“Tacos al pastor are an institution in Mexico,” writes recipe developer and former BA editor Rick Martinez. “Every grillmaster, taqueria owner, and food cart cook has their version of this classic that fills the streets with the smell of spicy grilled pork with charred pineapple and onion.”
The dish may be a signature of Mexican cuisine, but its roots started in the Middle East. In the early 20th century, a large wave of Lebanese immigrants arrived in Mexico, bringing with them a technique for spit-roasting meat and recipes for shawarma. Initially, the dish was made with lamb and called tacos árabes or Arabic tacos. Over time tacos al pastor, which are made with pork and served on corn tortillas, grew from this tradition.
For this recipe no vertical spit is required—a grill will do fine. But first, marinate thin slices of pork shoulder (about ¾” thick) in a bath of fresh pineapple, onion, dried chiles, and more for up to 12 hours. Grill the pork over low heat to help it develop a deep char and caramelization (a.k.a. those crispy bits we’re all after) while keeping the meat tender and juicy.
Al pastor means “in the style of the shepherd” and isn’t confined to pork tacos. Inspired by a dish at one of Mexico City’s most beloved restaurants Contramar, Martinez also developed a fish tacos al pastor recipe that’s perfect for an alfresco summer meal.
Editor’s note: This recipe was originally published October 8, 2015.
6 to 8 Servings
guajillo chiles, seeds removed
chiles de árbol
pounds boneless pork shoulder (Boston butt), sliced ¾” thick
garlic cloves, peeled
cup distilled white vinegar
tablespoons prepared or fresh achiote paste
ounces kosher salt (7 tablespoons Diamond Crystal or 4 tablespoons plus 2 teaspoons Morton), plus more
pineapple, peeled, cored, cut into ½” rings, divided
medium onion, finely chopped, divided
red habanero chiles, seeds removed, finely chopped
cup fresh mint, chopped
tablespoons fresh lime juice
Lime wedges (for serving)