Tacos al Pastor

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This authentic Tacos al Pastor recipe is vibrant, flavorful, and straight from Aguascalientes, Mexico. Although it requires a few specialty ingredients, I’ll show you where to get them. And the recipe itself is deceptively easy to make!

Tacos al pastor on a blue plate.

Tacos al Pastor, or Tacos “Shepherd’s style” is a classic Mexican recipe most often confined to taco trucks and restaurants. The meat tastes delicious, yet unfamiliar. We know we love it, but we don’t even know what we’re tasting. Certainly this recipe must be out of reach for the general home cook?

Fear not! The ingredients are not intuitive and you probably don’t have them in your pantry already, but they are easy to find online if you don’t have a Mexican grocery store nearby.

And the recipe itself is deceptively-simple: Rehydrate dried chiles, blend a marinade, and add pork. Then cook the pork with pineapple in a pan, and you’re done (I have instructions for the grill below, too). Taco Tuesday has never been so exotic!

Recipe ingredients

Labeled ingredients for Tacos al Pastor.

At a Glance: Here is a quick snapshot of what ingredients are in this recipe.
Please see the recipe card below for specific quantities.

Ingredient notes

  • Guajillo chiles: You can buy dry, mild-flavored Guajillo chiles at well-stocked grocery stores (even Walmart depending on where you live), Mexican grocery stores, and on Amazon. You can also substitute dried Pasilla chiles or even Ancho chiles (dried Poblano peppers).
  • Achiote paste: This bright red, flavorful paste is made from annatto seeds (the seeds of the Achiote tree). There is no good substitute. Mexican grocery stores will carry it (El Yucateco is a popular brand), or you can buy it on Amazon.
  • Mexican oregano: Mexican oregano has a lemony-citrus flavor, while Mediterranean oregano (Italian, Greek, or Turkish) can be sweet, bitter, or peppery depending on the variety. You can find Mexican oregano at Mexican grocery stores or on Amazon.
  • Pineapple: You can substitute an equal amount of fresh pineapple for the canned. You’ll still need juice, though, so either choose the juiciest fruit you can find or seek out the small (6 ounce) cans of pineapple juice.

Step-by-step instructions

To marinate the pork:

  1. In a medium bowl, add dried chiles and enough boiling water to cover completely. Let soak until softened, about 10 minutes. Drain well.
Dried chiles soaking in water.
  1. In a blender, add softened chiles, pineapple juice, white vinegar, achiote paste, garlic, oregano, cumin, cinnamon, cloves, 1 ½ teaspoons salt, and ¼ teaspoon black pepper. Process until smooth, about 30 seconds (you will have about 1 cup marinade).
Achiote paste blended with chiles.
  1. Transfer the marinade to a large zipper-top plastic bag. Add chopped pork and mash to coat. Marinate at least 4 hours or overnight.
Pork marinating in achiote paste and chiles.

To cook the pork:

  1. In a large skillet over medium-high heat, heat olive oil until shimmering. Add pork and pineapple and cook until pork registers 145 degrees on a thermometer, about 15 to 20 minutes. Stir occasionally. Drain if desired (a colander works well).
Al Pastor meat in a saucepan.
  1. Season to taste with salt. Serve with warmed tortillas, onion, cilantro, and guacamole.
Tacos al pastor on a blue plate.

Recipe tips and variations

  • Yield: This recipe makes about 4 cups of Al Pastor meat (pork and pineapple mixed together), enough for 16 tacos (4 tacos per person).
  • Storage: Store leftovers covered in the refrigerator for up to 4 days.
  • Make ahead: The marinade can be blended up to 3 days in advance.
  • To make Tacos al Pastor on the grill:
    1. Slice the pork into 1/4-inch slices instead of chopping in to pieces, then add to the marinade as directed in the recipe. Substitute fresh pineapple rings for the chopped pineapple.
    2. To cook, preheat grill on medium-high heat. Add the pork in a single layer and grill over direct heat, turning occasionally, until the internal temperature reaches 145 degrees on a thermometer, 10 to 15 minutes.
    3. Meanwhile, brush the pineapple slices with olive oil. Grill over indirect heat, turning once, until char marks appear, about 8 minutes.
    4. Remove pork and pineapple to a cutting board and chop into small pieces. In a serving bowl, add chopped pork and pineapple and toss to combine. Season to taste with salt. Serve with warmed tortillas, onion, cilantro, and guacamole.
Tacos al pastor on a platter.

Recipe FAQs

What does “al pastor” mean in Spanish?

Tacos al Pastor means Tacos “Shepherd’s style.”

Are guajillo chiles spicy?

Guajillo chiles are mild and add savory flavor, not much spice. They rank just 500 to 5,000 on the Scoville Heat Scale (for comparison, a jalapeño is 2,500 to 8,000).

What is a substitute for guajillo chiles?

If you cannot find guajillo chiles, you can substitute dried Pasilla chiles or even Ancho chiles (dried Poblano peppers).

What is a substitute for Achiote paste?

The closest substitute to Achiote paste is smoked paprika, but it’s not a good substitute for this recipe (it will completely alter the dish). You can make your own Achiote paste by grinding Annatto seeds and mixing them with garlic, cumin, cloves, Mexican oregano, and vinegar.

What are the best toppings for Tacos al Pastor?

The classic toppings for Tacos al Pastor are minced white onions, minced fresh cilantro, lime wedges, and guacamole. And, the tacos themselves are most commonly served on corn tortillas, not flour.

Tacos al pastor on a plate.

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Tacos al Pastor on a blue plate.

Tacos al Pastor

This authentic Tacos al Pastor recipe is vibrant, flavorful, and straight from Aguascalientes, Mexico.
Author: Meggan Hill
5 from 3 votes
Prep Time 15 mins
Cook Time 30 mins
Total Time 45 mins
Servings 4 servings (4 tacos each)
Course Main Course
Cuisine Mexican
Calories 472

Ingredients 

For the marinade:

  • 4 dried guajillo chiles (about ¾ ounce), stems and seeds removed while dry (see note 1)
  • 1/4 cup pineapple juice (from canned pineapple below)
  • 1/4 cup white vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons achiote paste (see note 2)
  • 3 cloves garlic
  • 1 tablespoon Mexican oregano (see note 3)
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cloves or 3 whole cloves
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper

For the pork:

  • 2 pounds boneless pork butt chopped into 1/4-inch pieces
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 cup canned pineapple chopped into 1/4-inch pieces (see note 4)
  • Salt
  • 16 (8-inch) corn tortillas warmed, for serving
  • 1 cup minced raw onions for serving
  • 1/2 cup minced fresh cilantro for serving
  • Lime wedges for serving
  • Guacamole for serving

Instructions 

To marinate the pork:

  • In a medium bowl, add dried chiles and enough boiling water to cover completely. Let soak until softened, about 10 minutes. Drain well.
  • In a blender, add softened chiles, pineapple juice, white vinegar, achiote paste, garlic, oregano, cumin, cinnamon, cloves, 1 ½ teaspoons salt, and ¼ teaspoon black pepper. Process until smooth, about 30 seconds (you will have about 1 cup marinade).
  • Transfer the marinade to a large zipper-top plastic bag. Add chopped pork and mash to coat. Marinate at least 4 hours or overnight.

To cook the pork:

  • In a large skillet over medium-high heat, heat olive oil until shimmering. Add pork and pineapple and cook until pork registers 145 degrees on a thermometer, about 15 to 20 minutes. Stir occasionally. Drain if desired (a colander works well).
  • Season to taste with salt. Serve with warmed tortillas, onion, cilantro, and guacamole.

Recipe Video

Notes

  1. Guajillo chiles: You can buy dry, mild-flavored Guajillo chiles at well-stocked grocery stores (even Walmart depending on where you live), Mexican grocery stores, and on Amazon. You can also substitute dried Pasilla chiles or even Ancho chiles (dried Poblano peppers).
  2. Achiote paste: This bright red, flavorful paste is made from annatto seeds (the seeds of the Achiote tree). There is no good substitute. Mexican grocery stores will carry it (El Yucateco is a popular brand), or you can buy it on Amazon.
  3. Mexican oregano: Mexican oregano has a lemony-citrus flavor, while Mediterranean oregano (Italian, Greek, or Turkish) can be sweet, bitter, or peppery depending on the variety. You can find Mexican oregano at Mexican grocery stores or on Amazon.
  4. Pineapple: You can substitute an equal amount of fresh pineapple for the canned. You’ll still need juice, though, so either choose the juiciest fruit you can find or seek out the small (6 ounce) cans of pineapple juice.
  5. Yield: This recipe makes about 4 cups of Al Pastor meat (pork and pineapple mixed together), enough for 16 tacos (4 tacos per person).
  6. Storage: Store leftovers covered in the refrigerator for up to 4 days.
  7. Make ahead: The marinade can be blended up to 3 days in advance.

Nutrition

Serving: 4tacosCalories: 472kcalCarbohydrates: 42gProtein: 45gFat: 14gSaturated Fat: 5gPolyunsaturated Fat: 2gMonounsaturated Fat: 6gTrans Fat: 1gCholesterol: 136mgSodium: 159mgPotassium: 1208mgFiber: 6gSugar: 27gVitamin A: 1220IUVitamin C: 115mgCalcium: 108mgIron: 5mg
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Executive Chef and CEO at | Website | + posts

Meggan Hill is the Executive Chef and CEO of Culinary Hill, a popular digital publication in the food space. She loves to combine her Midwestern food memories with her culinary school education to create her own delicious take on modern family fare. Millions of readers visit Culinary Hill each month for meticulously-tested recipes as well as skills and tricks for ingredient prep, cooking ahead, menu planning, and entertaining. She graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and the iCUE Culinary Arts program at College of the Canyons.

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