If you love smoked meats, Smoked Pork Tacos will surely tickle your palate! With its Mexican mole spice rub, a few hours on the smoker, and a citrus and spice-infused braising liquid, this spicy pulled pork taco meat provides a healthy and flavorful base for your fresh toppings... It's #TacoTuesday somewhere?
👩🏻🍳 Tamara Talks - How to Make Smoked Pork for Tacos
Smoking food is always a bit of a process. We did this batch of smoked pork on Mother's Day. (Yes, my husband of 41 years was heavily involved! ❤️) We ended up smoking the 6 pounds of pork loin for roughly 4 hours. We brought the internal temperature up to 140° before cutting it into chunks and cooking it until fork tender.
You will make the smoked pork tacos in 3 separate (and distinct) steps. None of the steps require a lot of active time if you're accustomed to smoking meat, and familiar with the process.
Prepare your smoker. Cover your wood chips with water to soak. Prepare your coals. We like lump charcoal for smoking. While your smoker is heating up, prepare the spice rub, and get the pork ready. Whether that is an "egg" like mine, a simple smoker, or a Traeger smoker/grill, you'll want to get the coals and smoke set up and ready to go.
Bringing the coals to the point that they're glowing rather than flaming can take 30-60 minutes. Your target temperature is 225°-250°. When the coals are ready, you'll add the wood that has been soaked in advance (soaked 1-4 hours). We typically use mesquite as it's readily available in Texas. This is a personal choice.
Prepare the pork for the grill. I use pork loin because I want to reduce fat. Pork shoulder is a more common choice. NOTE: The additional braising time with liquids, spices, and broth/stock will tenderize the pork, and you should not miss the fat that is missing from the pork loin.
Mix up the mole spice rub. If you've got the mole spice mix made, it's just 3 tablespoons of spice mix and 1 tablespoon of kosher salt.
Step 3 involves braising the pork until it is fork tender and can be "pulled." This process is pretty simple: Add citrus juice, broth/stock, and spices like cinnamon stick, cloves, and bay leaves to the pot. Cut the smoked pork into chunks and add to the pot. I recommend 45 minutes under high pressure in the Instant Pot, or 1 ½ to 2 hours on the stove. You'll want to keep an eye on the liquid if cooking on the stove.
Once the pork is tender, the whole spices, bay leaves, and citrus rinds need to be removed. Using 2 forks or a potato masher, shred the pork. Assemble the tacos using your preferred fresh toppings.
📋 Smoked Pork Ingredients
Here is a quick look at the ingredients in the recipe – it’s handy to use at the grocery store or as a summary of what you need. Skip to the recipe for quantities.
- mole spice blend - I use my mole spice blend - cumin, ground red chile powder, unsweetened cocoa powder, and cinnamon - and I keep a jar of it in my pantry. You'll need 3 tablespoons of the spice blend, and 1 tablespoon of kosher salt. If you don't want to make an entire batch, combine 1 tablespoon cumin, 1 tablespoon unsweetened cocoa, 1 ½ teaspoons cinnamon, and 1 ½ teaspoons (+/-) red chile powder (ancho, guajillo, New Mexico red).
- pork - As I mentioned above, I typically use pork loin rather than pork shoulder (traditional) to reduce fat and calories. It finishes in braising liquid which keeps it moist. The choice is yours; the process is the same.
- citrus - I've done several Yucatan-inspired recipes that use this combination of orange, lemon, and lime like these Yucatán-style pork tacos, and this Yucatán chicken salad. The combination of citrus gets pretty close to the naranja (orange) used in Mexican cooking.
- onion - Red, yellow, white, sweet, they're all fine. You can use shallots too!
- spices and herbs - I keep it simple with cinnamon stick, cloves, and bay leaves. You might want to put them in a cheese cloth bag to make it easier to fish them out.
- chiles - I often add a dried ancho, guajillo, or New Mexico red chile. My second choice is a chipotle in adobo. On photo day, I did not. It's optional, but if you like a little heat, I definitely recommend it!
- chicken broth
📋 Smoked Pork Taco Toppings
- salsa - Salsa is the "crowning glory" on my tacos, and I always choose them carefully. I love mango salsa with smoked pork. I have many salsa options, or you can use your favorite! If you prefer to buy the salsa, try this Hatch green chile salsa, or this mango salsa.
- tortillas - I recommend corn tortillas. Of course you can use whatever you prefer.
- something crunchy - I love cabbage for its crunch. You can use lettuce if you prefer. Radishes are lovely. I've even used broccoli slaw for its nutritional kick.
- cheese - My preference is crumbled, aged cotija. You can use queso fresco, asadero, pepper jack, or omit it entirely!
- avocado - This is the "taco hill" (if there is such a thing!) I must die on. Tacos need avocado. If you're allergic to them, omit. My avocado crema is another nice option!
- lime wedges
- cilantro sprigs
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🔪 Instructions for Smoked Pulled Pork
- Prepare the grill/smoker. Refer to your manufacturer's instructions. We use hardwood lump charcoal, and a charcoal chimney starter, and crumple up some butcher paper to go in the bottom, with the charcoal on top. We light the butcher paper. Once the coals in the starter are all glowing, we spread them out in the bottom of the smoker and add more lump charcoal.
- Add the soaked hardwood chips. We usually use mesquite, but whatever species you choose is fine. Carefully put the wet wood chips over the glowing coals.
- Make the spice blend. If you think the combination of ground cinnamon, cumin, red chile powder, and unsweetened cocoa sounds amazing, make a full batch of mole spice blend. You can use the leftover spice blend in these pork fajita tacos, or this lamb stew. Otherwise, see recipe card below for amounts.
- Apply spice rub to the pork. Coat all sides of the pork with the mole spice rub.
- Place the prepared pork on the grate. Close the lid, and cook until the pork reaches about 140° interior temperature. NOTE: If you smoke the pork at too high a temperature, your pork will not be very smoky. You need about 4-5 hours in the smoker. We aim for 225°.
- Remove the pork when the "bark" is almost black, and the internal temperature is 140-145°.
- Cut the pork in chunks.
- Prepare the braise. Add citrus juice, broth/stock, and spices like cinnamon stick, cloves, and bay leaves to the pot, along with the pork. Push the pork down into the liquid. I include the flesh and rind of the citrus after squeezing the juice. NOTE: You may want to wrap some or all of the spices and bay leaves in cheese cloth
- Braise the pork. I cook the pork loin 45 minutes under high pressure, and do a quick pressure release (be careful!). On the stove, 1 ½ hours to 2 hours may be required to bring it to fork tender for shredding. Keep an eye on the liquid!
- Finish the smoked pork. Remove bay leaves, spices, and squeezed citrus from the pot. Remove the chunks of pork from the pot, and using 2 forks (or a potato masher) shred the pork. Return to the pot with the juices, and keep warm until ready to use.
- Prepare the taco toppings. I use a variety of sizes of prep bowls, and set them all out next to the shredded smoked pork (see image at the top of the page). I usually use this tortilla warmer, and warm 3 corn tortillas per person.
YES! I cut calories and fat by using pork loin. Some might find it dry compared to pork shoulder. A boneless pork shoulder is a great alternative.
Yes. This recipe is very similar to my pulled pork that is not smoked. It will still have a ton of flavor!
There are many ways to use the smoked pulled pork in addition to in these tacos. We love it in an egg scramble for breakfast! You can combine it with some Hatch green chile or salsa verde in a burrito or on a tostada. Over rice or topping quinoa are great options as well.
The remainder of the pulled pork will keep in the refrigerator for several days, and in the freezer for several months.
It was difficult to quantify calories and macronutrients for this recipe. I think the recipe card numbers are in the ballpark. You're unlikely to use the entire batch of smoked pork at one meal. I included 3 corn tortillas, ½ of a small avocado, 4 ½ tablespoons mango salsa, 2 teaspoons crumbled cotija, and ¼ cup shredded cabbage per serving. Yours will vary.
The smoked pulled pork is one of my favorite meal prep proteins. We typically do 6-7 pounds, and freeze it in 1 pound packages for future use. #TacoTuesday has never been so good!
Smoked Pulled Pork Tacos
- 6 pounds boneless pork see Ingredients for more information
- 3 tablespoons mole spice blend see Notes below
- 1 tablespoons kosher salt
- 1 orange juiced; flesh and rind in pot
- 1 lemon juiced; flesh and rind in pot
- 1 lime juiced; flesh and rind in pot
- 2 cinnamon sticks*
- 6 whole cloves*
- 2 bay leaves*
- 2 cups chicken broth/stock
Tacos and Toppings
- shredded smoked pork
- mango salsa see Taco Toppings for more ideas
- shredded cabbage
- crumbled cotija
- corn tortillas about 3 per serving
- lime wedges
- Soak your hardwood chunks for at least 30 minutes or up to 4 hours. Prepare your smoker. Refer to your manufacturer's instructions. Once the coals in the starter are all glowing, spread them out in the bottom of the smoker, and add the wet hardwood chunks or chips. You want to maintain about 225 degrees.
- Mix up the dry rub. Combine the mole spice blend with kosher salt. Rub the spices all over the pork on all sides.
- Place on the prepared grill/smoker. Maintain temperature at about 225 degrees throughout the smoking process. Cook until internal temperature reaches 140 to 145 degrees. Remove from the grill.
- When the pork is cool enough to handle, cut it in chunks. Add the pork chunks, citrus juices and the remaining flesh and rind, spices and bay leaves, and chicken broth/stock to the pot. Instant Pot - 45 minutes under high pressure, and stove top - 1 ½ hours +/- until fork tender.
- Remove citrus pieces, spices, and bay leaves from the pork and braising liquid. Shred the pork.
- Prepare the tacos. Add shredded pork to warm tortillas, followed by fresh toppings as desired. Enjoy!
NOTE: Macronutrients are an approximation only using unbranded ingredients and MyFitnessPal.com. Please do your own research with the products you’re using if you have a serious health issue or are following a specific diet.
☀️ Salsa Recipes to Pair with Smoked Pork Tacos
I love homemade salsas, and I rarely buy prepared salsas. Here are a few that will pair well with the smoked pork tacos.