Cook This: Horizontal Al Pastor

Pulling Off Crispy, Red Pork Without a Trompo

SIDEWAYS SPIT PORK: The author’s al pastor turned out decent even though he had to roast it horizontally rather than vertically as is traditionally done. | Credit: Matt Kettmann

The butchers at Santa Cruz Market in Old Town Goleta looked at me askew when I told them I wanted to use my grill’s rotisserie rig to al pastor, the bright-red, crispy style of roasted pork that finds its way into tacos and burritos all over the world. 

Credit: Matt Kettmann

The style was first inspired by shawarma brought to Mexico by Lebanese immigrants, and it’s traditionally cooked vertically on a trompo, which translates to “spinning top.” Doing it on my rotisserie meant laying the pork horizontal, to which the butchers expressed silent discontent. But they warmed up when I explained myself more, and they sliced about $30 of pork shoulder super thin. 

I marinated that for about 12 hours in a blend of achiote, pineapple, rehydrated guajillo chile, chile de árbol, orange juice, and other spices that I no longer recall — there’s no singular recipe, I discovered, only the core of achiote and pineapple and various chiles. Then I stacked the pork, with pineapple and onion slices, onto the spike and fired up the grill. 

It took about three hours to attain the right outer crust and correct internal temperature. But the experiment worked, especially atop the handmade tortillas pressed by my son, Mason, and Neighbor Steve, whose green and red salsas kicked up our tacos even more. 

The edges were excellent, while I found the middle a little gummy. I realized that, in restaurants, you always get crispy bits because they are constantly shaving off the outer layer. I don’t think I can pull that off, and I’m not buying a trompo, because my garage can’t fit any more cooking gadgets. 

The photos were certainly a hit on Instagram and, most proudly, I passed a piece to my landscaper, a third-generation Santa Barbaran whose maternal grandfather settled on the Westside a century ago and whose dad came from Michoacán. 

“No bullshit, man,” he said. “This is the best one I’ve ever had.”



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