Pork Tacos

Some of the best food in Mexico, such as these pork tacos, can be found roadside at street carts and at small loncherías or lunch counters in local markets. I first tasted one of my favorites, tacos al pastor, just outside San Miguel de Allende in central Mexico. Similar to shawarma, which is spit-cooked meat brought by the Lebanese to Mexico, tacos al pastor feature pork marinated in chiles and cooked rotisserie-style. One late night, photographer Rick Lew and I were on a tequila-and-taco mission after a long day of shooting a food story for a magazine. Someone had directed us to just outside the city for the “best tacos al pastor.” We were about to give up, exhausted and hungry, when there before us stood a tall vertical spit glinting with juicy layers of whole pork butts crowned with an entire fresh pineapple. We watched as the vendor cradled a freshly made hot corn tortilla in the palm of one hand and swiftly sliced shavings of both meat and pineapple in one fell swoop onto the tortilla with the other hand. A squeeze of lime and a sprinkling of chopped onion and cilantro and suddenly we weren’t so tired anymore. We ate our very fair share of pork tacos and quite happily moved on to more tequila tasting.

For an easy home version of tacos al pastor, I roast pork shoulder until fork-tender and serve it with a variety of garnishes, including grilled pineapple. You could also add chunks of fresh pineapple to the roasting pan during the last hour of cooking. I like to serve the meat in fresh hot corn tortillas or cabbage leaves. I don’t go for very long without someone asking me to make these pork tacos.–Kim Sunée

LC But & Butt Note

Indulge us, please, for a moment and allow us a couple crucial explanations before you begin this pork tacos recipe. First, kindly understand that, while these pork tacos are lovely in their own right, they are not quite tacos al pastor as they lack the outdoor cooking technique traditional to tacos al pastor. Well, that and the general ambience of standing at a street cart somewhere in Mexico late at night, cramming tacos in your piehole as fast as you can, pork juice dripping from your elbow.

Also, before you make your grocery list, note that this recipe relies on pork butt. (Heh. Pork butt. Forgive us, but we turn into 14-year-old boys whenever someone says “pork butt.”) Despite its moniker, pork butt is actually pork shoulder, though you may find it labeled any number of things, among them pork butt, pork shoulder, picnic roast, and Boston butt. As author Kim Sunée explains in her cookbook, A Mouthful of Stars, whatever name it goes by, pork butt is a cheap cut of meat that’s perfect for coaxing into tender submission via low and slow cooking. Let these pork tacos be your proof.

Pork Tacos Recipe

  • Quick Glance
  • 25 M
  • 9 H
  • Serves 8 to 10

Ingredients

  • 3 tablespoons light brown sugar
  • 3 tablespoons fine sea salt
  • 1 whole boneless pork butt or shoulder (6 to 7 pounds)
  • 2 ounces (about 6 tablespoons) New Mexico red chile powder (you can usually find this in the Hispanic foods aisle of any store or you can substitute standard ground chili powder)
  • 1 tablespoon dried oregano
  • 6 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1 (12-ounce) bottle brown ale, such as Newcastle
  • 1 large yellow onion, quartered
  • 1 orange (preferably organic), unpeeled and quartered
  • 1/2 fresh pineapple, cut into chunks (2 to 2 1/2 cups; optional)
  • Cabbage leaves, warm corn tortillas, salsa, radish slices, sliced fresh jalapeños, sour cream, queso fresco, lime wedges, and/or fresh cilantro, for serving

Directions

  • 1. Combine the sugar and salt in a small bowl. Place the pork in a roasting pan or Dutch oven and rub the sugar and salt mixture all over it. Cover and refrigerate the pork for at least 4 hours and up to 24 hours.
  • 2. Preheat the oven to 350°F (177°C).
  • 3. Remove the pork from the pan. Pour any liquid that’s accumulated in the pan down the drain. Gently rinse the pork, pat it dry, and return it to the pan.
  • 4. Combine the red chile powder, oregano, garlic, cumin, and cinnamon in a small bowl. Rub the spice mixture all over the pork. (The spice mixture will probably thickly cover the pork. That’s okay. In fact, that’s wonderful.) Pour the beer over the pork, cover the pan tightly with its lid or a couple sheets aluminum foil, and roast for 2 hours.
  • 5. Uncover the pork and toss the onion and 3 orange quarters into the pan. If using the pineapple, add the chunks to the roasting pan. Reduce the oven temperature to 325°F (163°F) and roast the pork, uncovered, until it’s tender and easily pulled into fall-away-from-the-rest-of-the-pork-roast-with-a-fork submission, another 1 to 2 hours. If the fork test doesn’t work, cook for another 30 minutes and test again. Remove from the oven and let sit, covered or lightly tented with foil, for up to 30 minutes.
  • 6. Use a couple forks to gently pull apart the meat. Squeeze the juice from the remaining orange quarter over the shredded pork and pile it onto a platter. If desired, strain the cooking liquid from the pan and dribble some of it over the shredded pork to moisten it.
  • 7. Direct everyone at the table to place some roasted pork in a cabbage leaf or warm corn tortilla and top with salsa, radishes, jalapeños, sour cream, queso fresco, cilantro, and a squeeze of lime.
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Natalie Reebel

Jul 29, 2014

This pork tacos recipe is truly outstanding. The hands-on time is minimal, about 40 minutes total for the entire recipe. However, because of the dry brine, the total time may be anywhere between 9 and 28 hours, depending on how long the roast is refrigerated before cooking. I let mine sit for the full 24 hours and was thrilled with the results. My butcher put a 7-pound pork butt roast together for me. I used Fat Tire Amber Ale during the cooking process. I also chose to add the fresh pineapple (about 2 3/4 cups chunked pineapple) during the last hour of cooking. My roast took an hour longer than stated in the recipe, but I think that was due to the size of the roast. We ate these tacos in various ways. We had some in corn tortillas, some in lettuce leaves, some with cheese, some without cheese, some with radishes, cilantro, and onion, and sometimes we just walked by the pan and took a piece of pork in our fingers. Each way we tried it, we loved it. We had some pork left over and used it in nachos and that was fantastic. We still have a bit left that I will use in a pozole recipe I found on the LC site. I think it would also be delicious in a sandwich with roasted peppers and Jack cheese and lime-infused sour cream. Warning: This recipe does yield a substantial amount of pulled pork.

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Victoria Filippi

Jul 29, 2014

This pork tacos recipe is so delicious, versatile, and easy. I found the directions to be excellent. The chile powder surprised me, though. I didn't realize how much 2 ounces would be—it's more than you think! The cooking time was accurate. After the first 2 hours, I added the pineapple (about 1 cup chunks) at the same time I added the onion. Then I cooked the pork another hour. It was very tender. The flavors were so complex. The red chile powder and the cumin and the cinnamon, but what really made it was the orange. Just offset the chile and left you wanting for seconds and thirds. I'm sure I need to give some credit to the beer (I used the new Budweiser Black Crown beer), and the aroma while this was all cooking was amazing. I served it two ways. First, as a taco with white corn tortillas and fixings and then in a warm flour tortilla with lime cilantro rice, sour cream, lettuce, cheese, and corn. May I just say, I am "mom of the weekend"! My other suggestions would be to put it in a quesadilla, on nachos, or atop a salad. This is a crowd pleaser and would be great to serve for a group—just keep the pork warm and have the fixings on the side for guests to make burritos, bowls, etc. Absolutely delicious! Definitely worth making.

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Melissa Maedgen

Jul 29, 2014

If you'd like to be able to make an al pastor type of taco but lack access to a spit, or maybe even a grill, this pork tacos recipe is for you. It makes an oven-roasted version with similar flavors and tender, succulent meat. You want to roast the pork to an internal temperature of at least 190°F. Higher won't hurt, but any lower and the meat won't "pull" into the shreds. Also, you need to use pork butt (shoulder) to get that texture. Other cuts don't behave the same way. I roasted a 6 1/2 pound pork butt and I had to extend the total cooking time by about 30 minutes to get the right internal temperature. Also, the resting time, as recommended in the recipe, is very important. What works best is to remove the meat from the cooking liquid, wrap it in foil, and let it rest. Meanwhile, chill the cooking liquid and remove the excess fat, which can be done after it sits overnight. After the pork has rested for a while, you can shred it with forks. This makes a lot of pork, and unless you are throwing a big party, you're likely to have leftovers. Once you shred the pork, I'd recommend taking the amount you need for the meal and mixing it with enough of the cooking liquid to flavor it. Store any extra meat and sauce separately, and reheat and mix together as needed. The reason for this is the bromelain in the pineapple could cause the meat to get mushy if they are left in contact with each other for an extended period of time. This pork makes for a great taco. I served it in corn tortillas with shredded cabbage, radish, homemade crema, salsa, and lime. A very satisfying and festive meal.

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Linda Pacchiano

Jul 29, 2014

These pork tacos are excellent. I served the shredded roast pork with warm corn tortillas, warm flour tortillas, and cabbage leaves. I felt the raw cabbage leaves would be too tough to use as a taco, so I blanched them in boiling, salted water for about 30 seconds and then stopped the cooking by plunging them in an ice bath. The cabbage leaves were our favorite wrap for this taco. They were slightly tender but still very crunchy and a great contrast to the spicy meat. I decided to make a pineapple salsa, which turned out to be a very good decision. It was easy to mix some diced pineapple, diced red bell pepper, diced shallot, chopped cilantro, and a little lime juice to make a great topping for the pork tacos. I also added a dollop of sour cream. I used a 3 1/2-pound boneless pork butt, which took a total of 2 1/2 hours to roast. I cooked the pork with the onion, 1 cup pineapple chunks, and the orange quarters. I served these as a “side” with the tacos. There was quite a bit of liquid in the pan from the beer, and I used that to baste the pork occasionally. I also poured some of the liquid over the pork after it was pulled, which added some more flavor to the meat.

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Linda M.

Jul 29, 2014

A delicious and fairly easy take on pork tacos. The finished pork had a nice, spicy flavor with just a little bit of heat. I ended up with 2 smaller roasts and cooked them for 3 1/2 hours. The squeeze of orange juice at the end gave a nice, sweet, citrus touch to the pork. The cabbage, cilantro, radishes, and fresh lime juice (don't omit this!) were the perfect complement. I also served guacamole on the side. I did add the pineapple, but I kind of felt guilty for cooking with something so sweet and yummy that didn't seem to add much to the final product. I think I would prefer adding grilled pineapple to the finished tacos instead. I only let the salt and sugar sit on the roast for 4 hours. In hindsight, I wish I'd done this step the day before because I think it would have made the meat a little more tender and added a sweeter flavor. Next time….

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Kim Venglar

Jul 29, 2014

I love this pork tacos recipe, plain and simple. I split the recipe in half and made it two ways—half with pineapple in the oven and the other half without pineapple in a slow cooker. Here's what I found:

Oven method: I used a boneless pork roast and a locally made brown ale. I used pineapple chunks but next time I will cut them a little smaller so they'll cook down more. It took a total of 3 hours, 45 minutes for the roast to be fall-apart tender. I shredded everything together and served it on corn tortillas with lime wedges, cilantro, and queso fresco.

Slow-cooker method: This was a quick dump-and-go recipe. Everything went in the Crock-Pot, and it cooked 6 1/2 hours. This one had lots of juice and I did need to drain some of it to serve.

The one in the oven was drier than the slow-cooker version. We preferred the oven pork over the Crock-Pot pork, but I'm not sure if that was because of the pineapple or because it was drier and made great street tacos. We loved the little bit of sweetness the pineapple added. Both recipes had great flavor, but the one with pineapple was just over-the-top good. We had lots of leftovers, so I used some of the slow-cooker version to make tamales. Some also went into chicken enchiladas and burritos. The remainder of the filling went into the freezer for later meals. Both my guys said I could make this dish again and again.

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Jackie G.

Jul 29, 2014

Gosh, these pork tacos are good. I cut the recipe in half and used a 3 1/4-pound pork butt. The half portion of brown sugar and sea salt "rub" was more than enough to cover the pork. It was actually a very heavy coating of the rub, but the resulting flavor made me happy that I had, indeed, packed it on. I used Newcastle Brown Ale. Halving the recipe required 1/4 fresh pineapple. That gave me 2 1/2 cups pineapple chunks. I did not add the pineapple when I added the onion and orange segments; instead, I added it after the third hour of cooking, which turned out to be an hour before the pork was pull-apart tender. After 4 hours, I took the meat out of the Dutch oven it had cooked in and let it rest on a large plate. I discarded the orange segments because I found them bitter. The onion pieces were chock-full of flavor. The pineapple chunks got beautifully caramelized. After pulling the pork, I squeezed the extra orange juice over the top of the meat. We made tacos with corn tortillas and some of the onions and pineapple on top, as well as some radish slices. The tacos had a rich, complex flavor that we really enjoyed, and the pineapple really took them to another level. They reminded us of an upscale taco that we had at an event. That being said, the tacos are wonderful even without the pineapple. Warning: the pork that one tends to munch on before, during, and after pulling is the best of all. The trick is to stop eating it right then and there. Note to self: When making this again—and there will definitely be an “again," as I already know folks I have to make this for—I will add extra onions and cut the pineapple into smaller chunks for a higher proportion of caramelized pineapple ratio. (I had cut the pineapple into 1-inch chunks.)

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Irene Seales

Jul 29, 2014

The orange and pineapple in this pork tacos recipe are subtle and not overpowering, there is a depth of chile flavor—not just heat—and the cinnamon comes through delicately, not overpowering the rest. I brined the pork with the sugar and salt rub for 6 hours in a large Le Creuset oval Dutch oven, rinsed and patted dry, then returned it to the same pan (after rinsing it as well). We used a 7-pound boneless butt (shoulder). While the oven was preheating, I prepared the spice rub. My 2 ounces chile powder was a mixture of Rancho Gordo ground New Mexico red chile and freshly ground guajillo red peppers, seeds shaken out and ribs removed from the dry whole peppers, then the peppers ground to the weight required. Guajillo is the closest substitute for the New Mexico red chile in heat and flavor. Ancho was too mild to my taste in comparing the powdered chiles, and I think you want the heat in this to hold up through cooking. I also used freshly ground cumin, and I might toast it when I make this again. I lightly ground my dry oregano to make it work with the other ground spices. We used Newcastle Brown Ale—that's the brown ale everyone thinks of first, though it isn’t my favorite. (Even my Tyneside-born spouse doesn’t normally drink Newcastle, but it seemed logical for this job.) The rub didn't really come off when I added the ale. Instead, it stuck well to the pork. I left the pork tied up since there was no mention of that in the instructions. I added the onion and oranges after the first 2 hours, dropping the temperature as per the recipe, and held off adding the pineapple until an hour into that time, since I felt this size roast was going to need more time to be fork tender. The internal temperature at the end of the second hour at 325°F was 176°F and it did not quite pull apart yet except on the very edges. We gave it another 15 to 20 minutes, when it reached an internal temperature of 185°F and removed it from the oven, leaving it tightly covered while I prepared the tortillas and sides. I easily shredded what I needed then from outside edges, avoiding some of the really fatty sections to trim later.

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Erin W.

Jul 29, 2014

This slow-roasted pork makes a great filling for tacos, and then throw some BBQ sauce on the leftovers and serve it on a bun for a second dinner later in the week. The pork is super easy to make and quite flavorful from the cinnamon and orange, though it does require some planning ahead. I served this to my extended family to rave reviews. We had soft and hard corn tortillas, cabbage, lime juice, and queso fresco with rice and beans on the side.

Comments
Comments
  1. Martha in KS says:

    Thanks! I’ll use last night’s pork tenderloin leftovers for a version of this tonight.

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