The Meat Tip You Need When Making Al Pastor At Home

Ever since the rise of taco Tuesday, taco fanatics everywhere have been looking for an excuse to eat tacos every night. The taco craze came with a rise in at-home recipes and quick tips claiming to give home cooks the same authentic and flavorful results as their local street cart. And at the top of Mexico's favorite taco, shares the Culture Trip, is al pastor. Al pastor tacos are traditionally made with thinly sliced marinated pork shoulder served with pineapples (via Serious Eats). The signature cooking method of using a 'trompo' (translated as spinning top) — the hypnotic meat rotating spindle that the meat is sliced from — most likely came from Lebanese immigrants, reports Historical Mexico, who migrated to Mexico in the 1930s and used their lamb shawarma techniques for pork.

The trompo method is the key to al pastors' well-seasoned, tender, and crisp-edged meat. The pork is thinly layered and stacked on a vertical spindle, then topped with an onion and pineapple. As it spins, the fat drips down the pork tenderizing it. Once the edges are crisp, the pork is shaved off with the talent of a top-spinning juggler and tossed onto a soft tortilla with grilled pineapples (via Chicago Tribune). While some home cooks may be lucky enough to have a rotisserie in their ovens, a trompo may be hard to come by.

Fatty pork creates perfect al pastor tacos

Luckily, perfectly seasoned, tender juicy pork can easily be made at home with a few easy tricks. While the trompo may be the distinguishing factor of al pastor in restaurants and street carts, the cut of pork is key when making these tacos at home, according to Stella n' Spice. Traditionally, al pastor tacos use pork shoulder. In fact, the marbling of fat is what makes the shoulder cut crucial for this dish. The fat tenderizes the meat and fat means flavor. 

The Spruce Eats explains the shoulder is a cut from an area above the pig's leg. Because of its placement, it gets a lot of movement. The movement creates flavor in the muscle but also a tough piece of meat if not cooked properly. This type of meat needs to be slowly cooked, which makes it a perfect cut for al pastor since its slow cooking yields loads of flavor. But what should a home cook do if the shoulder is hard to come by? Luckily, pork sirloin is another cut of pork, which the Kitchn shares is affordable. A loin comes from the center of the pig and is tender, lean meat (via Pork). But because it's lean it has less fat and can dry out when cooking. 

Cooking al pastor tacos at home

When making al pastor at home, Serious Eats shares the real tip is layering salty, fatty meat to mimic the shoulder fat. In their recipe, sirloin is layered with bacon when cooking to add the fat back in and ensure the meat stays tender, flavorful, and crisps at the edges. Bacon is already cured and fatty, which helps balance the flavor and prevent the sirloin from drying out. However, getting those easy-to-shave slices of pork requires just a little playing around. 

To start, thinly slice the pork and marinate it in a mixture of spices (via Tasty). After marinating, layer it with the bacon and top with pineapple and onion before roasting. Pushing all those layers into a compact loaf will ensure that the inside meat gets tender, the outside meat gets crisp, and it stays compact so that it's easy to slice into thin delectable layers for your tacos. If that type of free-form cooking is too daunting, cook it in a loaf pan and then re-crisping it in a skillet with the juices that have cooked out. Either way, don't forget the pineapple.