Is there anything as satisfying and delicious as making your own tacos at home? And if we’re talking tacos, the best thing to make at home is al pastor.
Your local Mexican place is always going to have the best tacos al pastor, but for those times you can’t get out, this recipe is so good you’ll feel like you’re back wherever your taco heart belongs.
What is al pastor
Al pastor is a Mexican dish with pork that’s been slow roasted on a vertical spit. Vertical spits are often associated with middle eastern food and this is no exception: legend says that Lebanese immigrants brought the cooking method to Mexico, where they paired it with traditional adobada to make the genius known as al pastor.
It’s served in all kinds of dishes, in tortas/sandwiches, pizzas, and even on rice, but the most celebrated way to serve it is in tacos al pastor. The crisp smoky pork is sliced-to-order with a razor sharp knife as it’s flame crisped by the vertical spit. The meat falls right into each taco and topped with a flourish of slow-roasted pineapple. It’s heaven in a tiny tortilla.
Because you probably don’t have a flame powered vertical spit at home, you can’t replicate it 100% perfectly. But that doesn’t mean you can’t have an amazing, just-as-good version at home too, especially if you are far away from Mexico or the south right now.
Why this al pastor recipe
Why this is the best homemade al pastor recipe: it’s smoky, sweet, and super easy. I’ve tried a lot of recipes on the internet and none of them really come close to what I love about al pastor – the smoky finish and the crisp edges.
This recipe has been in my back pocket for a long time now. It’s our go-to for taco nights, but I’ve never put it up until now because I always thought the ingredients were a little hard to come by. It’s worth it though, this recipe is simple, tasty, and comes really close to the real street-side deal.
Al pastor ingredients
Guajillo are dried mirasol chiles that are sweet, smoky, and not very spicy. One of the most common chiles for Mexican food and one of our favorites. I’ve found the easiest way to buy the best quality chiles is online, where it’s far superior to anything outside of a good Mexican grocery store.
A blend of spices featuring annatto that goes great in everything. Not at all spicy, just deeply flavorful. My favorite brand is El Yucateco. From a staining perspective, annatto is just as bad as turmeric, so be careful not to get any on your clothes or white porous surfaces.
Chipotle chilies in adobo
These are smoky spicy dried chipotle chiles (chipotle is smoked jalapeno) in adobo sauce – a sweet blend of tomatoes, vinegar, and spices. This recipe uses a whole can. Most people won’t find chipotle in adobo very spicy, but if you don’t prefer the spice level of jalapeno, it might be best to skip one or two of the pepper pods inside the can – the adobo part is a must however.
Al pastor is traditionally served with roasted pineapple cut from the top of the vertical spit. This recipe needs pineapple juice anyway, so I prefer to use canned chunk pineapple and roast them, rather than deal with a whole pineapple. Most 398ml/13.5oz cans will yield exactly 1/2 cup of juice, which is what is called for in this recipe.
Corn or flour tortillas
A lot of people prefer corn but if you live in the Southwest, you know (fresh) flour is awesome. When I’m not near really good flour tortillas, I try to buy locally made corn tortillas, but sometimes you’re just in a food desert and don’t have a lot of options other than national brands. In those cases, Mission is my go-to, both for corn and flour. Look for a street taco size.
How to make al pastor
- Soak your chiles. Guajillos come dried and soaking them makes them pliable and easy to deseed.
- Slice and season your pork. I try to go for as thin of a slice as possible, so that there’s more surface area to absorb the marinade.
- Make the marinade. Blend the guajillos together with garlic, sugar, achiote, adobo, and pineapple juice until smooth.
- Marinate. Marinate your pork for at least 30 minutes, but better yet, overnight.
- Roast. You probably don’t have a vertical spit at home, so the best way to achieve that combination of soft supple insides and crispy, smoky edges is to lay out the pork in a single layer and broil at 500ºF until cooked. Don’t forget to roast your pineapples as well (on a separate baking sheet).
How to make tacos al pastor
- Prep your toppings. Dice your onions, chop your cilantro, slice your jalapenos, and portion out your salsas.
- Chop it up. Roughly chop your pork so that the majority of the pieces are about 1/2″ x 1/2″.
- Crisp up your al pastor. Frying it is optional but really intensifies the flavors, not to mention gets it nice and piping hot.
- Prep your tortillas. If you’re using flour tortillas, you should cook them now. If corn, cover 10-12 at a time with a damp paper towel and microwave for 30 seconds (or use a tortilla warmer like we do).
- Build and enjoy! Top with roast pineapples and all the other toppings you love.
This is not a spicy dish, but if you’re the kind of person where black pepper is just on the edge of spicy to you, then you might want to leave out a chipotle chile or two from the can. If you really, really hate spice, you’ll also want to deseed the guajillos. We use them for smoky flavor in this recipe, so you can remove all the seeds if you want to. The larger peppers are easier to deseed. Once softened, just turn them upside down and remove the stem, and 80-90% of them should fall right out.
Grilling at the table
For taco nights, we like to do the last warming part at the table with a small tabletop griddle. You can warm your tortillas and the al pastor all at once, and it makes for a really fun night.
What to serve with tacos al pastor
Al Pastor Recipe
Smoky, sweet, and super easy crispy edged roast pork tacos topped with broiled pineapples.
- 8 dried guajillo peppers
- 2 lb pork shoulder/butt cut into~ 1/4″ slices, boneless
- 8 cloves garlic peeled
- 7 oz chipotle peppers in adobo 1 can
- 1 tbsp sugar
- 2 tbsp achiote paste 1.75oz/half package
- 13.5 oz pineapple chunks fruit and juice separated, 1 can
- corn or flour tortillas warmed, as needed
Soak the guajillos in a small bowl filled with hot tap water for 15 mins. You can either remove the stems and seeds beforehand, or wait til the peppers are soft and pliable, hold them by the tip, upside down, over the sink, and cut the stems off. The seeds should fall right out.
Meanwhile, season the pork generously with salt.
Add guajillos, garlic, chipotle in adobo, sugar, achiote paste, and 1/2 cup pineapple juice to a blender and blend into a smooth marinade.
Marinate the pork for at least 30 mins and up to 24 hours in the fridge.
Preheat your oven to 500°F. Arrange the pork in a single layer on another baking sheet. Broil the pork until the edges and corners start to char, about 20 minutes.
While you wait for your pork to finish, arrange drained pineapple chunks in a single layer on a foil lined baking sheet. Remove the pork and broil pineapples until charred, another 15 minutes.
Slice meats, fry up, and make tacos.
Makes roughly 16 tacos (2oz per taco). Serves 8 when paired with other food, or 4 for taco nights. Estimated nutrition doesn’t include tortillas, toppings, or sauces (if any).
Al Pastor Recipe
Amount Per Serving (2 oz)
Calories from Fat 93
% Daily Value*
Saturated Fat 3.3g21%
* Percent Daily Values are based on a 2000 calorie diet.