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Enjoy these easy, delicious Pork Tacos al Pastor made at home on the grill in about 20 minutes (minus the marinating time) for your next Taco Tuesday!
Grilled Pork Tacos al Pastor
It's no secret that we love Mexican food around here! Not only is it one of our favorite cuisines, but I also like serving it as a reminder of the genetic heritage of half of our family.
Traditional tacos al pastor are made with marinated pork that is sliced thin, stacked and roasted on a spit, then shaved into thin bites of tender meat. But since I don't have a spit, I had to come up with another approach to get the authentic tacos al pastor flavor that I love at home on my backyard grill.
The first time I tried tacos al pastor was during law school. I was doing a one-semester clerkship with the Utah Supreme Court and would meet my husband for lunch in downtown Salt Lake City with one of his law school buddies (they both went to the U of U law school while I was down in Provo at BYU law school).
His friend Adam introduced us to a hole-in-the-wall taqueria that had the most amazing street tacos where we would always order a variety of small tacos, but the traditional tacos al pastor were my favorite.
Tacos al pastor have a sweetness to them, thanks to pineapple in the marinade that the meat baths in before being grilled, and more chunks of pineapple used as one of the taco fixings, that sets them apart from regular tacos. It's the perfect combo of sweet, savory, and spicy, that I LOVE.
The pineapple is important not only because it adds wonderful flavor, but it also tenderizes the meat by helping to break down some of the proteins. Marinating the thinly sliced pork anywhere from 4-12 hours is great.
But going beyond to the 24 hour mark can lead to the enzymes in the pineapple breaking down the meat too much, which can affect the texture of the meat in negative ways (many people describe it as "mushy"), so I would avoid that.
How to Make Tacos al Pastor
Tacos al pastor are made from thinly sliced pork that has been marinated in spices, which is easy enough to recreate since most of us have easy access to those ingredients.
The trickier part is that in traditional tacos al pastor, the marinated meat is then stacked onto a long spit called a trompo, which means "spinning top". The stacked meat then slowly rotates next to a heat source, slow-cooking the meat on the inside of the stack while the outside gets crispy and slightly charred.
You can see the fat and juices dripping down the rotating meat and watch as the exterior meat is carved off with a sharp knife and used to fill corn or flour tortillas.
Since I don't have a spit to make tacos al pastor the traditional way, I had to come up with a different solution.
My work-around for the thinly shaved, slightly charred meat that you would get with authentic tacos al pastor is to grill all of the meat on my backyard grill over direct heat, which takes all of 4 to 8 minutes total since it's already sliced thin, then stack and slice so that it has that characteristic shaved texture.
I tried a few different approaches before settling on this one, including a unique approach from Serious Eats where you actually make a loaf of the marinated, sliced meat, but this method of grilling, stacking, and slicing is by far my favorite, both from a perspective of flavor and ease.
Serve with grilled pineapple, chopped white onion, chopped cilantro, and lime wedges, and enjoy a uniquely delicious meal for Taco Tuesday. Or any night of the week when you are craving tacos - which is all nights, right?
Where did tacos al pastor originate from?
The term al pastor is Spanish for "in the style of the shepherd", but the method of cooking is actually from Lebanon. In the early 1900's, there was an influx of Lebanese immigrants to Mexico, who brought with them their cooking traditions of roasting meat on a spit.
While lamb was the meat typically used in Lebanon for their shawarma, Mexicans in Central Mexico where these Lebanese immigrants settled turned to pork, and tacos al pastor were born!
What kind of meat is used for tacos al pastor?
Typically, tacos al pastor are made from boneless pork shoulder. I've even heard of chicken being used as al pastor meat, even though it's not traditional.
But I think pork loin, which is a little leaner and easier to work with on the grill than boneless pork shoulder, is a better approach for the method I'm sharing and is a great way to mix things up. I picked up a boneless fresh pork loin, which is perfect for slicing thin and using in these tacos.
Slicing the pork loin rather than roasting it whole means there is much more surface area to absorb the flavor of the marinade. Plus, it cooks super-fast on the grill, making it a perfect quick and easy weeknight meal. Aside from the marinating time, dinner can be on the table in about 20 minutes!
What is the difference between carnitas and al pastor?
While both carnitas and tacos al pastor use pork, there are significant differences between the two dishes. Carnitas are typically slow cooked in an oven by simmering in their own juices, then shredded. There is no need to marinade because the meat absorbs the flavors of the spices while it is cooking.
Tacos al pastor, on the other hand, involves a marinade and is cooked next to direct heat, rotisserie style.
More Pork Recipes You'll Love
- Perfect Grilled Pork Chops with Sweet BBQ Pork Rub
- Grilled Thai Pork Tenderloin with Coconut Lime Peanut Sauce
- Kalua Pork (Slow Cooker or Instant Pot)
- Slow Cooker Asian Pulled Pork Sliders
- Smoked Pork Belly Burnt Ends
- Smoked Pulled Pork
- Classic Southern Smothered Pork Chops
- Slow Cooker Cuban Mojo Pork
- Crock Pot Pork Green Chili
Grilled Pork Tacos al Pastor
- 2 ½ - 3 pounds Farmer John Boneless Fresh Pork Loin, cut into thin slices
- 1 white onion roughly chopped
- ¼ of a fresh pineapple peeled, cored, and cut into chunks
- ½ cup orange juice
- ¼ cup white vinegar
- 4 cloves garlic minced
- 1 chipotle in adobo sauce
- 2 Tablespoons ancho chili powder
- 1 Tablespoon achiote powder
- 1 teaspoon cumin
- 1 teaspoon oregano
- 2 teaspoons coarse salt
- 12 small flour tortillas
- ½ white onion diced
- ½ bunch cilantro chopped
- 2 limes cut into wedges
- Remaining ¾ of a fresh pineapple peeled, cored, then grilled and diced
- Slice the pork loin into thin slices, no more than ½-inch thick. Transfer to a large bowl or heavy duty zip-tight bag.
- In a blender, combine the onion, pineapple, orange juice, white vinegar, garlic, chipotle pepper, ancho chili powder, achiote powder, cumin, oregano, and salt. Blend until smooth, then pour over the thinly sliced pork. Seal or cover and refrigerate for at least 4 hours, but up to 24 hours, to marinate.
- Heat a grill to high heat, then remove the meat from the marinade and grill over direct heat until cooked through, about 2-4 minutes on each side depending on the thickness of your pork. Grill the remaining pineapple at the same time by first cutting it into wedges then grilling over high heat for 4-6 minutes per side, until warm and slightly charred.
- Transfer the grilled pork loin to a cutting board and stack, then slice thinly to get that shaved taco meat look.
- Pile the chopped grilled pork on warm flour tortillas with the diced white onion, diced grilled pineapple, chopped cilantro, and a lime wedge, then serve.