Tacos al Pastor Recipe: How to Make Authentic Tacos al Pastor Just Like They Do In Mexico

Tacos al pastor recipe on a white plate

Made with thinly sliced pieces of marinated pork, this tacos al pastor recipe uses classic Mexican ingredients for an authentic flavor.

Made with thin slices of marinated pork mixed with a delicious collection of grilled pineapple, pepper, and garlic, all washed in an unforgettable bath of fresh juice; tacos al pastor might be one of my favorite dishes.

I first discovered tacos al pastor on a Puerto Vallarta taco crawl when Flavor the Globe writer Anita Draycott brought them to my attention. Since then, I’ve been working on getting this authentic Mexican recipe just right.

This tacos al pastor recipe is derived right from the streets of Versalles, Puerto Vallarta. Considered one of the hottest foodie neighborhoods in Mexico, there is an amazing collection of restaurants and food experiences exploding from this area.

What Are Tacos al Pastor?

A man with a shawarma spit making tacos al pastor in Puerto Vallarta Mexico

Tacos al pastor originated in Central Mexico and is one of the staples of Mexican cuisine. The name “al pastor” means “in the style of the shepherd” in Spanish. The name and the flavors reflect the dish’s Lebanese roots, where meat is cooked on a vertical spit, known as “shawarma.”

This culinary influence came from Lebanese immigrants who settled in Mexico. They had a massive influence on the Mexican food scene.

Tacos al pastor is typically served on soft shell tortillas. The delicious taste comes from thinly sliced pork, usually sourced from the shoulder or loin. The pork is marinated in a mixture of achiote, garlic, oregano, cumin, cinnamon, and citrus juice (usually either orange, pineapple, or a mixture of both). The marinade helps to give the pork its vibrant red-orange color. It also provides a delightfully tangy and slightly smoky flavor.

In traditional style, the pork is stacked onto a vertical shawarma, or skewer, which gets topped with an onion and pineapple. Most kitchens, including mine, aren’t equipped with that kind of equipment, so I’ll show you how to get the same result with kitchen tools that most people have at the ready.

Loin or Shoulder: What Cut of Meat Should You Use for Tacos al Pastor?

Thinly sliced pork shoulder on a tray

The marinated pork is at the heart of a great tacos al pastor recipe. But what is the best meat to use for the dish? It’s also important to know how to prepare the meat, slice it, and how long to marinate it.

From countless runs through the kitchen, the best results come from a very thinly sliced boneless pork shoulder. If you don’t have one, It can be done by hand with a good knife, but if you make this recipe regularly, I recommend picking up a meat slicer. It will make your life much easier.

Pork shoulder is, generally, a big hunk of meat. This cut can make a lot of food, and when it is slow-cooked, it releases a tremendous amount of flavor from the fat and tissue in the joint.

If working around the pork shoulder’s bone seems intimidating, the next best option is pork sirloin. Sirloin offers a much more forgiving cut of meat. It’s not quite as tasty and more prone to drying out, but it’s a great secondary option.

How To Make The Taco al Pastor Marinade

tacos al pastor topped with cilantro pineapple and onion

The trick to making the best taco al pastor is in the marinade. This delicious adobo is based around a mixture of chili, garlic, vinegar, and citrus juices that give these tacos their unmistakable flavor.

To craft the tastiest marinade, it’s best to use freshly dried chiles. Look for ones that are still slightly flexible, as they are still packed with great flavor. You’ll want to pair these with a nice achiote paste to achieve the iconic al pastor color and flavor, along with some fresh orange and/or pineapple juice.

Finish it off with cumin, cinnamon, oregano, cloves, and possibly a small mint for a fresh from-the-street-vendor flavor you’ll want to make over and over again.

Authentic Taco al Pastor Recipe

Creating an authentic taco al pastor dish takes a bit of planning. Soaking the meat is best done overnight, so this isn’t a dish you can throw together on a whim (at least not if you want it done right). Ideally, give yourself two nights. One night for the meat to marinate, and a second for it to cure and become easier to slice.

Tacos al pastor recipe on a white plate

Tacos al Pastor Recipe

Yield: 6 servings
Prep Time: 40 minutes
Cook Time: 4 hours 45 minutes
Additional Time: 30 minutes
Total Time: 5 hours 55 minutes

Made with thinly sliced pieces of marinated pork, this tacos al pastor recipe uses easy-to-find Mexican ingredients for an authentic flavor.



  • 2 lbs boneless pork shoulder or pork sirloin
  • 1/2 lb sliced bacon
  • 2 dried ancho chiles. Seeds and stems removed
  • 1/2 Cup chicken stock
  • 2 tsp vegetable oil
  • 1 tsp dried oregano
  • 1 tsp dried ground cumin
  • 1 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1 tbsp achiote paste
  • 1/4 cup distilled white vinegar
  • 2 1/2 tsp kosher salt
  • 3 cloves garlic
  • 2 tsp sugar
  • 1/2 cup orange juice, pineapple juice, or a combination of both

Other ingredients

  • 1 small pineapple. Peeled, cored, and cut into quarters lengthwise
  • 32 corn tortillas
  • 1 cup chopped white onion
  • 1/2 cup roughly chopped cilantro
  • 2 tbsp finely chopped mint leaf


Preparing the Meat

  • Heat a large saucepan over medium-high heat. Once hot, add the chiles and cook, turning occasionally until they are thick, pliable, and brown on the edges.
  • Add chicken stock and bring to a boil. Once boiling, add the contents of the saucepan into a bowl and loosely cover.
  • Add oil to the saucepan and heat over medium-high heat.
  • Once hot, add cumin, oregano, and achiote. Cook, stirring frequently, until fragrant. Do not allow the mixture to brown (approx. 30-45 seconds).
  • Add vinegar, salt, and sugar, and remove the saucepan from the heat.
  • Pour the contents of the saucepan into a blender along with the garlic and citrus juice. Blend on high until the mixture is entirely smooth (approx. 1 minute). Set aside to cool.
  • Using a meat slicer or a very sharp chef's knife, slice the pork thinly. It may help to freeze the meat slightly so that it's easier to cut.
  • Wrap the meat in cling wrap or place it in a large zip-lock bag. Pound the meat with a meat tenderizer until it's approximately 1/4 inch thick. Transfer to a large bowl and repeat until all of the meat is tenderized.

Marinating the Meat

  • Add the al pastor marinade to the bowl with the pork and combine until all of the meat slices are evenly coated.
  • Line the bottom of a loaf pan with bacon. Add a layer of marinated meat. Continue layering bacon and pork until all of the meat has been used. It's ok if the meat extends above the walls of the loaf pan. Cover tightly with plastic wrap and allow the meat to marinate for between 4 and 36 hours.

Cooking the Meat

  • Preheat your oven to 275°F. Remove the plastic wrap and place the loaf pan on a foil-lined baking sheet. Cook the meat until it is completely tender (approx. 4 hours).
  • Remove the loaf pan from the oven and allow to cool slightly (approx. 15 minutes). Cover with aluminum foil and refrigerate between 2 and 24 hours.

Final Preparations

  • Once the meat has cured and you're ready to serve, remove the meat from the loaf pan. Scrape off any fat or congealed juices and reserve them separately.
  • Using a sharp knife, shave the meat to create a shawarma-like finish. Transfer to a bowl.
  • Warm the reserved juices and fat in a small saucepan or in the microwave until melted. Do not overcook.
  • Slice the pineapple and transfer to a foil-lined baking sheet. Brush with the juices and dust with cinnamon.
  • Transfer the pineapple to the oven and roast until tender (approx. 25 minutes). Remove from oven and allow to cool slightly.
  • When the pineapples have about 10 minutes remaining, transfer the meat and 1 tbsp of the juices to a large cast iron skillet. Heat on medium-high, stirring occasionally until the meat crisps on the edges and deep brown spots appear. Transfer the meat to a serving bowl.
  • Add any remaining juices and fat to the meat. Toss to combine and allow to reduce to a thin glaze.
  • Chop the roasted pineapple into chunks. Mix with the meat and serve immediately with warm tortillas. Top with fresh chopped onion, roughly chopped cilantro, salsa, and lime wedges.
Nutrition Information:
Yield: 6 Serving Size: 1
Amount Per Serving:Calories: 665Total Fat: 25gSaturated Fat: 7gCholesterol: 120mgSodium: 900mgCarbohydrates: 66gProtein: 49g

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