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Anyone have a clue about Al Pastor?

We are hosting monday night football next week and my husband wants me to make Al Pastor taco's like the ones he enjoys off the lunch wagon at work. I don' even know what kind of meat that is... Anyone out there have any ideas on how to make it?

I would appreciate it.

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  1. Pork. Believe they use pork shoulder(butt) that's sliced then stacked on a spit(vertically) and turns like a rotisserie.

    Where do you live?

    Carnitas is similar and can be made at home very easy...again start with a pork shoulder.

    1. Al pastor is like the Mexican version of gyros or souvlaki. Not something easily done at home.

      4 Replies
      1. re: Robert Lauriston

        Absolutely - I agree, "al pastor" is difficult to do at home - similar to a gyro, marinated meat sliced thin, stacked, 'grilled' - a standup 'spit', etc. Pineapple on top is key - so that all the juice drips on the meat as it turns.

        Carnitas is TOTALLY different - not cooked the same way at all -stewed in lard and then crisped when the moisture evaporates (my husband is Mexican and I'm a quick learner- ha).
        And it's not just simply braised pork, or pork confit - it needs the Mexican rock sugar and the tartness of naranje (sour orange, Seville orange). The authentic Michoacan way is in a big copper pot in its own fat with sour oranges and Mexican rock sugar (believe it or not, Coke is a good substitute). I do this once every couple of years.

        However, I agree that you can't go wrong with carnitas. Epi has a GREAT recipe that I do a lot - it's a winner with short-cut technique and flavors - the sugar in the brandy gives the caramelization and the OJ gives the tartness. And my husband, the football fan, and his friends love this. You can make a big batch ahead of time if you wanted to and heat it up in the oven, and serve with great guacamole, salsa, and store-bought tortillas. You can even freeze the leftovers, and YumYum (another Chowhound) gave me the great idea to serve it on top of nachos!

        Here's the Epi recipe -

        1. re: Rubee

          There are a lot of different regional styles of carnitas with different flavorings.

          1. re: Robert Lauriston

            Michoacan is famous for carnitas (where it originated), more so than other regions of Mexico...

            1. re: Rubee

              There is absolutely no support for the idea that carnitas originated in Michoacan. People in the Yucatan, Chiapas & Oaxaca have been making a somewhat similar dish (pot roasted boar in clay pots... searing & steaming at the same time) for thousands of years.

              But, yes the town of Uruapan in Michoacan is known all over Mexico for its Carnitas... but it is not the only one... there are many towns that have an esteemable carnitas tradition.

      2. I live in California, yea I don't want to get myself into something too difficult to make.

        1 Reply
        1. re: koriekiss

          Where in California?

          If its Los Angeles there are Mexican places you can get Al Pastor to go then make your own tacos at home.
          There are also lots of places to buy carnitas by the pound.

          Carnitas is one of the easiest things to make. You take a pork shoulder (butt) throw it in a roasting pan sprinkle with salt and pepper and roast it covered for several hours then last 30 minutes take the cover off so the outside of the meat gets crispy. By this time the meat is will shread off nicely with a fork. You got carnitas.

          Have your husband talk to the guy with the Al Pastor truck and he'll sell it to you by the pound.

        2. True carnitas are like pork confit, so just like true al pastor, it's quite a chore for the home cook. Here in Chicago, enthusiasts most commonly frequent various specialists for both al pastor and carnitas. When it comes to carnitas in particular, ordering the pork by cut and weight, along with all of the accompaniments, is a weekly weekend tradition for many Mexican households. If that's an option for the O.P., it would make things much easier. Not to mention fun!

          For some idea about the setup at some of the various al pastor specialists in Chicago, refer to this link:


          And, for some idea about the setup at a true carniceria in Chicago, refer to this link:


          Both links contain a number of photos for your enjoyment.

          Good luck,

          7 Replies
          1. re: Erik M.

            Carnitas are no big deal, you just braise pork in its own fat.

            1. re: Erik M.

              That link to al pastor heaven makes me want to pack up and move to Chicago!

              1. re: Erik M.

                Note also that in Chicago practically every carniceria or nonchain supermarket with substantive Mexican customers carries the seasoned pork for al pastor. This is griddled for a rather weak substitute for al pastor on the proper spit, but obviously a lot of local Mexicans eat pork al pastor this way.

                1. re: Eldon Kreider

                  I think that's basically what Americans call fajitas. Not nearly as tasty as good, real spit-roasted al pastor.

                  1. re: Robert Lauriston

                    actually fajitas is the catch all for any meat with onions, peppers that is griddle fried.

                    Griddle fried al pastor-seasoned meat is known as puerco adobada, which is typically listed on a tacqueria menu when they dont have a trompe for al pastor.

                    1. re: Robert Lauriston

                      The seasoned pork for al pastor is cut into cubes about the size that would come from broken slices off the spit. There are no pepper or onion strips. Most of the people buying this meat for al pastor wouldn't know what fajitas are just as most of the butchers in these places don't speak much English.

                      Unfortunately, a fair number of Chicago tacquerias without vertical spits grill this seasoned meat without referring to it as puerco adobada. My rule before ordering al pastor is to take a close look at the spit and the degree on doneness of the meat on it. This is a preparation that is easy to mess up if there isn't the right degree of turnover.

                      1. re: Eldon Kreider

                        Kaire is right... the correct name is Adobado... however Eldon is also correct... there are a lot of faux Al Pastor's out there. (The judgement is unequivocal.. as the name translates to Shepherd's Style which refers to the Spit).

                2. thanks for the web site E.M. I'm sure my husband thought it was just some slab of meat that I could marinate and grill on the barbeque. I will show him the pics when he gets home and i am sure he will be coming up with a new menu.

                  1. Its not going to taste like the taco truck or off the 'trompa' but you may be able to recreate a home version of al pastor by means of an adobo paste rub with maybe a bit of pineapple juice.

                    I have not attempted this before because I live in Calif.

                    The adobo paste rub is what I suspect my carnecaeria does.to its 'puerco adovada.'
                    In almost every grocery store's hispanic section you will find the dona maria line of sauces. Pick up the adobo and maybe thin it out a bit. Rub this on some pork tenderloin cutlets that have been perhaps tenderized with a mallet. Marinate for a few hours. Grill or chop and fry.

                    3 Replies
                    1. re: kare_raisu

                      What are the ingredients of adobo sauce?

                      1. re: niki rothman

                        i believe primarily chiles ancho and vinegar

                      2. re: kare_raisu

                        I have had success approximating the flavors of al pastor by using a small pork butt and marinating it with a paste made from chipotles en adobo and drained crushed pineapple. Then I roast it in a v-rack and baste. Maybe if I could rotisserie it some how...

                      3. Heres another idea...FAJITAS

                        Any Mexican meat market has prepared fajita meat(chicken or beef...everythings in it from the onions, peppers and spices). You buy it by the pound(like $3/lb) and fry it up in a pan.

                        I've even seen it at the Food 4 Less meat counter in areas where there is a Mexican population.

                        1 Reply
                        1. re: monku

                          Ummm...reporting in from Guadalajara...fajitas are a Tex-Mex invention and *do not* come from Mexico. You'll see them on menus here, but only because the tourists expect them.

                          You are all invited to Guadalajara for tacos al pastor at my favorite taquería: Los Alteños, in the western part of town. The trompa (vertical spit) turns 13 hours a day as piles and piles of marinated spit-loaded meat roast little by little as the spit rotates around the vertical flame. Each spit-load of meat weighs 40 kilos; they serve 10 or 12 spit-loads a day.

                          Tell the counterman how many tacos you want, he slices off enough crisply juicy meat for your tacos--start with four or five, they're small and you can always go back for more. Fresh chopped pineapple is in that big bowl to one side--take what you want and sprinkle it on your tacos. Step over to the other counter and spoon up a side of carmelized onions and a couple of chiles toreados. Head over to the salsa bar and choose between salsa de aguacate (my favorite), salsa ranchera, salsa cruda, or salsa verde. Grab a limón or two for squeezing over everything. Sit down, dig in, enjoy.

                          Repeat till you're grinning from ear to ear. The bill for--oh, say eight tacos? 40 pesos--less than four US dollars.

                        2. I agree with others on this thread -- I would see if a local taqueria could give you a price for a tray of al pastor meat. A lot less work than trying to do this (or carnitas) at home.

                          1. I laughed when I saw this thread. I went to a local burrito place with a co-worker who looked at the menu and asked 'who is Al Pastor?' I sent him this thread.

                            1. Pastor means "shepherd" in Spanish; "al pastor" means "in the style of the shepherd". Originally it described meat that was marinated raw, then sliced thinly, and roasted on a cone placed near the campfire.

                              Today as generally done it's simple marinated meat, often pork, that's sliced thin and cooked on a hot griddle, then rolled in tortillas with garnishes such as marinated onion, avocado, pico, etc. The meat should be sliced across the grain so it is tender and almost falls apart. It's cooked until it's well browned but not burnt.

                              2 Replies
                              1. re: 1030Bourbon

                                One problem with your theory... the tacos take their name from the vertical spit which in Mexico is known as a Pastora... hence Tacos al Pastor.

                                In this respect... yes they are usually pork, but around Hidalgo & Mexico State I have also had Chicken & Lamb prepared with a similar adobo and cooked on a Pastora... that were referred to as Tacos al Pastor.

                                1. re: Eat_Nopal

                                  right, more or less. in Spanish, shepherd is translated from English as "pastor". There is a conical reflector contraption that's placed next to a fire AND an actual old fashioned spit. They are interpretations with the common element being thinly sliced marinated meat (often pork but properly lamb or goat).

                                  what it isn't (really) is meat roasted al horno--whole in a pot in an oven. properly it's roasted against a fire.

                                  but whatever method, seasoned meat against a fire is good.

                              2. I'm not sure if the tacos al pastor I have in my local Mexican owned and operated taqueria are comparable to the ones your husband gets off the truck, but I thought that one of the essential ingredients was a small dice of pineapple. Yes, it's pork, and I think it's shoulder cut into pieces, not sure if it's spit roasted. My taqueria makes this on the griddle, but it appears cooked when they make a taco.

                                1. Just an FYI for all you vertical-spit afficionados out there, a company named "Home Pride" makes a small vertical spit for the home. I got one myself to make gyros - found it on Ebay for about 30$. Works like a charm, easy cleanup and it's not very big - maybe the size of a coffee machine. I've had great success with it and the meat comes out pretty authentic.

                                  1. I get all grumbly about Tex-Mex "not being authentic Mexican." A lot of Tex-Mex recipes date back from when Texas (and New Mexico, Arizona, and California) *was* part of Mexico. Sure, they're American now, but, territorially, they were as authentically Mexican as food from other parts of Mexico.

                                    1 Reply
                                    1. re: saraeanderson

                                      Uhh.... not exactly, I've been doing reasearch on the topic to write a big analysis / description of what Mexican cuisine is. There are a couple of things I noted:

                                      > The Mexican food that was part of the Southwest typically just became part of the Southwestern cuisine, and adapted over time to Americanization of the area. They were not considered a seperate Mexican cuisine.

                                      For example... Chilorio simply became Chili with a few changes in spices... and is deeply embedded in Texas culture.

                                      Barbacoa simply became Barbeque, and Adobo became Barbeque sauce... again these were changed by the American migrants of various backgrounds.

                                      In New Mexico... Chile Verde just became, well Chile Verde etc.

                                      Instead what I propose is that Mexican cuisine as a seperate concept became popular in the Southwest in the 1920's at a time of intense racism & distrust of Mexico & Mexicans.

                                      At this time American society pushed the "evolution" of what we typically consider to be Tex-Mex with their voting $, and thought the version of the cuisine they were eating was better. After all what could the grea### possibly know?

                                    2. Robb Walsh, author of the excellent "The Tex-Mex Cookbook" (Random House/Broadway Books, 2004), writes knowledgeably about the origins of both the cuisine and the term. Walsh says that the term 'Tex-Mex' did not gain popularity until Diana Kennedy's classic "The Cuisines of Mexico" was published in 1972. Prior to Kennedy's assertion that Tex-Mex cooking did not originate in Mexico, Tex-Mex was simply regional cooking in Texas. Walsh goes on to say, "Today, most people agree that Tex-Mex isn't really Mexican food. [It is} more widely understood to describe an American regional cooking style. Culinary folklorists now trace Tex-Mex cooking all the way back to the state's Native American peoples and to Juan de Onate's colonists who first brought European livestock to El Paso in 1581. Tex-Mex foods are a combination of Indian and Spanish cuisines, which came together to make a distinct new cuisine.

                                      "We can all thank Diana Kennedy for inadvertently granting Tex-Mex its rightful place in food history. By convincing us that Tex-Mex wasn't really Mexican food, she forced us to realize that it was something far more interesting: America's oldest regional cuisine."

                                      As to tacos al pastor, the vertical spit was brought to Mexico by Lebanese immigrants (yes, there is a very large Lebanese-Mexican population) for preparing shawarma, spit-roasted lamb that is prepared in much the same way as tacos al pastor. The seasonings and meat are different, but the concept is the same.

                                      3 Replies
                                      1. re: cristina

                                        Thanks for reminding me of Walsh’s explanation; that is an excellent book. Re: fajitas, also mentioned in this thread. Walsh points out the term, a diminutive form of faja, or belt or girdle (i.e., skirt steak) has been documented in butcher shops in S. Texas in the 40s. It was also served across the border in Nuevo Leon where the dish was known as arrachera al carbon, the difference being the use of grass-fed beef in Mexico. So fajitas are from both Mexico and the US.

                                        On the original topic: a recent review by Walsh in the Houston Press pointed out we are not allowed to eat authentic tacos al pastor in Houston because of Health Department regulations. Authentically, the meat (trompo) put on the spit should be raw and be cooked on the spit; Health Dept. won’t allow that because of the possibility or undercooked meat being served, so restaurants have to cook the meat in advance, keep it in the fridge, then slice it and warm it/crisp it up on the griddle before serving, which unfortunately often results in tough, overcooked meat.

                                        I was looking for some website I had found once about tacos al pastor as served by taco trucks in Mexico City but couldn’t find it, but did come across this website with a recipe for al pastor that might be of interest. I haven’t tried it:


                                        1. re: cristina

                                          That problem with that theory is that there is a huge disconnect between the old definition of Tex Mex and the current, widely understood definition of Tex Mex.

                                          If you go to Texas you will find restaurants with Gringo names that serve dishes of Mexican origin along with dishes of German, Czech, Dutch, English origin etc.,

                                          A burrito in one of those establishments is likely to be very similar to a Northern Mexican version... spicy braised meat, enclosed in a moderately sized flour tortilla. Simple, tasty earthy, not overpacked.

                                          A burrito in the chain establishments that tend to embody what we now consider to be Tex Mex (and what Dianne Kennedy referred to as Tex Mex)... is usually this humongous entity stuffed with grilled meat, rice, beans, sour cream, guacamole, salsa... then gratinated in a salamander then sauced with a cooked salsa and served with a side of Taquitos, Enchilada, Chile Relleno, Rice, Beans, Sour Cream, Guacamole & a Sweet Corn Tamale Ball.

                                          I think the former is what I call Mexican cuisine just melting into the fold of regional American cuisine... while the latter is what all of us Mexican Culinary enthusiasts tend to protest against.

                                          1. re: Eat_Nopal

                                            Chain versions of any cuisine tend to bear little relation to their namesakes.

                                        2. A few months ago we were a month in Huatusco, Veracruz, and in remote areas of Chiapas. We ate quite a bit of al pastor. In both areas, the meat included about 50% tripe and other visceral bits. In no case did we have straight meat. Delicious.

                                          1. How about carne (and pollo) asada instead? Not as ambitious but so delicious...

                                            1. It can be made on a Weber Rotisserie, although not vertical. Border Cookbook has an authentic recipe.

                                              1. here's a link for anyone living in a Mexican-food deprived region. I have no interest in this place, have not used them and therefor caveat emptor. but if i lived now where i did much of my life, i'd like knowing about it: