Easy Al Pastor Marinade

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An easy homemade Al Pastor Marinade recipe for all of your taco night cravings! This al pastor marinade hits all the right notes – it’s earthy, citrusy, & subtly sweet thanks to flavor-forward ingredients, like orange juice, smoky chiles, & achiote. Prepped in a blender in 10 minutes or less, homemade al pastor has never been so easy – use it to make tacos al pastor & more!

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Grilled al Pastor chicken thighs shown on a white speckled plate atop a light blue surface. The chicken is garnished with finely chopped herbs & grilled pineapple.
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Hellooo, Homemade Al Pastor!

If you’ve ever had al pastor street tacos, I know you’re jumping out of your seat right now. I know I am! Whenever I spot them on a menu at a taqueria, I always order tacos al pastor – juicy, rich, & boldly flavored, with caramelly-crisp bits & pieces…seriously, what’s not to love? So the thought of easily being able to make homemade al pastor? Totally worthy of jump-out-of-your-seat levels of excitement.

What is Al Pastor? If al pastor is new to you, you’re in for such a treat! Traditionally, al pastor is made by marinating pork in an earthy chile marinade & cooking it on a vertical spit. The pork, which takes on gloriously charred edges as the spit rotates, is carved from the spit & served in a tortilla. (It’s no coincidence that it sounds similar to shawarma! Al pastor is said to be originally based on lamb shawarma, brought to Mexico by Lebanese immigrants in the 19th century. Pretty cool!)

Since I dream about them on a near daily basis, I really wanted to try to recreate the signature flavors & textures of tacos al pastor, using the ingredients & equipment that I have at home. The secret? A really solid al pastor marinade. That’s exactly how this easy al pastor marinade recipe came to be. Made with chiles, orange juice, & achiote paste, this al pastor marinade is earthy, smoky, citrusy, & so good!

Al Pastor marinade shown in a small ball jar, sitting atop a light blue surface with an orange slice resting on the surface in the foreground & the background.

Al Pastor Marinade Recipe Highlights

This Al Pastor Marinade is (click for shortcuts within this post!)

  • QUICK & SIMPLE. Made with just 10 ingredients, many of which are probably already in your pantry. Plus, it comes together in a blender in 10 minutes or less. Easy!
  • GREAT FOR GRILLING & BROILING. You don’t need a vertical spit to make awesome homemade al pastor! Simply use a grill or broiler to recreate the craveably crisp & caramelized edges of authentic al pastor, no special equipment required!
  • ABSOLUTELY DELISH. It pairs beautifully with pork & chicken, & you can use your al pastor meat to make tacos, burrito bowls, & so much more.

Easy homemade Al Pastor? Taco Tuesday will never be the same. ♡ Read on to learn more about this Al Pastor Marinade recipe, or jump straight to the recipe & get grilling!

Al Pastor Marinade Key Ingredients

All al pastor starts with a great marinade, which lends the signature flavor & brilliant color of traditional al pastor. This easy al pastor marinade recipe is made with 10 simple ingredients.

Al Pastor marinade ingredients arranged on a light blue surface: garlic, chipotle peppers, orange juice, apple cider vinegar, brown sugar, achiote paste, ancho chile powder, ground cumin, dried oregano, & salt.
Note: full ingredients list & measurements provided in the Recipe Card, below.

Here’s what you’ll need:

  • Aromatics – Namely fresh garlic, smoky chipotle peppers, ancho chili powder, cumin, & dried oregano.
  • Achiote paste – The key ingredient that gives al pastor its signature earthy flavor & bright red color. More about achiote below!
  • Orange juice & brown sugar – For subtle sweetness that helps create crispy, caramelly edges as the al pastor cooks.
  • Apple cider vinegar – Just a splash, which helps offset the sweetness of the OJ & brown sugar.

What is achiote paste? Achiote is a seasoning made with ground annatto seeds. It is commonly used in Mexican & Central American cuisine. Achiote is earthy & bitter in flavor, giving traditional al pastor (in my experience) its signature flavor & color. You’ll most commonly find achiote available as a ground seasoning or as a paste, both of which you can easily find at your local Mexican market or online. I use achiote paste for this al pastor marinade recipe. See the Recipe Notes below for some more details!

How to make this Homemade Al Pastor:

Building off the simplicity of the ingredients list, it’s seriously easy to make this homemade al pastor marinade recipe – it comes together in less than a minute thanks to a blender!

Chicken thighs in a large glass mixing bowl, marinating in Al Pastor marinade. The bowl sits atop a light blue surface.

Here’s how you do it: Simply add all of the marinade ingredients to a blender, blending until smooth. That’s it! With your al pastor marinade mixed & ready to go, you can use it immediately or transfer to a small jar & place it in the fridge for later use.

Suggested Marinating Time:

Marinating time will vary based on the type of protein you use. Resilient proteins (chicken, pork, beef) should soak in the al pastor marinade for at least 6 hours & no more than 3 days. Delicate proteins (seafood) have a shorter marinade time – aim for at least 2 hours & no more than 12 hours.

Side angle of chicken thighs in a large glass mixing bowl, marinating in Al Pastor marinade. The bowl sits atop a light blue surface.

Make-Ahead & Meal Prep:

Great news for meal preppers: despite the suggested marinating times for this al pastor marinade, you can still get ahead on your dinner by prepping the marinade in advance. (A little bonus? The flavors of this homemade al pastor marinade meld together even more the longer the marinade sits!)

Here’s what you’ll do:

  • Prep the marinade & store it in a jar or an airtight container in the refrigerator. The marinade will keep for up to 1 week.
  • When you’re ready to start marinating (refer to the suggested marinating times above), simply pour the marinade over whatever meat or veggies you’re using it on – easy!
Chicken thighs in a Ziploc bag, marinating in al Pastor marinade. The bag sits atop a light blue surface. “Al Pastor Marinade" is penned in the bag's memo area.

How to use your al pastor marinade:

Whipping up easy tacos al pastor on a whim is basically a dream come true thanks to this easy al pastor marinade! It’s most traditional to use this al pastor marinade on pork – I suggest using pork chops or pork butt steaks. Chicken al pastor is also fabulous – use boneless, skinless chicken thighs or breasts.

I suggest cooking your al pastor marinated proteins on the grill or in a grill pan to create similar smoky, crispy, caramelization of traditional al pastor that’s cooked on a vertical spit. If you do not have access to a grill, you can create a similar effect by baking in the oven & finishing under the broiler. (That’s exactly how I make my Sheet Pan Chicken al Pastor Tacos!)

Once cooked, you can use your homemade al pastor to create any of your favorite Mexican & Tex-Mex dishes at home – al pastor tacosburritosburrito bowlstaco saladsnachostostadas…you name it! The possibilites are truly endless, & they’re all delicious!

My ideal plate? Chicken al Pastor Burrito Bowl-meets-Taco Salad! Grill al pastor chicken thighs alongside planks of juicy-sweet pineapple. Chop it all up, then pile it on top of a bowl made with salad greens, rice or quinoa, black beans, thinly sliced radish, avocado, cotija, & plenty of cilantro. YUM.

Grilled al Pastor chicken thighs shown on a white speckled plate atop a light blue surface. The chicken is garnished with finely chopped herbs & grilled pineapple.

I cannot wait for you to try this Al Pastor Marinade! It’s uniquely spicy, citrusy, & earthy, & it’s perfect for whenever a Mexican food craving strikes! If you do give it a try, be sure to let me know! Leave a comment with a star rating below. You can also snap a photo & tag @playswellwithbutter on Instagram. I LOVE hearing about & seeing your PWWB creations!

Want more marinades for grilling season? Got you covered! Check out PWWB’s 15 Go-To Grilling Marinades. Happy grilling! ♡

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Grilled al Pastor chicken thighs shown on a white speckled plate atop a light blue surface. The chicken is garnished with finely chopped herbs & grilled pineapple.

Easy Al Pastor Marinade

  • Author: Jess Larson
  • Prep Time: 10 Minutes
  • Cook Time: 0 Minutes
  • Total Time: 10 minutes
  • Yield: 2 cups 1x
  • Category: Sauces & Condiments
  • Method: No-Cook, Blender
  • Cuisine: Mexican & Tex-Mex
  • Diet: Gluten Free

Description

This easy homemade Al Pastor Marinade recipe hits all the right notes – it’s earthy, citrusy, & subtly sweet thanks to flavor-forward ingredients, like orange juice, smoky chiles, & achiote. Prepped in a blender in 10 minutes or less, homemade al pastor has never been so easy – use it to make tacos al pastor & more!


Ingredients

Scale
  • 2 pounds meat or veggies of choice
  • 3 cloves garlic
  • 23 chipotle peppers, from a can packed in adobo sauce
  • 1/2 cup orange juice
  • 1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons brown sugar (or honey, or agave)
  • 1 tablespoon achiote paste (see Recipe Notes)
  • 1 tablespoon ancho chili powder
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano
  • kosher salt & ground black pepper, to season

Al Pastor marinade ingredients arranged on a light blue surface: garlic, chipotle peppers, orange juice, apple cider vinegar, brown sugar, achiote paste, ancho chile powder, ground cumin, dried oregano, & salt.

 


Instructions

  1. Blend the al pastor marinade: Add all listed marinade ingredients to a blender. Season with 2 teaspoons kosher salt & ground black pepper as desired. Blend until combined; the marinade should be thick & smooth. Use immediately, or transfer to a jar or airtight container and store in the refrigerator for up to 1 week.Al Pastor marinade shown in a small ball jar, sitting atop a light blue surface with an orange slice resting on the surface in the foreground & the background.
  2. Marinate: Pour the marinade over your meat or veggies of choice. Marinate for at least 8 hours & up to 3 days. Chicken thighs in a large glass mixing bowl, marinating in Al Pastor marinade. The bowl sits atop a light blue surface.
  3. Grill as desired. Enjoy!Grilled al Pastor chicken thighs shown on a white speckled plate atop a light blue surface. The chicken is garnished with finely chopped herbs & grilled pineapple.


Notes

  • What is Achiote paste? Achiote is a seasoning commonly used in Mexican & Central American cuisine. Achiote is made with ground annatto seed, which is earthy & bitter in flavor & gives traditional al pastor (in my experience) its signature flavor & color. You’ll most commonly find achiote available as a ground seasoning or as a paste, both of which you can easily find at your local Mexican market. It’s also readily available online. If you’re in a pinch, you can easily make a quick achiote substitute using pantry ingredients, but if you’re serious about replicating the signature flavor of al pastor, I highly suggest stocking up on some achiote. 
  • 10-Minute Meal Prep: If you’d like to marinate something later in the week, I suggest making the marinade in advance, whenever you’re meal prepping for the week. Store it in a jar or an airtight container for up to 5 days – the flavors meld together even more as the marinade sits. At least 8 hours before you’re ready to hit the grill, simply pour the marinade over whatever meat or veggies you’re using it on – easy!
  • Note: This recipe has been updated since its original publish in May 2019. If you are looking for the original recipe, with slightly different ingredients & flavor profile, click here to download a printable version!

Keywords: al pastor, al pastor marinade, easy, Mexican, weeknight dinner, summer, grilling

Recipe by Jess Larson, Plays Well With Butter | Photography by Eat Love Eat

Grilled al Pastor chicken thighs shown on a white speckled plate atop a light blue surface. The chicken is garnished with finely chopped herbs & grilled pineapple.

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Ready to Hit the Grill?

If this all still feels new to you, I encourage you to head over to Grilling 101, a compliation of tips & tricks for all of the grilling basics – everything from how to light your grill to how to clean your grill.

All this talk about grilling have you feelin’ ready to hit the grill? Me too! Be sure to check out this post for my 15 go-to marinades you need this grilling season. At our house, a good marinade is at the heart of grilling season. I’m positive these marinades will be on repeat at your house this summer! For even more grilled goodness, be sure to check out all of our Grilling & Smoking recipes.

& lastly! Be sure to give @playswellwithbutter a follow on Instagram – I’ll be teaching you how to grill up some goodness all summer long, & we have so much fun on Instagram!

Want more grilling tips & recipes?

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Hi there, I'm Jess!

If there’s 1 thing to know about me, it’s this: I am head-over-heels in love with food. I’m on a mission to make weeknight cooking flavorful, fast, & fun for other foodies, & PWWB is where I share foolproof recipes that deliver major flavor with minimal effort. Other true loves: pretty shoes, puppies, Grey’s Anatomy, & my cozy kitchen in Minneapolis, MN.

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