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Crock Pot Al Pastor Tacos

Quite possibly the easiest Al Pastor recipe you’ll ever make! Slow cooking crock pot al pastor in the crock pot leaves you with incredibly tender meat that is rich in flavor. Use it for tacos, burritos, and enjoy it with side dishes for an otherworldly meal!

Plate of al pastor tacos

If you’re anything like me, you could eat tacos every single day and never get tired of them.

We’re here to discuss arguably the best tacos in existence: al pastor tacos.

If you’ve never tried making traditional al pastor at home, there are two key things you need to know: 1.) The process is lengthy, but  2.) It is well worth the effort!

So much so that homemade tacos al pastor may just become your new favorite for taco nights.

The good news is, because the meat needs to marinate and the longer it marinates, the better, you can easily break the cooking process into two days and actually it benefits you to do so.

I marinate for at least 24 hours, slow cook for 8, then make the tacos al pastor. In this sense, the work is broken into three parts so that it seems less daunting.

Let’s dive into this marvelous culinary adventure.

Plate of al pastor tacos with slaw, guacamole, cheese, and salsa

What is Al Pastor?:

Al Pastor is a classic Mexican dish of tender, crispy pork meat that has been marinated sufficiently in a red chili marinade. “Al Pastor” translates to  shepherd style, as the authentic version is grilled on a vertical spit. Boneless pork shoulder is sliced thinly, marinated, then the pork slices are closely stacked on a spit and cooked slowly, often served as tacos with sweet pineapples.

The cooking method for traditional Mexican Al Pastor was borrowed from Lebanese lamb shawarma, which is thinly sliced and slow roasted on a spit.

Al pastor is most commonly used for tacos, but it can also be served as a plate with rice and beans or incorporated into burritos or enchiladas.

The chili marinade is made using dried chilis, similar to what you’ve seen in my Crock Pot Birria Tacos and my Instant Pot Chile Colorado.

Different Cooking Methods for Al Pastor:

Grilling on a Spit: As mentioned above, the traditional way of preparing al pastor is thinly slicing pork roast, marinating it in a red chili paste, then grilling it slowly on a spit, similar to kebabs. A sharp knife is used to slice the outer layer of meat off the spit and this tender pork is then served as tacos.

Because not everyone owns a spit or vertical skewer, grill, or rotisserie setup, many alternate cooking methods have been introduced throughout the years.

Baking in the Oven: It is common to bake al pastor in the oven by layering the thinly sliced seasoned pork meat in a roasting pan, such that the meat is still cooked close together but baked rather than grilled rotisserie style. When this method is used, the thin slices of pork shoulder is typically wrapped with bacon for even more delicious flavor.

No matter how you slice it, preparing al pastor is quite the operation. From slicing or dicing the pork roast, to the long marinade time, to cooking it to perfection slowly, preparing this delicious dish is an achievement.

Slow Cooking in a Crock Pot: Recognizing that most meat eaters absolutely adore al pastor but some may seek an easier way of cooking it, I decided to develop a crock pot al pastor recipe.

In this sense, we’re getting the same rich and tender meat but the process of cooking it is no only simpler but doable for those who don’t own a grill or a spit. Because cooking al pastor in a crock pot is so different from the traditional method, I wouldn’t call this authentic al pastor, but a great option for those who love to experiment with Mexican cuisine at home.

white plate with al pastor tacos with fresh cilantro and onion on top

What Kind of Pork to Use for Al Pastor:

For the best result, use either pork shoulder roast or pork butt, as these options contain plenty of fat marbling for maximum flavor. Pick up a boneless  cut of meat roast so that chopping it (or slicing it) is easier.

boneless pork shoulder roast on a cutting board

Keep in mind that you will want enough marinade to generously coat all of the pork, so if you use a roast that is larger than 5 pounds, increase the amount of the marinade by 1.5 to 2 times so that you have enough.

Ingredients for Al Pastor Marinade:

Dried guajillo chiles, dried ancho chiles, onion, garlic, cumin seed, achiote paste (or achiote powder), Mexican oregano, orange juice, and vinegar are the ingredients we need to make the pork marinade for the al pastor.

Pasilla chiles are sometimes used although they tend to be spicier than guajillo and ancho.

The dried chiles are boiled to reconstitute them and release the flavors, then all of the ingredients for the marinade gets blended together in a blender. This mixture gives us the authentic flavor we love so much in Mexican food.

The chiles used are relatively mild, and the seeds can be removed to ensure the meat stays mild rather than spicy. If you love spicy food, leave the seeds in and consider adding additional spice such as habanero or cayenne pepper. 

The orange juice provides sweetness, the vinegar gives it a tang, and the onion, garlic, and cumin bring wild flavor to the mix. Pineapple juice is often used in place of orange juice to also help tenderize the meat in addition to adding sweetness.

If you aren’t familiar with it, achiote paste (or achiote powder) is made from ground annatto seeds and can be found online or at Mexican markets. It gives a slightly sweet, smoky flavor and is commonly used to season Mexican stews and meats.

If you can’t get a hold of an achiote product, you can leave it out as the dried chiles provide enough flavor for an enticing meal, or you can replace it with store-bought or homemade chili powder.

To bring a little sweetness to the marinade, I add pure maple syrup but the traditional version calls for cane sugar. You can easily make the switch if you’d like.

Now that we’re experts on the ingredients, let’s make the recipe!

top down photo of plate of al pastor tacos with toppings

How to Make Al Pastor:

Reconstitute the chiles by adding them to a saucepan with 3 cups of water and bringing them to a full boil. Once the mixture comes to a full boil, turn off the heat and allow the chiles to sit in the hot water for at least 10 minutes while you prepare the rest of the sauce.

Chilis soaking in water in a saucepan

Add the chopped onion, garlic, dried oregano, cumin seed, achiote paste, orange juice, white vinegar, pure maple syrup, and sea salt to a high-powered blender.

Remove the stems and seeds from the chiles and place them in the blender along with 2 cups of the liquid used to boil them.

Blend on high until the sauce is smooth.

Al pastor marinade in a blender

Transfer the chopped pork to a large bowl or sealable glass container. Pour the marinade over the pork and stir everything around (this is easiest to do with your hands, but be sure to wear gloves!) until the pork is well-coated in marinade.

Cover the bowl with plastic wrap (or seal the airtight container with a lid) and refrigerate for 12 to 36 hours. Note: you can absolutely marinate the meat for less time, but for best results, marinate for 1 full day or longer. 

pork marinated in chile sauce

When you’re ready to cook the al pastor, plug in your slow cooker and transfer the marinated pork (with the marinade) to your slow cooker. Secure the lid and cook on low for 8 hours or high for 4 to 5 hours.

marinated pork in a slow cooker, ready to cook

Strain the meat from the juices and transfer it to a large baking sheet in a single layer. Broil in the oven on the High broil setting for 5 to 10 minutes, or until crispy.

As an alternative, you can crisp up the meat in a large cast iron skillet. Just be sure to heat it in a single layer for optimal crisp.

crispy al pastor in a cast iron skillet

Serve al pastor as tacos, burritos, or with rice and beans or your choice of sides.

You can spoon the juices from the crock pot over the pastor meat for added flavor. While the meat will be plenty flavorful on its own, much of the fat will render out during the cooking process, leaving sauce as good as gold in the slow cooker. If you want to remove some of the fat from the sauce, you can always use a fat separator and serve the sauce as a dipping sauce, similar to what is done for birria tacos.

Best Tacos Al Pastor:

Traditional al pastor tacos include warm corn tortillas, plenty of crispy al pastor meat, chopped fresh pineapple (many people roast or grill the pineapple first), white onion, and fresh cilantro. A flour tortilla works too, as does red onion.

You can get creative with your toppings if you’d like. I like adding cheese, guacamole, crema, homemade Easy Salsa Verde, and chopped lettuce for an all the flavors and all the textures kind of experience. I like serving the tacos with lime wedges and drizzling lime juice on top of the pork tacos as well.

If you love this slow cooker tacos al pastor recipe, also try my Slow Cooker Ropa Vieja

close up image of al pastor tacos on a plate with toppings

Also try these reader favorites if you love Mexican cuisine.

More Mexican-Inspired Meals:

Everyone’s favorite taco meat, here we go!

Plate of al pastor tacos

Crock Pot Al Pastor

Yield: 12 Servings
Prep Time: 20 minutes
Cook Time: 8 hours
Additional Time: 2 hours
Total Time: 10 hours 20 minutes

Easy Crock Pot Al Pastor results in tender yet crispy pork for the most amazing al pastor tacos!

Ingredients

  • 3 to 5 lbs pork shoulder roast, chopped into bite sized pieces
  • 4 dried ancho chiles
  • 3 dried guajillo chiles
  • 1 white onion, chopped
  • 4 cloves garlic
  • 2 tsp Mexican dried oregano
  • 1 tsp dried cumin seed
  • 2 Tbsp achiote paste (or powder)
  • ½ cup orange juice
  • ¼ cup white vinegar or rice vinegar
  • 1 Tbsp pure maple syrup or sugar
  • 2 tsp sea salt

For Serving:

  • Tortillas
  • Chopped white onion
  • Cilantro
  • Fresh chopped Pineapple

Instructions

    1. Reconstitute the chiles by adding them to a saucepan with 3 cups of water and bringing them to a full boil. Once the mixture comes to a full boil, turn off the heat and allow the chiles to sit in the hot water for at least 10 minutes while you prepare the rest of the sauce.

    Chilis soaking in water in a saucepan

    2. Add the chopped onion, garlic, dried oregano, cumin seed, achiote paste, orange juice, white vinegar, pure maple syrup, and sea salt to a high-powered blender.

    3. Remove the stems and seeds from the chiles and place them in the blender along with 2 cups of the liquid used to boil them. Blend on high until the sauce is smooth.

    Ingredients for al pastor sauce in a blender

    Al pastor marinade in a blender

    4. Transfer the chopped pork to a large bowl or sealable glass container.

    Chopped pork in a glass container

    5. Pour the marinade over the pork and stir everything around (this is easiest to do with your hands, but be sure to wear gloves!) until the pork is well-coated in marinade. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap (or seal the airtight container with a lid) and refrigerate for 12 to 36 hours. Note: you can absolutely marinate the meat for less time, but for best results, marinate for 1 full day or longer. 

    pork marinated in chile sauce

    6. When you’re ready to cook the al pastor, plug in your slow cooker and transfer the marinated pork (with the marinade) to your slow cooker. Secure the lid and cook on low for 8 hours or high for 4 to 5 hours.

    marinated pork in a slow cooker, ready to cook

    7. Strain the meat from the juices and transfer it to a large baking sheet in a single layer. Broil in the oven on the High broil setting for 5 to 10 minutes, or until crispy.

    Strain the meat from the sauce

    As an alternative, you can crisp up the meat in a large cast iron skillet. Just be sure to heat it in a single layer for optimal crisp.

    Al pastor in a cast iron skillet

    8. Serve al pastor as tacos, burritos, or with rice and beans or your choice of sides. You can spoon the juices from the crock pot over the pastor meat for added flavor.

    Plate of al pastor tacos with slaw, guacamole, cheese, and salsa

Notes

Notes: Additional taco toppings such as homemade salsa (salsa verde is great with these tacos!), avocado, guacamole, chopped lettuce, slaw, or cheese are always welcome.

Nutrition Facts are calculated for the taco meat only, not including tortillas or any toppings. Nutrition information is calculated based on 12 servings (for 12 tacos)

Nutrition Information
Yield 12 Serving Size 1 Serving (of 12)
Amount Per Serving Calories 150Total Fat 6gCarbohydrates 2gProtein 19g
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collage for al pastor

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