Tacos are very hot item on the street food scene of Mexico and they have gained popularity worldwide because of their delicious versatility. Whether you treat yourself at a restaurant or make them at home, there never seems to be a shortage of delicious ways to serve them. Everyone has a favorite and my Instant Pot Al Pastor Tacos have won the heart of my family.
They have been the star of the show many “Taco Tuesdays” over the last few years and it all started with the first time my daughter ordered Al Pastor at a restaurant in San Antonio. She instantly fell in love with them and when we moved back to Arizona, I knew I would have do my best to recreate her favorite tacos.
There is only one true way to cook the REAL deal Al Pastor and that is over a vertical “rotisserie” style spit. Traditionally, it is impossible to recreate at home but the essence of the flavors can be captured, and it starts with a good marinade consisting of of dried chilies, fresh juice, sweet pineapple, and the right blend of spices. Time is also a big factor in making these extraordinarily tasty. By preparing this up to two days in advance, it not only tenderizes the pork but infuses it with all of the amazing flavors.
Since it is next to impossible, if not completely impossible to cook them in our home kitchens the way they do on the streets of Mexico City, the next best thing is to cook it low & slow. Nothing fancy, just quality ingredients, a little bit of time, and you just might be transporting yourself to another place with these tender and flavorful Al Pastor tacos.
The History of Al Pastor Tacos
In the early 20th century Lebanese immigrants brought their shawarma-making skills with them to the streets of central Mexico. They began to put their own spin on their traditional foods by fusing their knowledge with local ingredients. By trading lamb for succulent pork and infusing it with blends of Mexican spices and seasonings resulting in one of the ultimate street foods… Al Pastor tacos.
Fast-forward to today, and these tacos have become an iconic symbol of Mexican street food culture. The history of Al Pastor tacos is a testament to the beautiful way culinary traditions can blend and evolve over time. From the hands of Lebanese immigrants to the bustling taquerías of Mexico and beyond, Al Pastor tacos are a tasty reminder of the connections between different cultures and the magic that happens when flavors collide. So, next time you bite into an Al Pastor taco, remember that you’re savoring a piece of history that’s as delicious as it is fascinating.
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What You’ll Need:
6-quart Instant Pot/Slow Cooker- My favorite way to prepare the marinaded pork is by using the slow feature on my Instant Pot. With a glass lid it transforms into a slow cooker. I set it to HIGH for 8-10 hours. I do this in the morning before I grab a coffee and by the time we are done with work, dinner is done!
Note: I have tried cooking this with the pressure cooker setting, but the flavors are best with slow cooking. It is possible to prepare with pressure, however if you do, the flavor will be slightly less intense. You will also need to cook for 45-60 minutes and natural release. If I am pressed for time, I will use this method and found it best to let it release then sit on warm for as long as possible. That allows more time for the flavors to meld together.
3-3.5 lbs. Boneless Pork Shoulder- Trim excess fat and cut into 6-8 large chunks.
Dried Guajillo & Ancho Chilies- Fresh chilies have color to them and are pliable in texture. Avoid using chilies that are dry, brittle, and bland in color.
Garlic- You can use whole garlic cloves or granulated (not powdered) garlic. Both work great.
Apple Cider Vinegar– Adds the necessary acidity.
Fresh Pineapple- Use a nice ripe, sweet pineapple. Add one cup to the marinade and cut the rest into small bite sized pieces for finishing off the tacos. The naturally occurring enzymes not only add flavor and sweetness, but aid in tenderizing the pork as it marinades.
Fresh Orange Juice- Bottled also works.
Clove & Ginger– You can use ground clove or whole cloves as written in the recipe card below. Using clove and ground ginger was something that I was a little unsure of. After much research I realized that it is found in many authentic recipes. The ingredients are all simple, but each one adds to the complexity of the final result and it did not disappoint!
Salt– Add what is listed in the recipe and more if needed to taste. Sometimes I like to add a pinch or two of flaked sea salt over the tacos as part of the garnish.
Pepper- I tend to use fresh cracked pepper which can be a challenge when measuring. I have added whole peppercorns to this marinade since it is all going in the blender anyways. You can use any pepper you have.
Annatto Seeds- Annatto is a product of the achiote tree, which is native to Central and South America, and Mexico and it adds a layer of earthy depth. In the event that you can’t find annatto seeds you can substitute it with one packet of Sazon Goya with Annatto & Coriander.
Bay Leaves- Toss a couple into the pot when cooking.
Large Ziplock Bag or Covered Container
Garnishes- Red Salsa, Fresh Pineapple, Chopped Cilantro, Avocado.
Tortillas- Corn tortillas are our favorite. I love to warm them over the gas stove for those slightly blackened edges.
Foil Baking Pan- To get that “charred” effect as you would in the traditional Al Pastor, I put the shredded meat under the broiler in my oven. Because of the intensity of the heat (even for a short time), I use a disposable pan to prevent damaging my cookware. If you have something else that is equipped to handle the heat, feel free to use it.
I love to serve them with soft corn tortillas and top off with my mom’s recipe for homemade red salsa, sweet pineapple, and a sprinkle of fresh cilantro.
Love Tacos? Check out my other recipes!
Taco Seasoning for your pantry.
If you try these Instant Pot Al Pastor Tacos or any of my other recipes tag me on Instagram @joymakersandco, I’d love to see what you make!
Instant Pot Al Pastor Tacos
- 1 6 quart Instant Pot or Slow Cooker
- 1 High-Speed Blender,
- 1 Large Disposable Foil Pan, optional, see notes below*
- 3-3.5 pounds boneless pork shoulder
- 3-4 dried guajillo chilies, deseeded
- 2-3 dried ancho chilies, deseeded
- 1 cup fresh pineapple (ripe & sweet), cubed for the marinade
- 1/4 cup oil, (olive, avocado, or vegetable oil)
- 1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
- 1 cup orange juice, (fresh is best if you can)
- 1 tablespoon salt
- 4 garlic cloves, you can sub 1 t. granulated garlic
- 1 tablespoon dried oregano
- 1 1/2 teaspoons cumin
- 2 whole cloves, you can sub 1/4 t. clove powder
- 1/2 teaspoon ginger powder
- 1/2 teaspoon ground pepper, you can sub about 10 peppercorns
- 2 whole chipotles in adobo sauce
- 2 tablespoons brown sugar
- 1 tablespoon annatto seeds, see notes below*
- corn tortillas for serving
- 1-2 cups fresh pineapple (ripe & sweet), cut into small bite sized pieces
- 1 bunch fresh cilantro, chopped
- avocado, diced (optional)
- red salsa, (see link above to my recipe)
- sea salt flakes, optional
- Cut the pork into 4-6 large chunks and place in a gallon Ziploc bag or large glass dish.
- Cut the dried chilies open and remove & discard the seeds.
- Place the chilies in a medium bowl and fill just until covered with boiling water. Place a plate or lid on top to steam & soften. Set a timer for 10-20 minutes.
- When they are done steaming, remove them from the liquid and place in your blender with the rest of your marinade ingredients.
- Blend until smooth, about 1 minute depending on your blender.
- Pour the blended marinade into the bag or dish with the pork, seal well. Place in the fridge and marinade for 24-48 hours.
- When you are ready, place everything into your slow cooker and set to HIGH for 8-10 hours or pressure cook for 45-60 minutes (natural release for about 20-30 minutes). Slow cooking does produce a better flavor and is the method I recommend. (See notes below*)
- After it is done cooking. Remove the meat and place into a disposable foil pan* or a broiler safe dish. Shred the pork well and add about a cup of the cooking liquid. Broil for about 5 minutes to crisp the edges just a little bit.
- Remove from the broiler, stir, and serve the tacos with your garnishes. Enjoy!