Tacos Al Pastor are thinly sliced pieces of marinated pork that make for the best taco. Serve them up with some sliced onion, pineapple, and cilantro and you have yourself a fantastic dinner your family will devour. 

Bird's eye view of Tacos Al Pastor on a black countertop.

Tacos al pastor is a wonderful Mexican dish that uses the beautiful pineapples that are grown all over Mexico. While traditional preparations require cooking over a spit, this recipe has been adapted for the home cook to enjoy using a stovetop. You can also make this on an outdoor grill if you have access to one.

Thin slices of pork are marinated in a sweet and tangy pineapple based sauce. You can control the amount of heat in your taco meat by adding more or less chipotle chile peppers. Chipotles are smoked jalapenos so there is definitely some spice there. As written, this recipe is a medium heat level, leaning towards mild.

Recipe Origins

Al pastor is a traditional Mexican dish that is made with spit-roasted pork and various seasonings and toppings. It is believed to have originated in the early 20th century, when Lebanese immigrants introduced the concept of spit-roasting meat to Mexico. The immigrants used a traditional Middle Eastern method of marinating meat in spices and cooking it on a spit, and adapted it to use pork instead of lamb or mutton. The result was a delicious and flavorful dish that became popular in Mexico, and eventually spread to other parts of the world. Today, al pastor remains a beloved and iconic Mexican dish, and can be found at taquerias and other Mexican restaurants around the world.

What does al pastor mean in English?

Pastor means shepherd so a direct translation to English would be Shepherd Tacos.

Best Cuts of Meat for Al Pastor

When it comes to making al pastor, the type of meat that you use can have a big impact on the flavor and texture of the dish. Traditionally, al pastor is made with pork, and there are several different cuts of pork that can be used to make it. Here are some of the most common cuts of pork that are used for al pastor, and how they differ from each other:

  • Pork loin: Pork loin is a lean and tender cut of meat that comes from the back of the pig. It has a delicate flavor and a tender texture, and is a good choice for al pastor if you want a lighter and more refined dish.
  • Pork shoulder: Pork shoulder, also known as pork butt or pork Boston butt, is a tougher and fattier cut of meat that comes from the front of the pig. It has a bolder and more robust flavor, and is a good choice for al pastor if you want a more hearty and flavorful dish.

What is the difference between carnitas and al pastor?

Carnitas and al pastor both use pork, but the cooking preparations and flavors are quite different. Carnitas are usually braised in liquid or fat. Al pastor is marinated, then grilled and utilizes pineapple to provide a tangy flavor.

Serving Suggestions

Al pastor is typically served in tacos, but there are many other creative ways to enjoy it. Here are a few serving suggestions for al pastor:

  • Tacos al pastor: This is the classic way to serve al pastor, and for good reason. The tender, flavorful meat is sliced off the spit and placed on a small corn tortilla, along with diced onion, cilantro, and a squeeze of lime juice. You can also add salsa or hot sauce for an extra kick.
  • Al pastor salad: For a lighter option, try serving the al pastor meat over a bed of mixed greens. Top the salad with sliced avocado, cherry tomatoes, corn, black beans, and a drizzle of your favorite dressing.
  • Al pastor burrito: For a heartier meal, try wrapping the al pastor meat in a large flour tortilla with refried beans, cheese, and your choice of toppings.
  • Al pastor nachos: For a fun party snack, layer tortilla chips with al pastor meat, cheese, and your favorite nacho toppings. Bake until the cheese is melted and bubbly, then serve with salsa, guacamole, and sour cream.
  • Al pastor quesadillas: For a quick and easy meal, try making quesadillas with al pastor meat and cheese. Simply place the meat and cheese on a flour tortilla, top with another tortilla, and cook in a skillet until the cheese is melted and the tortillas are crispy.

What kind of tortillas should I use?

When it comes to tacos al pastor, the best tortillas to use are small corn tortillas. Corn tortillas have a slightly sweet and earthy flavor that complements the savory, spicy flavor of al pastor meat. Corn tortillas are also traditionally used for tacos in Mexican cuisine, so using them adds an authentic touch to your dish. Additionally, corn tortillas tend to be smaller and more pliable than flour tortillas, making them easier to fill and fold into tacos. Look for fresh, handmade corn tortillas at your local Mexican market, or try making your own at home. Flour tortillas can also be used as a matter of personal preference.

What toppings are best?

Keep the toppings on these tacos simple. There is a lot of flavor in the meat so you don’t want to drown it out. Pineapple is a crucial topping for traditional tacos al pastor. You can use either grilled pineapple, or raw pineapple. The pineapple can be sliced into spears, or diced.

Some other traditional toppings include diced onion, cilantro, and a squeeze of lime juice. You can also add salsa or hot sauce for an extra kick of flavor. Other topping ideas include diced avocado or guacamole for creaminess, sliced radishes for crunch, and pickled jalapenos for a tangy, spicy flavor. For a more substantial taco, you can also add refried beans or cheese.

Tacos Al Pastor in a taco holder.

Storage and Reheating Instructions

To store al pastor meat, place it in an airtight container in the refrigerator. It will keep for up to 3 days. All toppings should be stored separately. To reheat al pastor, slice it into small pieces and place it in a skillet over medium heat. Cook, stirring frequently, until the meat is heated through and slightly crispy on the edges. Alternatively, you can place the al pastor slices on a baking sheet and heat them in the oven at 350 degrees Fahrenheit until heated through. Avoid reheating the meat in the microwave, as this can cause it to become tough and rubbery.

If you like these delicious tacos, you might also love these other taco recipes. Just click on the image to take you to more tacos….because who doesn’t need more tacos in their life?