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Instant Pot Tacos al Pastor – Low Carb

Instant Pot Tacos al Pastor – Low Carb
Home » Mexican food memories » Instant Pot Tacos al Pastor – Low Carb

Tacos al pastor is the iconic Mexico City taco, showcasing a stack of pork that has been marinated for days, cooked on a rotating spit and then sliced and crisped to order. 

If you want that same robust flavor but are lacking in specialized equipment and time, try this version which uses the instant pot! Flavored with fresh Mexican spices, it can certainly be a credible stand-in for the authentic Mexican al pastor.

Pork al pastor taco filling
Pork al pastor taco filling

Jump to: RECIPE | What is Tacos al Pastor? | Variations | Illustrated Step by Step | Is it Low Carb? | Common Questions

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What are Tacos Al Pastor?

Traditional tacos al pastor are made from pork marinated in spices on a vertical grill spit over a layer of pineapple and onions. The meat is layered on to the spit and shaved off in ultra thin strips, lightly crisped, and folded into tortillas to make the tacos.

Low carb tacos made with slow cooked pork shoulder
Tacos made with pork al pastor filling

I just discovered that you can actually buy a grill spit for your own usage- like this one on amazon, but this is not necessary, and the recipe below using the instant pot will still get you the same great flavor.

Plate of tacos al pastor with 3 condiments on the side.
Tacos al Pastor with condiments

Variations on the Classic Taco Al Pastor

The pork shoulder is the star of any al pastor recipe and it needs to be cooked to the tender stage, regardless of the cooking method. The instant pot can be an effective method for getting the tenderness, and then it is a matter of whether you want to crisp it to finish or just stir into the sauce.

Depending on the spices and how you serve the tacos, there are actually four typical variantions of this taco.

Taco 1: Traditional

Traditional tacos al Pastor made with slow cooked pork, spices and pineapple.
Traditional Tacos al Pastor

The most recognizable of the al pastor versions, the traditional taco is most closely related to the Lebanese gyro “taco”. The main difference between the Lebanese version and the taco al pastor is, of course, the taco al pastor is served in a corn tortilla. The traditional tacos al pastor also has pineapple in the filling.

Taco 2: The Purista Taco

The main difference between the purista taco and the traditional style is the addition of a little adobo seasoning in the marinade. The purista also has chiles and achiote, but typically does not have pineapple added.

Taco 3: The Trompo Rojo Taco

Trompo Rojo taco with pork and anchiote cooked in an instantpot.
Trompo Rojo tacos

Trompo rojo literally means, “red spinning top”. Which is no coincidence, as this version has more achiote added to the marinade to give it a deeper red color. This version is more typically found in the northeast parts of Mexico and the state of Nuevo Leon, capital city of Monterrey.

A map of Mexico with the state of Nuevo Leon, in the upper east of Mexico highlighted in orange.
The Mexican state of Nuevo Leon

Taco 4: The Guisado Taco

The pineapple is also optional in this lesser-known version of a taco al pastor. Guisado means “stew” in Spanish, and this version is actually not cooked on a grill spit like the other versions. The guisado taco is instead cooked in its own juices and fat. This version usually has more onion and can be slightly more charred than the other three versions.

Illustrated Step by Step

Here are the steps lined out with photos. For the details of the recipe itself, see the recipe card below.

Pork shoulder cut into 1-inch cubes
Step #1: Cut the pork into bite-size pieces, removing some of the fat cap.
Pork cubes in an instant pot with a little liquid
Step #2: Add the pork cubes, salt and pepper and 3/4 cup liquid to instant pot and cook for 30 minutes.
Chopped onions carmelizing in skillet
Step #3: Caramelize onions for 5- minutes.
Spice and onion mixture for tacos al pastor
Step #4: Mix together all the spices with the caramelized onions and cook until well blended.
Pork cubes braising in skillet
Step #5: Remove pork cubes from instant pot and braise them in oil until well-browned.
Pork al pastor filling cooking in skillet
Step #6: Once pork is browned, add liquid from instant pot and spice mixture from skilet and cook until blended.

The Distinction of Searing the Meat

Whichever version you choose (or combination of versions), traditional tacos al pastor call for the meat to be “crisped” or seared on the stove top.

This crispy carnita recipe is another favorite for seared crispy pork tacos.

Two tacos in a black basket made with carnitas with avocados and tomatoes and tortillas in the background.
Carnitas tacos with avocado and lime

And this beef birria quesataco is my favorite taco made with meat that has been “stewed” instead of seared.

3 beef birria quesotacos with a side of beef birria consommé.
Beef birria quesatacos with a side of birria dipping consommé

How to Serve

The classic way to serve tacos is with a basket of warm corn tortillas browned on a comal (a flat griddle). Of course you can use a regular skillet or pan for browning tortillas, but a comal seems to give add that elusive extra punch of flavor.

Check this fish tacos post for the details on browning tortillas on a comal

A retangular griddle and a round comal used for making tortillas.
A retangular griddle and a round comal

Once you have decided on the meat for your tacos, why not lay it all out for guests or family in the style of a taco bar? you can go wild with Mexican accompaniments like avocados, pickled onions, different cheeses, radishes, cilantro, guacamole, etc.

What makes this Recipe Low Carb?

The recipe below has a “low-ish” carb count. Traditional tacos al pastor are marinated over pineapple slices and topped with fresh chopped pineapples.

The pineapple is a problem for low carb or keto people. There is just no getting around how much sugar is in pineapple. In one cup of pineapple there are 22 grams of carbs and 16 grams of sugar.

I tried to come up with a low carb alternative to the pineapple but really it is such a classic addition to al pastor that it’s probably better to go ahead and use pineapple, but just use it more sparingly.

I didn’t have any pineapple handy, and I needed to figure out how to use that quince paste that had been sitting in my pantry for so long, so this recipe uses quince paste instead of pineapple.

I think using the quince paste really elevated this dish and made it unique. Quince is not low carb either however, so use your preferred fruit.

The other carb-heavy ingredient of course is the tortillas. If you are aiming to lower the carb count, you can either omit the tortillas all together or you can use a lower carb tortilla. This list compares store-bought low carb tortillas vs homemade low carb tortillas.

So, to keep the integrity of al pastor but still get the delicious taste, focus on using really fresh spices, and great pork and then just go easy on the pineapple.

We used pickled red onions to up the flavor even more.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the difference between al pastor and carnitas?

Though both carnitas and al pastor use pork, al pastor is typically marinated in various spices and then grilled, whereas carnitas are usually braised in fat or liquid.

What does tacos al pastor mean in English?

Literally, tacos al pastor means “shepherd style”. The style is similar to Middle Eastern gyro meat preparation- with meat cooking on a rotating vertical spit.

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Instapot Tacos al Pastor- Low(ish) Carb

Low carb tacos made with slow cooked pork shoulder
This is a quick version for the classic Tacos al Pastor, using an instapot and a spice blend. The recipe substitutes quince paste for the pineapple to make a lower carb version.
5 from 10 votes
Prep Time 15 minutes
Cook Time 45 minutes
Servings 6
Calories 158


  • 2-3 pounds pork shoulder cut into bite-size cubes
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • ¾ cup water
  • 2-3 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 medium onion chopped
  • 4-6 cloves garlic smashed with knife and then minced
  • 1 tsp dried oregano
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • ¼ teaspoon ground cloves
  • 1 tablespoon achiote paste
  • cup smoked pepper blend
  • ½ teaspoon pepper
  • cup vinegar white distilled or sherry vinegar
  • ¼ cup quince paste alternative of pineapple
  • 1 ½ cup liquid left in instapot from pork
  • 1 cup pickled red onions and cilantro optional additions/garnishes


  • Add the cubed pork to the instapot, sprinkle with salt and add 3/4 cup water.  Close lid and turn instapot setting to meat for 30 minutes.
    2-3 pounds pork shoulder, 1 teaspoon salt, 3/4 cup water
  • About 10-15 minutes before instapot pork is done, start the onion-spice mixture.  Add oil to a large skillet and turn to med-high heat.  Add chopped onion and saute for about 5 minutes or until caramelized. Add mashed garlic and cook 30 seconds.  Add all spices (through pepper) and stir into onion mixture for 30 seconds to toast and blend.
    2-3 tablespoon olive oil, 1 medium onion, 4-6 cloves garlic, 1 tsp dried oregano, 1 teaspoon ground cumin, 1/4 teaspoon ground cloves, 1 tablespoon achiote paste, 1/8 cup smoked pepper blend, 1/2 teaspoon pepper
  • Add vinegar to hot skillet mixture.  Add quince paste and melt into the onion mixture, stirring in thoroughly.  Set skillet mixture aside until pork is done.
    1/3 cup vinegar, 1/4 cup quince paste
  • When instapot pork is done, open and remove liquid (pork juices and water) from bottom of instapot.
    At this point you can crisp the meat in a separate skillet if you want the seared/crispy effect.
    Otherwise add some of the liquid from the instapot to the reserved onion mixture in the skillet and cook over med-high until onion mixture is hot.  Add pork chunks and stir thoroughly, coating pork cubes with onion-spice mixture.
    1 1/2 cup liquid left in instapot from pork
  • Serve with low carb tortillas with pickled onions and cilantro garnish.
    1 cup pickled red onions and cilantro


  1. Traditional tacos al pastor call for the meat to be “crisped” or heated up on the stove top. Because I am striving to make everything as easy as possible these days, I simply added it to the Mexican-spiced sauce to finish.  You can certainly crisp the pork in a separate skillet before adding it to the onion mixture.
  2. This crispy carnita recipe is my favorite recipe for seared crispy pork tacos.
  3. To keep the integrity of al pastor but still get the delicious taste, focus on using really fresh spices, and great pork and then just go easy on the pineapple.


Calories: 158kcalCarbohydrates: 4gProtein: 19gFat: 7gSaturated Fat: 2gPolyunsaturated Fat: 1gMonounsaturated Fat: 3gCholesterol: 62mgSodium: 462mgPotassium: 382mgFiber: 1gSugar: 1gVitamin A: 21IUVitamin C: 4mgCalcium: 34mgIron: 2mg
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