Pork Tacos

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These pork tacos, made with pork, beer, spices, and soft tortillas, are wicked tender and almost like tacos al pastor. Slather, bite, repeat.

Two pork tacos filled with shredded pork, radishes, jalapenos, salsa, and sour cream on a plate.

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.

Notes on ingredients

The ingredients for pork tacos--pork butt, garlic, sugar, spices, onion, orange, and ale.
  • 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 aleBrown 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

Sugar and salt being mixed together in a small bowl and being rubbed over a pork shoulder in a Dutch oven.
  1. Mix the sugar and salt in a small bowl.
  2. 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.
Spices and garlic being mixed together in a small bowl and a person pouring beer over a spice-rubbed pork shoulder.
  1. 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.
  2. Rub the spice mixture all over the pork. Pour in the ale. Cover the Dutch oven and cook for 2 hours.
A partially cooked pork shoulder in a Dutch oven with onions and orange wedges, and a person shredding a cooked pork shoulder.
  1. 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.
  2. Use two forks to shred the meat. Squeeze the remaining orange segment over the shredded pork. Serve with all your favorite taco fixings.

What cut of pork is best for tacos?

To make meltingly tender pulled pork tacos, this recipe relies on 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.

How do these pork tacos differ from tacos al pastor?

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 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.

Can I make this pulled pork in a slow cooker?

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 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.

Helpful tips

  • 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.
Two pork tacos, a bowl of shredded pork, and an assortment of condiments on a white wooden table.

More great pork taco recipes

☞ 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

Pork Tacos

Two pork tacos filled with shredded pork, radishes, jalapenos, salsa, and sour cream on a plate.

These pork tacos, made with pork, beer, spices, and soft tortillas, are wicked tender and almost like tacos al pastor. Slather, bite, repeat.

Prep 25 mins

Cook 3 hrs

Total 9 hrs

  • 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 sheets 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.

    1. Let the meat cool–Let your pork roast cool slightly before shredding. It will be hot!
    2. 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.
    3. How to use leftovers–Use leftover pork taco meat for filling burritos, topping nachos, stuffing into grilled cheese sandwiches, or tucking into quesadillas.
    4. 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.

Serving: 1portionCalories: 537kcal (27%)Carbohydrates: 22g (7%)Protein: 79g (158%)Fat: 13g (20%)Saturated Fat: 4g (25%)Polyunsaturated Fat: 2gMonounsaturated Fat: 5gTrans Fat: 0.1gCholesterol: 204mg (68%)Sodium: 2921mg (127%)Potassium: 1582mg (45%)Fiber: 4g (17%)Sugar: 13g (14%)Vitamin A: 2186IU (44%)Vitamin C: 38mg (46%)Calcium: 89mg (9%)Iron: 5mg (28%)

#leitesculinaria on Instagram If you make this recipe, snap a photo and hashtag it #LeitesCulinaria. We’d love to see your creations on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter.

Recipe Testers’ Reviews

Recipe © 2014 Kim Sunée. Photos © 2014 Angie Zoobkoff. All rights reserved. All materials used with permission.

#leitesculinaria on Instagram If you make this recipe, snap a photo and hashtag it #LeitesCulinaria. We’d love to see your creations on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter.



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