Scott: Tacos Al Pastor are the charismatic spiritual leader that all other tacos long to follow. They nourish the soul with their sweet, sweet pineapple and succulent strands of smoked pork and they remind us all that we are one people. Good timing on this one, Paula. Al Pastor is the taco we need right now.
Paula: Indeed, a taco that’s both panacea to the masses, and star of any given weekend. Although, initially I was daunted to attempt these beauties at home. Authentic tacos al pastor are made by cooking a vertical, rotating stack of ultra thin pork slices in front of a rotisserie. Nothing rotates in my kitchen, and my knife skills don’t lend themselves to deli meat-style slicing, so I had to come up with a cheat that delivers the same results.
The following method is unconventional, but the flavors are legit. Traditional al pastor is flavored with pure ground chiles, and so is ours (courtesy of Texican or Wicked Winona). To achieve a rich slow-cooked flavor, I rely on grill-roasted pork shoulder enriched with bacon. Just before serving, the pork is sliced up and crisped in a skillet. Note: You start this process two days in advance, so you’ll need to plan accordingly. But the majority of time investment is not active, it’s about the tangy, spicy marinade and slow grill-roast developing deep, concentrated flavors.
P.S. Make sure you have plenty of cold beer and warm corn tortillas on hand, because you’ll likely need two per taco to cradle the rich, juicy pork.
Pork Butt Tacos al Pastor
Serves 6 to 8
- 2 tablespoons Texican or Wicked Winona
- 3 cloves garlic, crushed and thinly sliced
- 1 Chipotle pepper + 2 tablespoons adobo sauce
- ¼ cup distilled white vinegar
- 2 tablespoons achiote (paste or liquid)
- 1 tablespoon dark brown sugar
- One (3.5- to 4-pound) bone-in pork shoulder
- 4-5 pieces thick-sliced bacon
- 1 small pineapple peeled, cored, and cut into lengthwise spears
- 24-36 corn tortillas
- Chopped Cilantro (leaves and tender stems)
- Finely chopped white onion
- Lime wedges
- Green salsa or hot sauce (optional)
Step One: marinate pork
Two days before serving, combine the Texican (or Wicked Winona), garlic, chipotle pepper and adobo sauce, vinegar, achiote, and brown sugar in a blender and process until smooth.
Place the pork shoulder on a cutting board, fat-side up. Use a chef’s knife to score the meat vertically (about an inch deep) every 1½ inches. You’ll eventually need to slice around the bone so don’t fret if the slices aren’t perfectly symmetrical. The idea here is enriching the shoulder with an additional layer of rich flavor that will baste the roast as it cooks.
Place the pork in a baking dish, scored-side up. Cut the bacon strips as needed to fit the roast and tuck them into the knife crevices. Pour the marinade over the pork and use your hands to evenly coat the entire surface of the meat. Cover the pork with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 24 hours.
Step Two: grill-roast pork
An hour before you’re ready to cook, remove the roast from the refrigerator and transfer it (and all of the marinade) to a disposable aluminum pan, bacon-side up. Prepare a charcoal grill for two-zone cooking and build a medium-high fire. Clean the grill.
When the coals are glowing red and covered with a fine gray ash, place the pan of pork over indirect heat, close the grill, vent the grill for smoking, and cook for about 3 ½ hours, or until an instant-read thermometer inserted into the center of the roast reads 180°F to 190°F. Add additional coals as needed to maintain a steady temperature of 275°F to 300°F.
Allow the pork to cool slightly, cover with foil and refrigerate overnight.
Step Three: crisp pork, grill pineapple, serve tacos!
The following day, remove the pork from its container and slice the meat against the grain as thinly as possible (trimming all the meat from around the bone), and then cut the slices into 1½ to 2-inch strips. Scrape off the fat and the juices and reserve both separately. Transfer the meat to a large cast iron skillet.
Place the pineapple spears on a rimmed baking sheet lined with foil or parchment and brush with the seasoned pork fat.
Prepare a charcoal grill for two-zone cooking and build a medium fire. Wipe the preheated grill grates with a lightly oiled paper towel. Using a grill brush, scrape the grill grates clean, then carefully wipe with a lightly oiled towel again. When the coals are glowing red and covered with a fine gray ash, place the skillet over direct heat and cook, stirring and rotating pan as needed, until the meat is deeply browned and crisp (you can also do this on the stovetop); remove from heat. Add any reserved juices and toss to combine.
Grill the pineapple spears over direct heat until deeply charred on both sides. Serve the meat and pineapple, with plenty of warm corn tortillas, cilantro, onion, lime wedges and your favorite green salsa or hot sauce.
Note: I chose not to smoke the pork shoulder because I wanted the pure flavor of a charcoal fire. However, if you want to add smoke to the mix, place a disposable aluminum pan filled with 1 inch of warm water under the pork, and add a couple wood chunks to the fire as needed for a steady stream of smoke.
Grill-side banter provided by food writer, cookbook author and grilling enthusiast, Paula Disbrowe, and infamous grill nerd and co-owner of PK Grills, Scott Moody.
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