¡Feliz cumpleaños!

My middle kid turned 21 today. We celebrated the night before with Tacos Al Pastor, Barbacoa & smoked queso!


His favorite tacos are barbacoa (Mexican barbecue) I’ve made it before, but always something lacking when doing so. A friend of his says this is how his family makes it, so I thought I’d give it a try:

Normally, I just link to the recipe and inform you of any changes I make, but since this is entirely in Spanish, I translated the ingredients for you:

  • 8 1/2 lbs. beef (I used beef cheeks)
  • 1 tbsp. whole cumin
  • 1 tbsp. whole black pepper
  • 3 cloves
  • 1 tbsp. oregano
  • 1 tsp. marjoram
  • 10 garlic
  • 1 large onion
  • 2 to 3 cups of water
  • 3 avocado leaves
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 5 bay leaves
  • salt to taste

Now, being a big fan of smoking, I wanted to give it a little twist and see how to incorporate my pellet smoker in the process, I decided to marinate 24 hours, smoke until an internal temp of 160, cool and fridge for another 24 hours, then finish cooking in the crock-pot all day, the day of.

24 hours of marinated meat

One thing I like about multi-day processes is I can span this out to my schedule. I work (from home currently) so often if a recipe needs to be cooked the day of, I can’t really start until after 5pm or so. Sometimes either rushing to get it ready or resulting in dinner being ready 8pm or later. So processes like this really helps.

After a day of marinating, I put on the smoker, set to 200 degrees and wait for an internal temp of 160 (another advantage is a pellet smoker, I used to use an old-fashioned stick-burner offset smoker, but that required constant supervision for fire & temperature control – with a pellet smoker, it’s almost a fire & forget process. You still need to monitor, but not nearly as often.

Pulled, wrapped and cooled for another day to finish cooking

After smoking, I pulled, wrapped, placed in a cooler for about 2 hours for a slow temperature cool-down, then placed in the fridge for the next day.

Day of, I finished out the recipe exactly as depicted in the video. Meat, remaining marinade (which I kept), onion, avocado leaves, bay leaves, cinnamon stick, water, salt & pepper, set on low for an all day cook.

See you in about 8 hours

8 hours later and the beef reached an internal temp of about 200-203. Perfect temp to shred. So I pulled the meat out & shredded it, then strained all the leaves & sticks and inedibles from the pot, leaving the liquid and put the shredded meat back in it.

Results: I’m horrible about forgetting the take pictures of the final product. I was so getting everything ready for his birthday, I plum forgot. My bad. But here’s my takeaway – good. Another good, not great result. Twice now I used beef cheeks for the meat. The first time I trimmed all the fat, leaving just a tiny amount of meat. This round I left it as-is and it was way too fatty. I know you’re supposed to use this cut for ‘traditional’ barbacoa, but I’m just not feeling it both times I used this cut. So, I like the flavors and process, but I think I’ll use a different cut from here on. Maybe a roast or something. The boy loved it so there’s a win in there.

Al Pastor

This is such a fun cook. Anyone who’s been to a dedicated Al Pastor stall, knows the cooking is on a spindle, rotating against a heating element, similar to how gyros & shawarmas are cooked for Mediterranean foods.

The recipe for Al Pastor can be found here. As usual, I pretty much followed as-is with a few twists.

Making of the marinade

Like with the Barbacoa, I marinated this for 24 hours the day before, before cooking.

One note, I think I’ll marinate for a shorter time. Maybe 12 hours. The issue is the enzymes in pineapple are extremely caustic and eats away at the meat as it marinates. Marinate too long and it will actually start dissolving the meat. In my case, after 24 hours and cooking, the meat had a bit chalky texture.

Sliced pork tenderloin

So, the meat I chose was a boneless pork tenderloin. A nice lean cut with a fat cap I removed and used to render to make lard. I sliced the loin as thinly as I could (Note: next time I’m asking the butcher to do this) and added the marinade and zipped it in a zip-top bag for 24 hours.

See you tomorrow

The day of the party, I fired up the pellet grill and started my assembly. I don’t have one of those Mediterranean turn-skewer-gyro-type-things (My technical term for them) or even a rotisserie (yet) so I took a lesson from Beer Can Chickens and made a vertical spindle.

Starting the assembly (Don’t mind the dirtiness of the pan, I just repurposed it after rendering lard)

I got a fresh pineapple and after cutting off the outside skin, sliced into 4 think slices. Placed one on the pan, poked 4 skewers into it, then started stacking until almost at the top and topped with a 2nd slice.

I had enough pork and pineapple to make two stacks. Insert probe thermometers, set smoker to 225 and smoke away for about 5 hours or internal temperature is 160 degrees.

Results: Again, real bad about not taking the final picture after cooking completed (There’s a work-in-progress below) So, sorry about that. But once done, I cut up the pineapple into small pieces and chopped the pork as well. Made my tacos with the pork, pineapple, raw onions (Texas 1015s – the ONLY onion to use), cilantro & a pequin pepper-based hot sauce. Other than the previously mentions marinade for 12 instead of 24 hours, I love this stuff. Flavors are rich, pork is tender, pineapple gives that balance of sweetness against the saltiness of the pork & hot sauce. The only change I’d make is because you smoke at a lover temperature, you don’t get a nice char from the meat. Next round I plan to bring the temperature up in the grill to about 350 and grill for a few minutes to finish it and get that caramelized char. But either way, it was good and everyone was happy with it.

Smoked Queso

Queso. That lovely concoction of spicy, melty, cheesy goodness you dip your tortilla chips and consume at your favorite Tex-Mex restaurant. What’s not to love? Cheese, tomatoes, onions, meat, spices, chilies, warm it all together and consume. It had to be included for the party.

Thankfully it’s easy:

  • 32 oz of Velveeta Cheese, cubed
  • 8 oz of Extra Sharp Cheddar, shredded
  • 8 oz of Mexican Melting Cheese, shredded
  • 1 can of Ro-Tel tomatoes & chilies (undrained)
  • 1 (Texas 1015) onion, diced or minced
  • 8 oz canned Diced Green Chilies
  • 1 bunch chopped Cilantro (You nay-sayers, saying it tastes like soap can stay out of this conversation)
  • 1 lbs of Chorizo, cooked ahead of time
  • 2 Poblano Peppers, chopped
Cooking the Chorizo

Dump everything into an aluminum pan and place in the smoker. It’s that easy. Just stir every 30-45 minutes as it melts.

Before it’s all melty

I’ve done this twice previously, and both times turned out really good. This round, after it started melting and incorporating into Queso, it wasn’t as thin as I wanted. A bit too think when dipping your chip into it. So, this round I thinned it out with a cup of homemade chicken stock. Some say to add milk or evaporated milk, but I thought it had enough dairy and wanted to include additional flavor, so stock it is!

Adding the stock, a little at a time

So, once all melty and ooey gooey goodness, time to pull and consume.

Al Pastor and Queso side-by-side

Results: Really? You’re kidding? Cheese, cheese, more cheese and chilies and chorizo and goodies and you’re wondering how it is? Duh! It. Was. Awesome! Perfect for chips. Perfect to top your tacos. Perfect if you just guzzled a bowl of it as-is. You can’t go wrong with this stuff. Oh, sure, I might get some slack with using processed cheese like Velveeta. Sue me. It was good and that’s all that mattered.

So, what does older brother get his sibling for his 21st birthday?

Happy 21st, son. I love you!

2 thoughts on “¡Feliz cumpleaños!

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