The Chile Tip You Need For Perfect Al Pastor

Al pastor is a street food staple in Mexico and just about anywhere you find large communities of Mexican immigrants. Pork, usually fatty and flavorful pork shoulder, is marinated in a chile sauce and grilled with pineapple before being piled on corn tortillas or stuffed in burritos. Sweet, spicy, and charred, it's the stuff late-night cravings are made of, and something you'll probably feel a burning need to recreate at home at some point.

Sadly, al pastor is one of those street foods that can be hard for home cooks to get right. Originating with Lebanese immigrants to Mexico, it is traditionally cooked on a spit to get that great char, which is not something most people have in their kitchen (via The Spruce Eats). That said, enterprising chefs have figured out work-arounds to make some great at-home al pastor recipes that don't require shelling out for a rotisserie. 

What you will still need to procure though, are the great ingredients that make al pastor one of the most flavorful foods out there, and that starts with good chiles.

Make sure your dried chiles are fresh for al pastor

So much of al pastor's flavor comes from the marinade and for the most flavor, you need freshly dried chiles. While you might think dried chiles can last for a long time, they actually have a modest shelf life and you'll know they are too old if they are brittle (via Bon Appétit). Dried chiles that are still good should be able to be bent and twisted without breaking apart. If the ones you have snap apart easily, that means they are old and flavorless and should be replaced. It may seem like a small thing, but bland, flat al pastor is a tragedy and this little bit of diligence will go a long way.

There are a few other precautions to take with the chiles for your al pastor to get the best flavor out of them. You want to get the seeds out of there. According to Serious Eats, they aren't the source of heat many people think they are and can add unpleasant flavors to your dish. It also helps to toast your dried chiles on the stovetop before use because the heat will bring out even more intense flavors for added depth (via Cook's Illustrated). 

Chiles are the basis of your al pastor recipe and that makes it worthwhile to treat them right.