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Tacos al Pastor: Pork Butt or Pork Loin?

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  • Michael_in_TX
    Club Member
    • Dec 2018
    • 466
    • Texas Gulf Coast
    • Grills:
      Weber 22" Kettle Premium w/Slow N' Sear 2.0
      Pit Barrel Cooker
      W.C. Bradley & Co. Char Kettle CK-115 ~1980s Vintage Grill (inactive)

      Accessories:
      Thermopop (Instant Read)
      Thermoworks Smoke

    Tacos al Pastor: Pork Butt or Pork Loin?

    Ever since I've learned of the existence of tacos al pastor, I've wanted to try it...the earthiness of the marinade; the sweetness of the pineapple.

    If you're not familiar with it, it is thinly sliced cuts of pork, marinated in a chili sauce, then cooked on a spit with the pork slices interspersed between pineapple slides. The cooked pork is then shaved into corn tortillas and garnished with grilled and fresh pineapple, diced onion, and cilantro. Basically, street tacos.

    Now that I have a Pit Barrel Cooker, I must do tacos al pastor as I found a video on YouTube (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=T3CgiNQfLP0) on TheHollarBBQ's channel in which he uses the PBC turkey hanger as the "spit." I just gotta do it after seeing that.


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    Now, there are a decent number of tacos al pastor videos and recipes on the internet. To be sure, much of the variance in is in the pastor marinade, but one primary difference is the cut of pork used. I'd say about 75% of them use pork butt or shoulder, while the rest -- including Steven Raichlen, to my surprise -- use pork loin.

    Both cuts of pork are prepared consistently the same: 1/4" to 1/2" slices, marinated overnight, then baked or smoked for several hours (often piled up on a skewer with pineapple rings spaced in between the slices). The videos that do mention a final internal temp seem to be pulling the pork when it hits 160-165 for the pork butt and 150 for the pork loin.

    My thinking and inexperience makes me want to try pork butt over loin as it is fattier (more flavorful?), but only if I can get it tender and it surprises me that people are pulling it so early (as opposed to 190 or 203). Perhaps the thinness of the slices helps make it tender, even at such a low temperature for cooking pork butt. (And even in the video I linked above, the pork sure seems to be shredding nicely.)

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    Which cut do yall think would work best?
  • Texas Larry
    Club Member
    • May 2017
    • 1505
    • Wilson County, TX
    • Kamado Joe Big Joe 2
      Weber 22” Premium/SNS
      Weber Jumbo Joe/SNS
      JoeTisserie
      Thermoworks Smoke
      Thermoworks 2K Thermocouple
      Thermapen
      Thermapop
      Thermoworks Dash
      Too many gadgets, accessories, and tools
      Favorite beer: Alaskan Amber

    #2
    I have to go with pork butt for the reasons you mention. Just my .02😁.

    Comment

    • HouseHomey
      Club Member
      • May 2016
      • 5310
      • Huntington Beach, Ca. Surf City USA.
      • Equipment
        Primo Oval xl

        Slow n Sear (two)
        Drip n Griddle
        22" Weber Kettle
        26" Weber Kettle one touch
        Blackstone 36” Pro Series
        Sous vide machine
        Kitchen Aid
        Meat grinder
        sausage stuffer
        5 Crock Pots
        Akootrimonts
        Two chimneys (was 3 but rivets finally popped, down to 1)
        cast iron pans,
        Dutch ovens
        Signals 4 probe, thermapens, chef alarms, Dots, thermapop and maverick T-732, RTC-600, pro needle and various pocket instareads.
        The help and preferences
        1 extra fridge and a deep chest freezer in the garage
        KBB
        FOGO
        A 9 year old princess foster child
        Patience and old patio furniture
        "Baby Girl" The cat

        Erik S.

      #3
      Pork butt

      Comment

      • barelfly
        Club Member
        • Dec 2017
        • 1161
        • New Mexico
        • Smokin-It 3D
          Weber Kettle with an SNS
          Masterbuilt kettle that I call the $30 wonder grill
          Bullet by Bull Grills gasser
          Anova WiFi sous vide machine
          Thermoworks Thermapen and Chef Alarm

        #4
        An easy way, depending on number of guests being served, would be shoulder steaks cooked hot and fast. I’ve done this a few times, slather adobo on and marinade for however long then to the grill and sliced thing on the bias and served on homemade tortillas.pork is tenserved and full of flavor from the adobo.i postedon this exact cook a few weeks back as well.

        if I had a spit and was serving for 8 or more, I’d go pork butt like you mention above.

        Comment

        • surfdog
          Club Member
          • Mar 2016
          • 1123
          • Sunny SoCal
          • Cooking gadgets
            Weber Summit Charcoal Grill Center
            Weber Summit Platinum D6
            Blue Rhino Razor
            Dyna-Glo XL Premium Dual Chamber
            Camp Chef Somerset IV along with their Artisan Pizza Oven 90
            Anova WiFi

            Thermometers
            Thermapen Mk4 - ThermaQ High Temp Kit - ThermaQ Meathead Kit - ThermaQ WiFi - ThermoWorks IR-GUN-S - ThermoWorks Signals & Billows - ThermoPop -ThermoWorks ProNeedle - ThermoWorks TimeStick Trio x2 - and a Christopher Kimball timer - NO, I do not work for ThermoWorks...I just like their products.

            Other useful bits...
            KitchenAid 7-qt Pro Line stand mixer
            A Black & Decker food processor that I can't seem to murder
            A couple of immersion blenders, one a "consumer" model & the other a "high end" Italian thing. Yes, the Italian one is a bit better, but only marginally
            Instant Pot Duo Evo Plus 8-qt + accessories like egg-bite & egg holders
            All-Clad pots & pans, along with some cast iron...everything from 7" Skookie pans to 8.5qt Dutch ovens
            Weber GBS griddle, pizza stone, and wok
            Knives range from Mercer to F. Dick to "You spent how much for one knife? One knife?!" LOL

          #5
          I generally use pork butt...but could see the attraction of using the loin as there's generally less trimming involved.

          And then you NEED one of these...
          No seriously, you NEED it! ;-)
          https://www.amazon.com/KeyTop-Shawar...s%2C210&sr=8-5
          If nothing else than because of the shear insanity of it. LOL That and they work really well.

          Comment


          • surfdog
            surfdog commented
            Editing a comment
            Just looked at that again...the one I have has a serrated blade.

          • surfdog
            surfdog commented
            Editing a comment
            FWIW...I have something like this...
            https://www.amazon.com/dp/B00BAGO2YS...v_ov_lig_dp_it

            I got it used at a restaurant supply...so didn't pay anything close to the new price!
            That said, it's on its last legs so I'll either need to replace it or figure out how to make it on my WSCGC or start using the rotisserie on my Summit gasser again. The gasser works great for pastor...but not so much for gyros/doner kebobs. Actually, not at all. LOL

          • Michael_in_TX
            Michael_in_TX commented
            Editing a comment
            lol.....I may have to get that, you know, just to justify the purchase of the $1,000 true gyro rotating infrared cooker!
        • Jim White
          Club Member
          • Sep 2019
          • 561
          • Gainesville, FL
          • I cook on a 15-year-old Kamado #9, a huge beast nearly 6 feet tall and with black ceramic tile on the outside. I of course love smoked meats of all kinds, but also like quick cooks like chicken portions, pork tenderloins and fish. Really into cooking of all kinds. Just added an outdoor fire pit that has grilling capability and limited Santa Maria-style grill raising and lowering.

          #6
          I think the reason it can be pulled at lower temps and still be tender is that fresh pineapple has an enzyme, bromelain, that tenderizes meat. So if your marinade has fresh pineapple, you should be fine.

          Comment

          • Santamarina
            Club Member
            • Aug 2018
            • 755
            • Wildomar, CA

            #7
            I’ve not made al pastor myself, but have several Mexican friends who make it. They use shoulder.

            Comment


            • surfdog
              surfdog commented
              Editing a comment
              Yep, pork butt.
              Which ironically has absolutely nothing to do with the far end of a pig. LOL
          • Michael_in_TX
            Club Member
            • Dec 2018
            • 466
            • Texas Gulf Coast
            • Grills:
              Weber 22" Kettle Premium w/Slow N' Sear 2.0
              Pit Barrel Cooker
              W.C. Bradley & Co. Char Kettle CK-115 ~1980s Vintage Grill (inactive)

              Accessories:
              Thermopop (Instant Read)
              Thermoworks Smoke

            #8
            Looks like the consensus is for pork butt. Cool. Our local HEB sells boneless ones that tend to be smaller and a little better intially trimmed than the 8-10 lb ones I usually get. (I pay about $.75 more per pound that way, but I only need about a 5 lb roast. Although writing this, I could buy a boned larger one and just cut it in half....)

            Comment

            • Bkhuna
              Club Member
              • Apr 2019
              • 518
              • Merritt Island Florida

              #9
              Shoulder. Be careful with using fresh pineapple. In all the places I've seen al pastor, the pineapple sits on the top and only a little piece makes to to the taco. If you put slices of fresh pineapple between the layers of meat, especially if you've used pineapple in the marinade, the meat can get mushy.

              Comment


              • Murdy
                Murdy commented
                Editing a comment
                Agreed. I've eaten it at some places that it had such a strong pineapple flavor that I found it off putting. I generally prefer the places that make it with just a hint of pineapple.
            • Red Man
              Club Member
              • May 2018
              • 1067
              • Western Washington

              #10
              I know all the you tube recipes say fresh pineapple in the marinade and some mix slices between layers of meat. I tried it with fresh pineapple in the marinade and the meat turned to mush, the texture was gross. My advice is no fresh pineapple anywhere except maybe a slice above the top since that is the traditional way.

              Comment


              • TripleB
                TripleB commented
                Editing a comment
                My Al Pastor recipe is marinaded and layered in a bread pan. The pineapple is roasted separately with fat from the Al Pastor, chopped and then added back to the chopped pork on the griddle. The sweetness of the pineapple mixed with the meat makes a truly remarkable taco.

              • Michael_in_TX
                Michael_in_TX commented
                Editing a comment
                That is what I may do....just grill the pineapple separately.
            • Michael_in_TX
              Club Member
              • Dec 2018
              • 466
              • Texas Gulf Coast
              • Grills:
                Weber 22" Kettle Premium w/Slow N' Sear 2.0
                Pit Barrel Cooker
                W.C. Bradley & Co. Char Kettle CK-115 ~1980s Vintage Grill (inactive)

                Accessories:
                Thermopop (Instant Read)
                Thermoworks Smoke

              #11
              Thanks for the advice on the laying of the pineapple. Yall are right....for the vast majority of the videos I've watched, they tend to be bookends only.

              Comment

              • Troutman
                Club Member
                • Aug 2017
                • 7293
                • Tejas, Where Else?

                • OUTDOOR COOKERS

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                #12
                Pork butt for sure. What I tend to have issues with is the idea of making a swarma or trompo, putting it into a smoker, then carving it by shaving off think slices. Obviously the outer smoked layer, rich in bark and seasoning, is great. With an authentic trompo; however, it continues to cook and develop additional bark and flavor. With the one time cook, you find yourself with just plain inner layers.

                The only way I can think to end the dilemma, as un-sexy as it might be, is to grill individual slices by themselves on the grill. Each piece has seasoning and bark to the extent you want it, in each and every slice.

                Anyway not trying to be a boo bird, I've been wanting to do this type of cooking, I just can't figure out how to replicate the original without having to sit there and carve, cook, carve, cook etc. etc.

                Comment


                • patcrail
                  patcrail commented
                  Editing a comment
                  Troutman great point, exactly what I’ve been struggling with trying to decide how to attempt Gyros (Shwarma?) I saw a post by (I think, not sure) fzxdoc where a woman just created the thin strips from ground (minced in UK?) meat & pan-fried quickly, giving them that same “doneness” all over. I believe I’m going to try something along those lines for the same reasons you mention here

                • fzxdoc
                  fzxdoc commented
                  Editing a comment
                  When making tacos al pastor, shawarma or doner in the PBC, I think the key to those crispy tasty edges must be in the stacking method: largest diameter on the bottom, graduating to a smaller diameter for each layer up.

                  I'm still wondering about the final temp to pull the meat, unless, as you suggest, Troutman , that the tasty bits are shaved off during the process. May need a large solid layered mass of meat for that. Maybe instead: portion-sized pieces for each round, maybe 8-10 rounds?

                  K.
                  Last edited by fzxdoc; August 2, 2020, 08:08 AM.

                • fzxdoc
                  fzxdoc commented
                  Editing a comment
                  ...continued... It sure seems like a fun thing to try.


                  patcrail , that was me who posted that link to making Turkish style or German style doner kebab. I still want to do that, but I also want to make those buns that they served it on. Wow that looked good.
                  https://pitmaster.amazingribs.com/fo...176#post843176

                  Kathryn
              • Michael_in_TX
                Club Member
                • Dec 2018
                • 466
                • Texas Gulf Coast
                • Grills:
                  Weber 22" Kettle Premium w/Slow N' Sear 2.0
                  Pit Barrel Cooker
                  W.C. Bradley & Co. Char Kettle CK-115 ~1980s Vintage Grill (inactive)

                  Accessories:
                  Thermopop (Instant Read)
                  Thermoworks Smoke

                #13
                Originally posted by Troutman View Post
                With an authentic trompo; however, it continues to cook and develop additional bark and flavor. With the one time cook, you find yourself with just plain inner layers.

                The only way I can think to end the dilemma, as un-sexy as it might be, is to grill individual slices by themselves on the grill. Each piece has seasoning and bark to the extent you want it, in each and every slice.

                Anyway not trying to be a boo bird, I've been wanting to do this type of cooking, I just can't figure out how to replicate the original without having to sit there and carve, cook, carve, cook etc. etc.
                I can't deny that logic. Hmm. One of the videos I watched actually does carving while it is on the rotisserie (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=F6iv55ZYlOg). And they talk about exactly what you mention.....long cook and cut off as you need to feed people so the edges are constantly getting barked up. (They also carve it into a wok, so the carved bits crisp of a bit, too.)

                Click image for larger version

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                Well, heck. If the pineapple gets mushy and the only the tips of the meat slices will get bark.....I may be rethinking my approach!

                Comment

                • DreamOn
                  Club Member
                  • Jan 2020
                  • 51
                  • Lancaster PA

                  #14
                  I love the al Pastor flavor palette 😋. But I make it as nachos. I honestly don’t make it on purpose though. It’s what I do with the leftover pork BBQ of whatever cut I used.

                  Comment

                  • KarchyBBQ
                    Club Member
                    • Nov 2017
                    • 73
                    • Wheaton, MD
                    • ——
                      Weber Kettle 26”
                      SnS standard
                      Thermoworks Smoke, Theromoworks Dot, ThermoPop

                    #15
                    Definitely pork butt. Worth your time for sure! If you’re able to shave as the outer layer develops crust you’ll be rewarded, but not necessary.

                    Comment

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