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Which One? Mexican Carnitas vs Pastor Pork Tacos

Both carnitas and al pastor are popular dishes in Mexico but both have distinct differences.

Both make great taco fillings and make one delicious taco!

So tell me please. Carnitas vs Pastor?

carnitas vs pastor

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I have two recipes for carnitas on TIHIC and both are a bit different.

I also have a recipe for an untraditional al pastor taco.

See for yourself what’s similar and what’s different!

carnitas vs pastor image of carnitas taco

2 Ways To Make Carnitas

This one contains milk. This one does not but also contains cinnamon and cloves which changes the flavor profile slightly,

Classic carnitas are made with pork shoulder and cooked on the stove or in the oven.

This recipe is for traditional Michoacan carnitas which are made with milk and citrus juices and essentially is a braised pork dish.

Chunks of pork shoulder are browned and then mixed with milk, garlic, jalapenos, onions and lime juice and orange juice along with some bay leaf and oregano.

After the pork has cooked and is tender the meat is pulled into shreds and dry-fried to become crispy OR not.

I like carnitas crispy, so this is how I do it but the shredded braised pork, drained of its juice, is perfect on its own served with a small corn tortilla.

Carnitas translate to little meats and I have no doubt you will love either version of this classic carnitas recipe.

Very good and very easy to make and perfect for almost all of your Mexican food needs.

Al Pastor

Al pastor was brought to Mexico by Lebanese immigrants in the 1930’s and was originally made with lamb.

Pork al pastor is made on a vertical spit, similar to gyros, and is sliced from the spit in thin slices before being placed into a corn tortilla and then topped with onions, fresh roasted pineapple chunks and cilantro.

It is usually also made with pork shoulder, but because I’m a home cook and don’t have a vertical spit I apapted al pastor for my oven.

In my case I used pork tenderloins rubbed with dry chile powder and other seasonings including oregano, cumin and black pepper.

Achiote paste and guajillo chiles are often found in al pastor and the next time I try these classic Mexico street tacos I will marinate the pork tenderloins overnight with these.

I still used pineapple and chilies, but added beer for the braising liquid. Totally a no-no!

For my braising liquid I made a sauce in the blender consisting of chipotles, diced pineapple, red onion, garlic, lime juice and vinegar.

tacos al pastor or carnitas vs pastor

I added the pineapple and chipotles to mimic the traditional method, and though these tacos al pastor aren’t the traditional version found in Mexican cuisine, they were devoured quite happily.

Be sure to make thin slices of pork or feel free to shred if you’d like.

I like to crisp al pastor in a frying pan to mimic the crispy edges, it would have if cooked on a spit.

For that matter you can also let it dry in the oven a bit so that the exterior is more crisp but the inside is moist.

Enjoy a pineapple pico de gallo and a chipotle drizzle to top the al pastor tacos and create lots of extra tangy flavor.

Or try them as nachos.

Tacos al pastor or Shepard’s tacos are found all over Mexico City and whatever you do don’t put cheese or lettuce on an authentic Mexican taco.

But if you live in the US, you can!

nachos al pastor (carnitas vs pastor)

Corn tortillas are used for classic Mexican street tacos, because corn tortillas have more flavor.

Flour tortillas are used for burritos, chimichangas and Manservant likes them for soaking up extra sauce.

So carnitas vs. pastor? Well, that is personal preference. 

Mexican restaurants always seem to give you a choice of tacos so try them both and see what your taste buds prefer!

Carnitas vs Pastor?

Today is May Day! (Well, it was when I wrote this, but this pup is keeping me busy! 

And it was a big event in Geordie’s life. After all, one ear went up!

2015 04 30 10.31.541

As children we used to gather pretty purple lilacs and yellow forsythias, tie them with ribbon, ring the neighbor’s front door bell, whereupon they would open the door to find, probably some dead flowers. 

I don’t know why we started doing this and I don’t know how many years we did it for, but yes, we were the May Day flower delivery service.

 I’m sure my mother probably suggested it to keep us busy, but we had fun doing it.

Fast forward a lot of years and I found May Day was still celebrated big time at the college Zoe attended. 

They had huge May Day celebrations, complete with parades and games and May poles and I know, some libations. 

What a perfect way to get ready for finals, is the way I looked at it. 

She loved the tradition, and I don’t blame her. Traditions are familiar and easy to recognize and always ready to be repeated.

carnitas taco on carnitas vs pastor

Though we never celebrated Cinco de Mayo, it is a tradition that is big time in Denver. 

A big affair is always held in Downtown Denver, but Manservant isn’t big on festivals. 

Bummer, I know.  In any case, this has never stopped us from eating Mexican food. 

As a child, Mexican food hardly graced my plate, except for the time my mother brought home hard taco shells from the grocery.

I don’t recall liking them. 

My father believes it doesn’t matter what you order in a Mexican restaurant because it all looks the same. He still eats it though!

Fast forward to college where I spent my freshman year at Arizona State. Yes, that is where I discovered Mexican food. 

I recall a girlfriend taking me to some dark restaurant where she proceeded to tell me to order a chimichanga. 

Soon this fried giant egg roll appeared, stuffed with ground beef and covered in sour cream, around its tremendous girth. 

Ooh. I was in heaven; Mexican food heaven. 

cheese crisp

I then quickly discovered a cheese crisp which is similar to a quesadilla, but is crisped with butter and cheese and broiled or baked and served like a giant cheese pizza. 

I’ve never seen them in Denver, but my oh my, they are really good, too.

So for the record, I was hooked. 

I lost track of how many times I ate chimichangas at that restaurant, whose name has escaped me.

 I ate a lot of cheese crisps at Dr. Munchie’s, a name I never forgot, but alas is no longer there. 

And I ate a lot of pizza and fried zucchini that year, too. 

My love affair with Mexican food had begun and then I married a Texan. 

He has always had a love affair with food South of the border and could eat it every day.

Last weekend in our 4 days that we will have had together out of 27, but who’s counting; I took pity on him and made carnitas. 

I thought he was going to be around — but no — only long enough to pick up little Geordie. 

Manservant loves meat and he loves small pieces of meat that can be thrown in just about anything. 

nachos al pastor on carnitas vs pastor

What to Make with Carnitas or Pastor

The nice thing about carnitas, al pastor or Mexican shredded pork, is that you can throw it on a salad, you can mix it in scrambled eggs, you can top it with fried eggs. 

You can use it on a sandwich and add bbq sauce. 

Quesadillas and nachos make perfect receptacles for both, as do enchiladas. 

Top a baked potato with ieither, turn them into Mexican sloppy Joe. 

Make burrito bowls with rice, beans and salsa. Add some lettuce and you have a Chipotle bowl. 

What is your favorite way of using carnitas or al pastor?

Cinco de Mayo is coming, though I’m sure many celebrated over the weekend. 

In any case, carnitas or al pastor are still an excellent entree to serve as part of any Mexican meal. 

Making tacos for special occasions?

I love adding refried beans to the table along with rice and perhaps some corn in a cup.

Here in the US a traditional Mexican dish has a way of becoming Tex-Mex or even New Mexican, but it’s always nice to know where recipes come from.

I love traditional preparations that you can learn so much from and then adapting them in different ways that work for me.

Hope you give all of these a try and please report back on which unique flavor you enjoyed the most.

Carnitas vs pastor? Totally up to you!

Finally, I’ve put my Mexican and Mexican influenced recipes on their own page under recipe collections. 

Take a look. I’m sure there will be something to satisfy any taste!

More Mexican Food You May Enjoy:

chorizo burger for best recipes using chorizo

Best Recipes Using Chorizo

Chile Con Queso

Easy Chile Con Queso

Mexican Chicken Skillet Recipe

Mexican Chicken with Ancho Chiles

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carnitas vs pastor


5 Stars 4 Stars 3 Stars 2 Stars 1 Star No reviews
  • Author: Abbe
  • Prep Time: 25 Minutes
  • Cook Time: 2.5 hours
  • Total Time: 0 hours
  • Yield: 1012 Servings 1x
  • Category: Main Course
  • Method: Braise
  • Cuisine: Mexican/American


There are so many ways to make carnitas and they are all good on tacos or tostadas and so much more!



3 T bacon grease, canola oil or lard

3 1/2 lb bone in pork shoulder, cut roughly into 3″ chunks

Salt to taste

3/4 c whole milk (I used 1/2 heavy cream and 1/2 skim milk)

8 cloves garlic, peeled and smashed

6 canned or jarred whole pickled jalapenos plus 1/3 c pickling liquid (I used sliced jalapenos)

1 large white onion, roughly chopped

Juice of 2 limes and 2 oranges

1 Bay Leaf

2 T dry oregano


Heat oil in a 8 quart Dutch oven over medium high.

Season pork with salt. Place chunks into hot oil and turn as needed until brown. Do not crowd the pot. You may need to do this in two batches. Throw the bone in also and brown that. It gives extra flavor. When all chunks are browned put them back in pot.

Add milk, garlic, jalapenos and pickling liquid, onion, juices, bay leaf and oregano.

Bring to a boil and reduce heat to medium low. Cook, covered, until pork is tender; about 2-3 hours.

Let pork cool and then transfer meat to a cutting board. Chop/shred into bit size shred. Strain cooking liquid and return to pot.

Personally, I think the meat is quite tender and not dry and I prefer to separate the meat from the liquid. If you are heating up all of the meat at once you may want to heat it in the liquid. We keep our meat for all of the uses listed above and feel it is moist enough without the liquid. I used the liquid and cooked hominy in it for a Mexican style posole.


To serve as tostadas: I brushed a cast iron pan with oil and cooked a corn tortilla on both sides until crisp. I then topped it with salsa, carnitas, and cheese. Cover the skillet and the cheese will melt. Serve with garnishes such as avocado or guacamole, sour cream, sliced radishes, cilantro, and hot sauce. Cabbage or shredded lettuce is also great!

Recipe rating 5 Stars 4 Stars 3 Stars 2 Stars 1 Star

SavoringTime in the Kitchen

Wednesday 6th of May 2015

I think I first discovered Mexican food in college :) The restaurants were always open after bar time - LOL. There was a tostada covered with melted cheese that I still think about! What a beautiful dish and gorgeous pics.

Abbe Odenwalder

Wednesday 6th of May 2015

I forgot about sentence #2, Susan! LOL!


Wednesday 6th of May 2015

That carnitas is making my mouth water!

Abbe Odenwalder

Wednesday 6th of May 2015

You must be hungry ZaZa. Give them a try!


Wednesday 6th of May 2015

Abbe, I love carnitas, but never made myself...thanks for the sure looks delicious...awesome pictures!Have a great week :)

Abbe Odenwalder

Wednesday 6th of May 2015

Easy to make Juliana! Thanks!

Sue/the view from great island

Tuesday 5th of May 2015

That is just glorious!

Abbe Odenwalder

Wednesday 6th of May 2015

Coming form you Sue, I take that a a major compliment!

Paula @ Vintage Kitchen

Tuesday 5th of May 2015

My life as a foodie changed the first day I tried carnitas, wow! I can eat them every day really. Such a crowd, and men, pleaser!

Abbe Odenwalder

Wednesday 6th of May 2015

I like the man pleaser part, Paula!