Al pastor is slowly becoming one of my go to’s when ordering tacos now. I am firmly against eating pineapple with anything savory, but I’ve made an exception for al pastor. This pork and pineapple pairing is SO delicious, you need to try it!
Al pastor originated with Lebanese immigrants in Mexico. Mexicans adapted the cooking method of thinly sliced meat on a trompo (vertical spit), but with traditional Mexican flavors. Traditionally, the meat spit should be cooked using direct heat and on constant rotation. I do not have the right kind of device for this cooking method, but you can make a mini trompo at home! Although it isn’t being cooked by direct heat, I found that cooking it in a closed grill or oven is very effective.
Pork shoulder- al pastor is made with pork shoulder and it’s perfect because it has some fat marbled throughout. Fat = flavor and also helps to make the pork tender. You can ask your butcher to slice it thinly for you, or you can just partially freeze it to make it easier to slice. I also like to pound the pork to tenderize it even more.
Chiles- you’ll need two types of chiles: chile guajillo which is a dried chile, and chile chipotle en adobo which comes in a can.
Aromatics- garlic, onion, & bay leaves. These will all go into the marinade.
Spices- this is where you can customize a bit. I’ve had some al pastor that was heavy on spices like cinnamon & clove, but I am personally not a big fan. For me, the perfect spice blend is black pepper, cumin, Mexican oregano, salt, all spice, and achiote paste or powder. The achiote is very important- it gives the al pastor its signature color & flavor. Achiote can be a bit bitter though, so it’s very important to balance it out with the acidity from vinegar and pineapple juice.
Apple cider vinegar- for flavor and to balance the achiote paste
Pineapple juice- this is very important: it must be the juice that comes from canned pineapples, NOT fresh! Fresh pineapple juice contains enzymes that break down proteins to the point of mush. You’ll end up with a very unpleasant texture if you use fresh pineapple juice and marinate for longer than a couple of hours. Pineapple juice is a great way to balance the bitterness from the achiote paste, and also compliments the pork with a really nice & subtle sweet flavor.
Pineapple- I normally do not like pineapple with savory dishes, but it is a must for al pastor. You’ll need a whole pineapple for the mini trompo as well as grilling or cooking to pair with the al pastor.
I’ve worked on this marinade for a couple of years. This recipe has actually been revised and posted to TikTok & Instagram 3 times now! After many trial & errors, the most important thing that I learned is that you CANNOT use fresh pineapple juice for the marinade!
I don’t know exactly how the science works, but pineapples have a certain enzyme in them that breaks down protein into mush. Those are probably not the right words but I saw it happen to my al pastor time after time- the texture of the pork was mushy and unpleasant. At one point I just took out the pineapple juice all together but I was missing that sweet pineapple flavor.
Then I found out that canned pineapple goes through a process that removes said enzymes, making it a much better option to use for the marinade! Just trust me on this one- you need to use canned pineapple juice, NOT fresh pineapple juice for the marinade.
This recipe follows the same cooking process that street vendors use as closely as possible (without the proper tools). Most people do not have a vertical spit at home, but you can make a mini trompo and use your oven or grill to achieve similar results.
Using a thick chunk of pineapple as the base, pierce it with a sturdy skewer and begin layering the pork shoulder slices on top of each other. Top with another pineapple chunk and slow roast it in the oven or grill at 275°F for 2 1/2 to 3 hours (or until internal temp reaches 145°F.)
Let it rest for 10 minutes before cutting into it, then finish on a pan or griddle with sliced onions and pineapple chunks. Use the drippings from the oven to start the onions & pineapple, then add the al pastor and cook for just a couple minutes.
Alternatively, you could just grill or pan fry the pork shoulder slices individually. I’ve done this before and its still very good- just not quite as tender as the trompo method. But this is a great option if you don’t have time to roast the trompo for 3 hours.
- 3 lbs pork shoulder thinly sliced
- 1 pineapple
- 3/4 onion
- 1 tbsp neutral oil
- 4 garlic cloves smashed
- 1/4 onion
- 5 chile guajillo deseeded
- 2 bay leaves
- 1/4 cup water
- 1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
- 2 chile chipotle in adobo
- 1 tbsp achiote paste or powder
- 1 tbsp kosher salt
- 1 tsp cumin
- 1 tsp Mexican oregano
- 1/2 tsp black pepper
- 1/2 tsp all spice
- 1/4 cup canned pineapple juice
- 1 cup chicken stock 1 tsp Knorr + 1 cup water
Additional ingredients for tacos
- corn tortillas
- salsa verde
- Partially freeze your pork shoulder for a couple of hours to make it easier to slice, then pound it out thinly.
- On medium heat, lightly brown the garlic and 1/4 onion in oil. Then add the guajillo chiles and bay leaves. Saute for 1-2 minutes.
- Add 1/4 cup each of water and apple cider vinegar. Cover on low heat for 10-15 minutes, then turn off heat and let it cool.
- Pour everything into a blender with the spices, chipotle chiles, chicken stock (I used 1 tsp Knorr with 1 cup water), and canned pineapple juice. Blend until smooth.*Make sure the canned pineapple juice is the kind that comes from canned pineapples, not just pineapple juice.
- Pour through a fine mesh strainer and keep pushing it through with a spoon until there are only chunks left.
- Marinate the pork shoulder slices in the fridge for 8-12 hours.
- You can cook the pork however you want- grill, pan fry, or roasting. My favorite method is to slow roast in the oven on a mini trompo, then finishing on a griddle or pan. To make the trompo, cut a thick slice of pineapple for the base and push a thick wooden skewer through it. Place on a baking sheet or cast iron skillet.
- Layer the pork slices on top of each other, then place another pineapple on top to secure. If your pork slices are much larger, you may want to make 2 mini trompos side-by-side.
- Slow roast in the oven for 2 1/2 to 3 hours at 275°F, or until the internal temp reaches 145°F. During the last 30 minutes or so, begin basting the pork with the pan juices. The outside should be caramelized and crispy.
- Let it rest for 10 minutes before cutting into it.
- Thinly slice the pork. The inside will not be caramelized like the outside- vendors usually have it constantly rotating with direct heat hitting all sides, but since we don't have that we are just going to finish it on a pan.
- Using the pan juices, cook some sliced onions, pineapple, and al pastor on a pan for a few minutes. Most vendors also finish their al pastor this way.
- Once the al pastor is nice and caramelized and the onions have softened, its ready to serve! I like them on corn tortillas with the onions, pineapple, cilantro, and salsa verde.