Al pastor and carne adobada are both popular fillings for tacos in Mexico and the United States. Both refer to pork that has been marinated in a mix of chiles, vinegar and spices. They are equally delicious but not the same.
Al pastor is NOT the same as carne adobada. Al pastor refers to pork that has been marinated and then cooked on a vertical spit called a trompo. Adobada is marinated with similar ingredients but commonly cooked on a grill or braised on the stove. Both are equally delicious, though.
Al pastor is easily recognizable from the street carts and restaurants that serve it. Pork leg and/or shoulder meat is marinated in red chiles, vinegar, oregano and other spices and piled high onto a vertical spit called a trompo. The meat chars as it rotates and is then shaved off for tacos. It’s common to have a pineapple at the top of the spit and to add bits of pineapple to the al pastor tacos.
Oregano and achiote are the main spiced used, but other common spices include cinnamon, cloves, allspice and nutmeg.
There are some areas of northern Mexico that refer to al pastor as carne adobada, such as in Baja California.
Adobada means “marinated” in Spanish but generally refers to a specific marinade of red chiles, vinegar, oregano and spices. This is very similar to the marinade used for al pastor, and in some cases could be identical. The main difference is the cooking method, which can vary from grilling to braising. Most adobada recipes are designed for cooking at home.
The most popular adobada recipes use pork shoulder because of it’s high fat content. For grilling, the pork is often sliced thinly. For a braise, chunks are common. Chiles such as guajillo and ancho are toasted and soaked in hot water until soft before being blended with vinegar and oregano to a fine paste. The paste is rubbed all over the meat and allowed to marinade for several hours. The meat is then either grilled over charcoal or simmered in a pot on the stove.
The adobada can then be served as tacos or with a side of corn tortillas. Rice and beans would be a great accompaniment.
Here is my simple but delicious recipe for Carne Adobada, using pork shoulder and a standard backyard grill. This made amazing tacos!