al pastor would be a perfect first post from our new home. This is one of my all-time favorites. Plus, the ingredients are all rather easy to find here in Central America. We will be revamping our site (thanks Heather!) and sharing exciting new recipes with you in the weeks to come!

A plate of finished al pastor. The main components of al pastor are pork, onion, and pineapple.

The History of Al Pastor

Al Pastor was invented by Lebanese immigrants who adapted the vertical grilling technique used in doner kebab and shawarma to the ingredients and spices of Mexico. The result is some of the best food the world has ever seen. Al pastor is made with thin slices of marinated pork layered on a vertical spit and slow-cooked. The meat is then sliced off to order and served in small tortillas. It is served much like a traditional Mexican taco with chopped onion and cilantro.

There are a few other similarly prepared dishes throughout Mexico; like tacos arabes, in Puebla or tacos adobada in Baja California and northern Mexico. Somehow, I have had the amazing fortune of being able to try them all in their home regions!

A close up of tacos al pastor with black beans and lime. Toppings include onions, cilantro, and roasted beets.
I happened to have some freshly roasted beets so I used them as a topping and it was delicious!

My Experience

I had an amazing opportunity when I was 13 to travel to Puebla on a trip to restore a local summer camp. There I experienced tacos arabes for the first time, as well as several other delicious traditional dishes from Central Mexico, like mole. The experience would forever change my life. It ignited my passion for Mexican food. I had eaten plenty of before but this was the first time I encountered this technique of vertical grilling. It sent me on a search for a similar dish back home in the United States. That search led me to  discover tacos al pastor, which will forever be my favorite.

Ingredients for al pastor: Bacon, pork, sauce, onion, and pineapple.

Al pastor recipes vary from region to region but the essentials are dried, smoky chilies, spices like achiote, cumin and oregano, and pineapple. Sometimes onion and pineapple is layered on the rotisserie in between layers of marinated pork. I replicate this layering of marinated pork, pineapple and onion in my own recipe. Though I, unfortunately, can’t replicate the vertical grilling at home. Thanks to some advice from The Food Lab over at SeriousEats I do have a good technique for cooking al pastor at home that comes really close to replicating the texture found in restaurants with a vertical rotisserie. If you are really serious and have a little bit of money to invest, you can buy your own vertical rotisserie, like one from below. With that you’ll be able to cook up some seriously authentic tacos al pastor and shawarmas from your own home!


 

Either way, it will be incredibly delicious!

Print Recipe
Tacos Al Pastor
Thinly-sliced marinated pork layered with smoked bacon, pineapple, and onion. Al pastor is a traditional Mexican dish created from a fusion of Lebanese and Mexican cuisine and one of my personal favorites! It can be served as tacos or used as the meat portion of pretty much any other Mexican dish, like quesadillas or burritos.
Course Main Dish
Cuisine Mexican
Prep Time 1-2 hours
Cook Time 4-5 hours
Passive Time 24-48 hours
Servings
people
Ingredients
Marinade:
For Serving:
Course Main Dish
Cuisine Mexican
Prep Time 1-2 hours
Cook Time 4-5 hours
Passive Time 24-48 hours
Servings
people
Ingredients
Marinade:
For Serving:
Instructions
Marinade:
  1. Toast dried chilies over medium heat, turning occasionally, until lightly browned and aromatic, 3-5 minutes. Add chicken stock to pan and then pour into a small bowl. Cover with plastic wrap and set aside. This will rehydrate the dried chilies.
  2. Wipe out pan, add oil, and return to medium heat. Add achiote, cumin, and oregano to oil, stirring frequently, until aromatic, about 30 seconds. Add chipotle chile and adobo sauce and cook for another 30 seconds. Add vinegar and salt, and remove from heat.
  3. Add contents of pan to a blender along with the garlic and the chilies in their soaking liquid. Blend until smooth and set aside to cool.
  4. Peel and core pineapple and cut into thin slices. Cut one onion into thin slices as well. Set sliced pineapple and onion aside.
  5. Slice pork as thinly as possible and add to a large mixing bowl along with the marinade. Toss to coat each slice evenly.
  6. In a disposable aluminum loaf pan, layer bacon, pineapple, marinated pork, and onion, repeating until pan is full. (I could only find small loaf pans here in Costa Rica so I had to make two.) Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 4 hours or overnight.
To Cook:
  1. Preheat oven to 275 degrees F. Unwrap loaf pan, or pans, and place on a rimmed baking sheet. Cook until meat is cooked through and tender, about 4 hours.
  2. Remove from oven and let cool slightly. Pour off juices and fat and reserve for later. Then cover with foil and refrigerate for at least 2 hours or overnight.
To Serve:
  1. Pull al pastor loaf out of the fridge and remove meat from the loaf pan. Thinly slice layered meat and pineapple.
  2. Heat a skillet over medium-high heat and add one or two tablespoon of reserved fat to pan. Add sliced meat/pineapple mixture to pan and cook, stirring frequently, until browned and crispy, adding some reserved juices to keep it moist.
  3. Serve immediately in warmed double-stacked tortillas, topped with onion, cilantro, and lime.
Recipe Notes

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