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
Why Our Testers Loved This
The testers loved the minimal hands-on time required for this roast pork tacos recipe and that the tender shredded pork could be used in many dishes besides tacos. Natalie R. called these pulled pork tacos “truly outstanding.”
Victoria F. summed it up with her comment, “This pork tacos recipe is so delicious, versatile, and easy.“
What You’ll Need to Make This
- Pork butt or shoulder–I recommend using a well-marbled cut of pork butt or Boston butt for best results. Pork shoulder will also work here, but it can be a bit more sinewy and gristly. If your pork comes with the skin on, remove it before cooking.
- Chile powder–This pork taco recipe calls for a lot of chile powder to add plenty of flavor to the roasted pork. If you are sensitive to heat, you can reduce the amount to 4 or 5 tablespoons. Check the heat level of your chile powder before using it, as some are much spicier than others.
- Brown ale—Brown ale is a type of beer with a dark color and prominent malt flavor. You can substitute your favorite ale or lager. If you want to make the recipe gluten-free, use gluten-free beer.
How to Make This Recipe
- Mix the sugar and salt in a small bowl.
- Place the pork in a Dutch oven and rub it all over with the salt and sugar mixture. Cover and chill for at least 4 hours.
- Heat the oven to 350°F. Drain off any liquid accumulated in the Dutch oven and rinse and dry the pork. Combine the spices and garlic in a bowl.
- Rub the spice mixture all over the pork. Pour in the ale without disturbing the spice mix. Cover the Dutch oven and cook for 2 hours.
- Add the onion, 3 orange quarters, and pineapple, if using, to the Dutch oven. Return it to the oven and cook until the pork is fork-tender.
- Use two forks to shred the meat. Squeeze the remaining orange segment over the shredded pork. Serve with all your favorite taco fixings.
To make meltingly-tender pulled-pork tacos, you just got to have pork butt. Despite its moniker, pork butt is actually part of the 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.
While these pulled pork tacos are lovely in their own right, they are not quite tacos al pastor as they lack the outdoor spit-cooking technique traditional to tacos al pastor. Well, that and the general ambiance 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.
Yes. After you’ve brined the pork butt or shoulder, rinsed it, dried it, and rubbed it with spices, toss it in the slow cooker along with the ale, onion, orange, and pineapple and cook, covered the entire time, until the pork is tender and falls apart. This could take 6 to 12 hours on low, or you could start it on high for 2 hours, then switch it to low for the final 4 hours of cooking.
Use tongs to transfer the pork to a plate, leaving the cooking liquid in the slow cooker. Then use a couple of 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 slow cooker and dribble some of it over the shredded pork to moisten it.
I recommend topping the tender shredded pork with sliced radishes, jalapeños, sour cream, cheese, and salsa. You can also add any of your favorite toppings, like pickled onions, hot sauce, pico de Gallo, or homemade guacamole. Try it out with a few types of salsa, such as tomatillo salsa or fire-roasted salsa.
- Let your pork roast cool slightly before shredding. It will be hot!
- This pork roast tacos recipe makes a lot of pulled pork. Leftovers will keep in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 4 days or can be portioned into resealable bags and frozen for up to 3 months.
- Use leftover pork taco meat for filling burritos, topping nachos, stuffing into grilled cheese sandwiches, or tucking into quesadillas.
- To make this recipe gluten-free, use a gluten-free beer for cooking the pork. The pork tacos recipe is suitable for dairy-free diets if served without sour cream or cheese.
More Terrific Pork Tacos
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If you make this recipe, or any dish on LC, consider leaving a review, a star rating, and your best photo in the comments below. I love hearing from you.–David
- Slow cooker (if following the slow cooker method)
- 3 tablespoons light brown sugar
- 3 tablespoons fine sea salt
- One (6-to 7-pound) boneless pork butt or shoulder
- 2 ounces (about 6 tablespoons) New Mexico red chile powder, or standard ground chili powder
- 1 tablespoon dried oregano
- 6 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 teaspoon ground cumin
- 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- One (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, jalapeños, sour cream, queso fresco, lime wedges, cilantro leaves, for serving
- To make the pork tacos in your slow cooker, see the Slow Cooker Variation in the FAQs above. To make the carnitas in the oven, 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.
- Preheat the oven to 350°F (177°C).
- 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.
- 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.) Pour the beer over the pork, cover the pan tightly with its lid or a couple of sheets of aluminum foil, and roast for 2 hours.
- 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.
- Use a couple forks to gently pull apart the meat. Squeeze the orange 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.
- 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.
- Let the meat cool–Let your pork roast cool slightly before shredding. It will be hot!
- Storage and freezing–This pork roast tacos recipe makes a lot of pulled pork. Leftovers will keep in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 4 days or can be portioned into resealable bags and frozen for up to 3 months.
- How to use leftovers–Use leftover pork taco meat for filling burritos, topping nachos, stuffing into grilled cheese sandwiches, or tucking into quesadillas.
- Dietary–To make this recipe gluten-free, use a gluten-free beer for cooking the pork. The pork tacos recipe is suitable for dairy-free diets if served without sour cream or cheese.
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Nutrition information is automatically calculated, so should only be used as an approximation.
Recipe Testers’ Reviews
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.
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 think it would also be delicious in a sandwich with roasted peppers, Jack cheese, and lime-infused sour cream. Warning: This recipe does yield a substantial amount of pulled pork.
This pork tacos recipe is so delicious, versatile, and easy. I found the directions to be excellent. The flavors were so complex with the red chile powder, cumin, and cinnamon, but what really made it was the orange. It just offset the chile and left you wanting for seconds and thirds.
I served it two ways. First, as tacos with white corn tortillas and fixings and then in warm flour tortillas with lime cilantro rice, sour cream, lettuce, cheese, and corn.
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.
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 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.
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.