Iva Carter
Published by Iva Carter
Last Updated On: July 27, 2023

As a seasoned food enthusiast and experienced chef, my passion for exploring diverse cuisines from around the globe has led me to accumulate a wealth of knowledge over the years.

Today, I am thrilled to share my expertise and insights, focusing on one of the most cherished and iconic Mexican meats - al pastor.

So, buckle up as we embark on an exploration of the delicious world of al pastor, uncovering its roots, savoring its taste, and unraveling the secrets behind its exquisite preparation.

Quick Summary

  • Al pastor is a traditional Mexican dish made with slow-cooked pork, marinated and cut in thin slices.
  • The grilled meat is served in tacos or burritos and is seasoned with adobo sauce, pineapple juice, and lime juice.
  • The origins of al pastor are believed to come from Lebanese migrants who brought their cooking style to Mexico.

What Is Al Pastor Meat?

Al pastor meat on a plate

Pastor meat, or al pastor meat, is a traditional Mexican dish made with seasoned and marinated pork cooked on a spit.

The name "Al Pastor" translates to "Shepherd Style," derived from the cooking method's origin.

The dish is typically made by layering thin slices of pork on a vertical spit known as a trompo, similar to shawarma.

The pork is then roasted and slowly cooked until tender and juicy.

Al pastor pork is a key component of the popular Mexican dish tacos al pastor.

This savory meat is typically made from boneless pork shoulder, although variations can include pork sirloin or even lamb meat. It is never made from beef like carne asada, however.

The marinade typically contains a blend of dried chiles, spices, and fruit juices. Guajillo and other dried chiles, such as ancho or pasilla, are commonly used. 

Fruit juices are also an important part of the marinade. Pineapple is often used to help tenderize the meat and give it a sweet and tangy flavor.

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Where Does Pastor Meat Come From?

Al pastor tacos in a row

Pastor pork comes from Lebanese immigrants who settled in Mexico City during the early 20th century [1].

They brought the culinary tradition of Lebanese shawarma, which involves a vertical rotisserie cooking method.

Over time, the marinated meat evolved to include local Mexican ingredients and flavors, becoming an authentic Mexican experience.

Today, al pastor can be found at the meat counter of many a Mexican meat market.

It is heartier than other Mexican options such as carne asada or carnitas, making it a popular choice for those looking for a more substantial meal.

What Does the Meat in Pastor Taste Like?

The meat in pastor tastes bold, spicy, and smoky.

The marinade typically consists of a mixture of dried chiles, such as guajillo or achiote paste, combined with other aromatic ingredients like garlic, onion, and Mexican oregano.

Adding pineapple or lime juice helps tenderize the meat and adds a tangy twist to the overall taste.

The result is an irresistible blend of smoky, spicy, and slightly sweet flavors that make al pastor tacos awaken your taste buds.

"The flavors of al pastor are a testament to the rich history and cultural diversity of Mexico."

- Enrique Olvera, Mexican Chef

How to Make Al Pastor?

Al pastor on a plate

While tacos al pastor are commonly served in Mexican restaurants, you can recreate this Mexican experience in your kitchen, even if you do not have a vertical roasting spit.

Here's a simple recipe to make al pastor:

Recipe Overview

  • Prep Time: 15 minutes
  • Cook Time: 15 minutes
  • Total Time: 2 hours 30 minutes (includes marinating time)
  • Servings: 6


  • 2 pounds boneless pork shoulder, thinly sliced with a sharp knife
  • 3-4 dried guajillo chiles, stemmed and seeded
  • 3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • 1 small onion, finely chopped
  • 2 tablespoons achiote paste
  • 1 teaspoon Mexican oregano
  • 1 cup pineapple juice
  • Juice of 8 lime wedges
  • Grilled pineapple
  • Chopped cilantro
  • Salt and black pepper

Also Read: How to Make Beef Tallow


Person making Al pastor
  1. Soak the guajillo chiles in hot water in a small bowl for about 15 minutes until they soften. Drain the chiles and remove the seeds.
  2. Combine the soaking liquid, soaked chiles, garlic, onion, achiote paste, oregano, pineapple juice, lime juice, salt, and black pepper in a blender or food processor. Blend until you have a smooth and vibrant red adobo sauce.
  3. Place the sliced pork shoulder in a large bowl and pour the adobo sauce over it, ensuring all the meat is well coated. Cover the bowl and refrigerate for at least 2 hours, preferably overnight, to allow the flavors to meld.
  4. Preheat your grill pan or gas grill to medium-high heat.
  5. Remove the pork shoulder from the refrigerator.
  6. Cook the pork shoulder for about 5-7 minutes per side or until it is cooked through and has a slight char. The internal temperature should get above 145 degrees F for food safety [2].
  7. Once cooked, remove the meat from the grill and let it rest for a few minutes. Then slice pork into thin strips.
  8. For tacos al pastor, serve meat on a warm corn or flour tortilla, garnished with cilantro, chopped onion, grilled pineapple, and a squeeze of lime juice. For added flavor, you can also add salsa verde, sour cream, or refried beans to an al pastor taco.

Recipe Notes

Al pastor meat
  • Add a few dried arbol chiles or a pinch of cayenne pepper for a more spicy flavor.
  • If you don't have access to a grill pan or gas grill, cook the pork in a hot skillet over medium-high heat until cooked through.
  • You can serve the al pastor alongside rice, beans, and your favorite toppings and salsas for a heartier meal.
  • Leftover meat can be stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 3 days. It's great for making tacos al pastor, burritos, or even adding to salads.

Nutrition Facts (per serving)

  • Calories: 325 kcal
  • Total Carbs: 9g
  • Protein: 27g
  • Fat: 18g
  • Fiber: 2g
  • Net Carbs: 7g


What's the Difference Between Carnitas and Carne Al Pastor?

Carnitas is a Mexican dish with slow-cooked pork, served in small pieces or shredded. On the other hand, carne al pastor is made with marinated pork cooked with the vertical spit roasting method and sliced thinly.

Why Is Pastor Meat Red?

Pastor meat is red from using dried chiles and achiote paste in the marinade. These ingredients contribute to the meat's rich flavors and impart a deep red hue.

Does an Al Pastor Taco Always Have Pineapple?

No, an al pastor taco does not always have pineapple. While pineapple is a common ingredient, some al pastor tacos in corn tortillas omit it or use it as a garnish rather than a main ingredient.

Are You a Fan of Al Pastor?

Al pastor is a delicious and flavorful dish enjoyed by many people around the world.

Whether dining out at a Mexican restaurant or cooking at home, it's easy to see why these delicious tacos have become such a beloved Mexican cuisine.

If you're looking to enjoy classic tacos al pastor at home, consider trying ButcherBox - a meat delivery service that offers high-quality heritage-breed and humanely-raised pork right to your doorstep.

Visit our homepage to check out ButcherBox and see whether this service is right for you.


  1. https://www.bbc.com/news/magazine-33993719
  2. https://www.usda.gov/media/blog/2011/05/25/cooking-meat-check-new-recommended-temperatures
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