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​​Al Pastor Tacos You Can Actually Make at Home: DIY Genius!

Al Pastor Tacos

Al pastor tacos are the only type of taco we thought we’d never be able to make at home. Those who love this classic pork and pineapple combo know you can typically only buy this kind of taco at street stands and restaurants that have a trompo, that huge vertical metal rotating spit fired by charcoal or gas.

Speared on the trompo is a fiery-red, triangle-shaped chunk of pork shoulder that spins around and around, slow-charring to juicy deliciosoness. The pork is first marinated in a paste with several kinds of chiles plus achiote, a spice with a subtle peppery flavor. After cooking for hours, the street vendor slices the pork, places the thin cuts in a warm tortilla, and adds chunks of pineapple, chopped cilantro, and raw onion.

Watch Vivi make her super-delicioso DIY al pastor tacos in her home oven, using two wood skewers.

The result is al pastor, a sweet-and-savory wonder and one of the most popular tacos in el universo.

But unlike carne asada, chicken or fish, this taco doesn’t go back to early days of Spanish-influenced Mexican cuisine. Al pastor means “shepherd style,” signaling the dish’s Middle Eastern roots. Slow-cooking meat outdoors on a rotisserie is familiar to fans of shawarma and gyros. This Ottoman-era technique traveled to Mexico with Lebanese immigrants in the 19th and early 20th centuries.  As they settled into Mexican locales like Puebla, Veracruz, parts of Yucatan, and Mexico City, they switched to using easily accessible pork instead of the traditional lamb. They also added achiote and chiles to the marinade, and corn tacos instead of pita bread.

Al Pastor tacos
A popular street food in Mexico, al pastor is typically made using a trompo, a rotating metal spit that slow cooks the marinated pork shoulder.

How to Make Al Pastor at Home — No Trompo Needed

We asked one of our favorite Mexican food cooks, Vivi Abeja, to help us find a way to make this beloved taco in our home kitchens so that we could eat it year round. (We didn’t want to wait until Chicago’s summer festival season to get our al pastor fix.)

Vivi was happy to take on this comida challenge. “I have always been fascinated with al pastor tacos because of the way they are made and the flavors they carry,” she says.

Vivi landed on an ingenious way to DIY the slow-cooking, piled-high effect of the rotating trompo. She starts with two wooden skewers and pokes them into a thick chunk of pineapple for ballast. She then spears thin slices of the marinated pork shoulder onto the skewers, in layers.

But how does Vivi get the fire-charred flavor from the rotating spit using her regular oven?

Al Pastor tacos
As important as the slow-cooked, marinated pork slices are chunks of pineapple to the sweet-savory flavor of al pastor tacos.

By making her own DIY trompo, of course! “I found this recipe online after doing some research and found it to be the closest to what I was looking for. You can make your own little trompo at home using wooden skewers to hold up the pork into its shape, and roast the meat slow and low. I recommend broiling the meat at the end for 2 to 5 last minutes to give the pork some extra color. I love that we are able to recreate these delicious tacos at home without the big trompo that is used to cook the meat,” she explains.

Start by Marinating the Al Pastor Pork for at Least 4 Hours

Vivi first marinates the pork for 4 to 8 hours (and preferably overnight). She then slow roasts the meat on her makeshift trompo on low heat in a 275° oven. In about 3 hours, the pork is ready, and it’s time to garnish with chopped onions and cilantro. Vivi goes a step further. “I love spices and layers of flavor, so adding salsa to the already marinated meat is something that makes my tastebuds have a party.”

On what types of occasions will she serve al pastor, now that she can make this tricky taco at home?

“This is a special recipe because it is cooked slow and low and the total time (if you include marinating the meat) is over the course of 2 days. These types of meals require a special occasion with family and friends.”

Ready to Make Al Pastor Tacos in Your Kitchen?

​​Al Pastor Tacos You Can Actually Make at Home!

Recipe by Vivi Abeja
0.0 from 0 votes
Cuisine: Mexican
Servings

8 to 10

servings
Prep time

30

minutes
Cooking time

3

hours 
Marinade in Fridge

4 to 8

hours

Ingredients

  • Al Pastor Essentials
  • 3 lbs pork shoulder, thinly sliced into 1/3” pieces

  • 1 whole pineapple, peeled and sliced

  • 3/4 onion, chopped into large chunks

  • 2 wood skewers


  • For the Marinade
  • 1 tbsp neutral oil, like vegetable

  • 4 cloves garlic, smashed

  • 1/4 onion, thickly sliced

  • 5 chiles guajillo, seeded

  • 2 bay leaves

  • 1/4 cup water

  • 1/4 cup apple cider vinegar

  • 2 chiles chipotle in adobo (2 individual chiles, not 2 cans)

  • 1 Tbsp achiote paste or powder

  • 1 Tbsp kosher salt

  • 1 tsp cumin

  • 1 tsp Mexican oregano

  • 1/2 tsp black pepper

  • 1/2 tsp allspice

  • 1 tsp Knorr chicken bullion

  • 1 cup chicken stock

  • 1 cup water

  • 1/4 cup canned pineapple juice (not fresh pineapple juice)


  • For the Tacos
  • Corn tortillas

  • Cilantro, fresh

  • Onions, raw, sliced

  • Salsa verde, or green salsa

Directions

  • Prep the Pork and Pineapple
  • Thinly slice the boneless pork shoulder into pieces about 1/3-inch wide each. If you wish, you can pound them to even out their thickness. Set aside.
  • Peel the pineapple. First slice 2 rounds from the fruit, 1 inch wide each. Set aside. Slice the rest of the pineapple into bite-size chunks. Set aside.
  • Make the Marinade
  • In a skillet or cast-iron pan over medium heat, lightly brown the garlic and 1/4 chopped onion in oil. Add the guajillo chiles and bay leaves. Sauté for 1 to 2 minutes.
  • Add the water (1/4 cup) and apple cider vinegar. Lower heat and cover.
  • Cook for 10 minutes, then turn off heat and let the mixture cool.
  • Pour the cooled mixture into a blender. Add the spices, chipotle chiles, chicken stock, 1 cup water, and canned pineapple juice.
  • Blend until smooth.
  • Remove from blender and pour through a fine mesh strainer. Use a wood spoon to push the mixture through the mesh until there are only chunks left. Discard the chunks.
    Al Pastor tacos
  • In a container or a large zip bag, place the pork slices in the marinade, making sure they are fully immersed. Place the marinated pork in the fridge for 4 to 8 hours or overnight.
  • Slow-Cook the Pork
  • Preheat oven to 275°F.
  • Make a mini trompo: Use 2 wood skewers, each around 10” tall. Poke each skewer into opposite sides of one of your 1”-thick rounds of fresh pineapple, using it as your base.
  • Place the skewered pineapple on a baking sheet or cast iron skillet. Al Pastor Tacos
  • Layer the pork slices on top of each other, spearing each piece on the two skewers.
  • When you have added all the pork pieces, top the two skewers with the second and final 1”-pineapple round on top. Your mini-trompo is ready to slow-roast.
  • Place the mini-trompo in the preheated 275°F, oven for 2 1/2 to 3 hours at or until the internal temp reaches 145° F. Optional step, recommended by Vivi: As a last step, place the trompo under the broiler for 2 to 5 minutes, rotating the pan every 30 or so seconds, until all the sides are caramelized, golden-brown and crispy.
  • Remove from the oven and let the mini-trompo rest for 10 minutes.
  • Thinly slice the pork in downward motions, starting on the outside. Place the pork pieces in a bowl.
  • In a pan over medium heat, sauté the sliced pork with sliced onions and pineapple chunks for a few minutes until they turn slightly golden.
  • Once the al pastor is caramelized and the onions have softened, it’s ready. Al Pastor tacos at home by Vivi Abeja
  • Warm the corn tortillas on a hot comal or cast-iron pan.
  • In the center of each tortilla, place 2 to 3 slices of pork. Top with chopped raw onions, fresh cilantro, and a drizzle of salsa verde, freshly made or store-bought. Al Pastor tacos

Notes

  • Pork shoulder, despite its name, comes from the pig’s front leg.

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