Tacos al pastor is a dish developed in central Mexico. It is thinly sliced pork, marinated in a spicy sauce made from dried chillies and achiote paste. The marinated pork is skewered onto a pineapple and stacked high with alternating layers of bacon. Think shawarma, but the Mexican version.
Tacos al pastor is no doubt an impressive looking dish and it will definitely grab the attention of your neighbours if they see you cooking it. Don’t be intimidated by the way the pork is skewered—at the end of the day, it’s no more difficult to make than chicken shish kebabs.
That being said, there are a few unique ingredients in this recipe that you might not have sitting around your kitchen. You’ll need dried ancho chillies, dried guajillo chillies, and achiote paste. Many grocery stores do carry these ingredients, but if not, you can find them at any Latin food store, or online, of course. Feel free to buy extra—all the above ingredients are great to have on hand and they last forever.
When making the skewer, don’t be too concerned about trying to make it balance—this isn’t necessary, since you can cook the stack on its side. And unless you have a very tall BBQ, it probably will not fit upright anyway.
The tacos are topped simply with grilled pineapple, onion, cilantro, salsa verde, and lime. That’s all they need.
It is the perfect combination of spicy, tangy, and super refreshing at the same time. This recipe is the real deal and I’m not exaggerating when I say that these are my favourite tacos. Once you master tacos al pastor, your friends will be begging you to make them over and over again.
TIP: Once you get the hang of slicing, try to slice the pork directly into a tortilla to impress your friends—and neighbours!
40 minutes (plus marinating time)
- 3 lbs boneless pork shoulder
- 1/2 lb sliced bacon (about one package)
- 1 pineapple
- 3 dried guajillo chillies, seeds and stems removed
- 3 dried ancho chillies, seeds and stems removed
- 2 chipotle chillies packed in adobo, plus 3 teaspoons of the sauce from the can
- 3/4 cup chicken stock
- 1 1/2 Tbsp achiote paste
- 1 1/2 tsp cumin
- 1 1/2 tsp oregano
- 2 Tbsp white vinegar
- 2 Tbsp lemon juice
- 3 1/2 tsp kosher salt
- 2 Tbsp honey
- 5 cloves of garlic
- 3 Tbsp canola oil
To serve the tacos:
- Big handful of cilantro, roughly chopped
- 1 Spanish onion, diced
- Salsa verde
- Lime wedges
To make the marinade:
- Toast the dried chillies in a pan over medium heat until very fragrant, and they become slightly pliable (5-7 minutes).
- Pour in the chicken stock and transfer the mixture peppers along with the stock to the jar of a blender. Cover the blender but to not turn on yet.
- Turn heat back to medium-low and add the oil to the pan. When the oil is hot, add the achiote paste, cumin, and oregano and stir frequently for 30 seconds.
- Add the chipotles and their sauce, and stir for another 30 seconds before adding the vinegar, salt and sugar.
- Turn the heat off and then transfer the contents of the pan to the blender along with the stock and chilies. Blend on high until smooth.
To prep the pork:
- Slice the pork shoulder as thinly as you can. The slices do not need to be perfect, but try to keep them uniformly thin.
- Place the sliced pork into a large bowl or ziplock bag. Once the marinade has cooled to room temperature, add it to the pork and toss everything together. Make sure the pork is evenly coated. I recommend using gloves and mixing with your hands.
- Allow the pork to marinate overnight (2 hours minimum and up to 2 days). Slice a 1 1/2-inch disk off the bottom of a whole pineapple and remove the outer skin.
- Place 3 wood skewers through the core (the bottom), so the sharp ends are facing up. This will be the base that you stack the pork on.
- Begin to skewer the sliced pork onto the pineapple with alternating layers of bacon. The layers do not need to be perfectly even or symmetrical, just try to be conscious of how much bacon you have so it is evenly disbursed throughout the skewer.
- Slice the top of the pineapple off and use it as a cap to your skewer. Remove the skin from the remaining cylinder of pineapple and slice into disks.
To cook the pork:
- Prepare a grill for indirect heat and preheat to 275 F. Alternatively, you could use a smoker or cook in the oven.
- Carefully transport the skewer to the grill and lay it on its side. Cook the pork until it reaches an internal temperature of 160 F and is deeply caramelized, this should take about 4-5 hours, but be sure to keep an eye on it, as cooking times will vary.
- At this point, transfer the pork to a large baking sheet, or foil tray, and add a splash of water. Cover the pork with foil and continue cooking until an internal temperature of 185 F is reached, about another hour.
- During the last hour of cooking, place the pineapple slices on the grill. Remove and dice once caramelized.
To serve the tacos:
- On a sturdy board, hold the skewer upright and thinly carve the pork from top to bottom.
- Serve on warm tortillas and top with pineapple, onion, cilantro, salsa verde and hit of lime juice.