Pork Tacos al Pastor

April 20, 2012

I once biked my way through Mexico from North to South, and it seemed that I ate tacos for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Fish taco, beef tacos, bean tacos, tripe tacos, even iguana tacos (which taste like chicken).  But it seemed to me that the favorite taco amongst Mexicans were Pork Tacos al Pastor (Shepard-style tacos). The marinated pork is arranged on a spit, then cooked on a vertical rotisserie (referred to as a trompo). When the outside layer has finished browning it is shaved away into tacos, exposing a new layer which then slowly browns for future customers. The system results in tacos that are perfectly cooked to satisfy a steady flow of customers over time.

My dinner table looked amazing

The braising and barbecuing technique in this recipe worked perfectly at recreating the overall flavors of real Mexican Tacos al Pastor; without a trompo. I invited my Mexican friends to dinner who gave these tacos glowing reviews. The only complaint was that they lacked heat, which they rectified with a little Tabasco.  I would prefer to find some more authentically Mexican source of heat. My Mexican friend promised to give me a few hints, which I will post then next time I make them. 4 stars, but they could be 4-1/2 stars with a little more heat.


  1. I think that supermarkets don’t sell 3-pound butt roasts, so I bought the smallest available roast at 4.8-pounds. Because my roast was 50% larger than the recommended (and because I heard complaints about the lack of flavor), I tried to compensate by increasing all ingredients by 50%.  However, I now see that this recipe barely uses a cup of the final sauce, so I would recommend sticking to the original recipe, and being careful to rotate the meat slabs so that they cook evenly.
  2. The guajillo chiles have a deep earthly flavor, somewhat similar to chipotle chiles in adobo sauce. But because the guajillos are mild, I am going to try finding something a little spicier. Perhaps puya chiles. Other options might be chipotle or mora chile. Another option would be to stick with the guajillos, and throw in a couple of habaneros to boost the heat.
  3. While not affecting the final outcome of the tacos, I had a kitchen disaster in the last few minutes before dinner. I had placed the bowl with 4 cups of extra sauce too close to the cutting board, and the handle of my chef’s knife caught the edge of the bowl. The thick sauce covered my counter, cascaded down the entire face of my dishwasher and puddled on my kitchen floor. Ufff.
  4. Chris Kimball prior recipe for Tacos al Pastor from his international cookbook, here, is much less genuine. The pork is covered with foil and baked in the oven, and is never given a chance to brown. The recipe also shreds the pork, rather than slices. This new recipe that I made today uses much better technique, and isn’t much more work. His old recipe uses 3 dried ancho chiles and 2 dried chipotle peppers, which I may try to see if I can add more heat.
  5. [Updated on 4/23/12]. My Mexican friend said that she thought that the sauce should be green rather than red. Hmmm. That would definitely give me a freer hand in making it spicier.

Rating: 4 stars.
Cost: $18.
How much work? Medium.
How big of a mess?  Medium.
Start time 3:00 PM. Finish time 6:15 PM.

Chris Kimball’s original recipe is here. My descriptions of how I prepare it are given below:

10 large dried guajillo chiles
1-1/2 cups water
1-1/4 pounds plum tomatoes
8 garlic cloves
4 bay leaves
Salt and pepper
3/4 teaspoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
3 pound boneless pork butt roast
1/2 pineapple
Vegetable oil
1 lime
18 (6-inch) corn tortillas
1 small onion
1/2 cup coarsely chopped fresh cilantro

  1. Wipe your chiles clean, then add to a large, dry Dutch oven set over medium-high burner. Heat for 3 to 4 minutes until they become soft and fragrant. Allow to cool on a large plate until they become cool enough to work with and then remove the stems.
  2. While the chiles cool, core and quarter your tomatoes and peel your 8 garlic cloves.
  3. Return the Dutch oven to medium-high burner, add the quartered tomatoes, water, garlic, chiles, 4 bay leaves, 2 teaspoons of salt, 1/2 teaspoon of ground black pepper, sugar, cumin and cloves. Bring up to a simmer, then cover and reduce burner to medium-low. Cook for 20 minutes until the chiles become soft; stir occasionally.
  4. Meanwhile, trim away any large chunks for exterior fat, and trim the fat cap down to 1/4″-thick. Cut the roast against its grain into 1/2″-thick pork steaks.
  5. When mixture has cooked, add to blender and process for 1 minute until smooth. Place a fine-mesh strainer over your dutch oven and strain the puree and press down on mixture to yield as much liquid as possible. Mostly you will be left with seeds and a little bit of pulp.
  6. Arrange pork steaks in liquid so that they are fully submerged. Bring liquid up to a simmer over a medium burner. Reduce the heat to maintain a gentle simmer and place cover slightly ajar, and cook for between 1-1/2 to 1-3/4 hours. Every 30 to 45 minutes, flip and rearrange the pork for even cooking.
  7. In the last 20 minutes of simmering, light a chimney starter filled with charcoal (about 100 briquettes). Also, slice your lime into 8 wedges. Dice your onion, and coarsely chop your cilantro. Put your toppings on a small serving plate. Peel your pineapple and cut into 1/2″-thick slices, and remove the center core from each slice. Save half your pineapple for another use.
  8. Fish out the pork and put on plate, and sprinkle both sides with salt, then cover with aluminum foil .
  9. Mix the sauce briefly and put 1/2-cup in a small bowl to bring out to the bbq. Pour all the remaining sauce into a medium bowl, and return a 1/2-cup back to the dutch oven. Cover the medium bowl of sauce and save for another use; perhaps to serve with rice. Squeeze 1/4 of a lime (2 wedges) and spent lime wedges into the Dutch oven.
  10. When the charcoal is covered with a fine grey ash, distribute the coats evenly in the barbecue. Clean the grate and use paper towels to rub the grate with oil.
  11. Cook the pork and pineapple simultaneously; each on their own half of the grill. Brush the pork with 1/4-cup of sauce and put sauce-side down onto the grill. Grill for 6 to 7 minutes until it has browned, then brush using the remaining 1/4-cup of sauce. Flip and grill for another 6 to 7 minutes until it has browned.
  12. Brush both sides of your pineapple rungs with vegetable oil and sprinkle lightly with salt, and grill for  6 to 7 minutes on each side.
  13. Coarsely chop pineapple rings and put into a serving bowl. Cut pork into 1/8″-thick slices and bring the sauce in the Dutch oven up to a simmer. Remove pot from heat and add pork, and toss so that the pork is evenly coated. Adjust the salt according to your taste.
  14. Put tortillas on a microwavable serving plate, cover them with a damp paper towel and microwave for 75 seconds.

I accidentally over-stuffed my tacos

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