East L.A. Pork Tacos

Shoulder chops start out a little tougher and fattier than their center-cut couaine, but many pork fans prefer their richer flavor and cheaper cost. Cooked in this style, they’ll be plenty tender and taste great, too. Many well-stocked supermarkets carry achiote, as do Mexican, Latin American, and East Indian markets.


Most authorities today agree that pork is done enough to eat when the internal temperature reaches 160°F or even a little less. Most barbecuers cook the meat to a temperature of at least 170°F. when it begins to fall apart, and some go as high as 190°F.

To Mop or Not

The equipment you use for barbecuing determines whether and how often you baste food while it cooks. We list mops as “optional” in most of our barbecue recipes, but you should use them if they are appropriate to your style of smoker. In a few cases, we suggest basting food before or after cooking, rather than during the process, and in those unusual situations, the mop works well with any kind of equipment.  

Wood-burning pits: Mops were made for pits. If you burn logs or wood chunks in a manufactured or homemade pit of traditional design, basting your food will improve its quality. Mop as often as the recipes indicate.  

Outdoor ovens: Never apply a mop during cooking in an oven that operates on electrical power. It’s not only dangerous, but in some cases, at least, also unnecessary. In ovens that seal as tightly as the Cookshack, for example, food retains its internal moisture and doesn’t require any basting. Follow the manufacturer’s directions with other brands or smoker ovens.  

Charcoal and gas grills: You should baste food in a grill, but not as often as you do in a wood-burning pit because grills generally lose more of their heat when you lift the lid. In a conventional charcoal grill, we mop only when we have the top off to add charcoal or pieces of wood. In an oven-style grill, such as the Hasty-Bake, we mop with about half the frequency we would in a wood-burning pit.  

Vertical water smokers: Basting isn’t really necessary in a water smoker because the cooking process itself adds moisture to food. We like to mop occasionally for the flavor value, but we limit the frequency for the same reason we do in a charcoal grill—heat loss. We baste every 1 to 2 hours, or when we have the lid off for another purpose.

Serves4 to 6

Cooking Methodsmoking


Total Timea day or more

OccasionCasual Dinner Party, Family Get-together

Recipe Coursemain course

Dietary Considerationegg-free, gluten-free, lactose-free, peanut free, soy free, tree nut free

Equipmentblender, food processor, smoker


Taste and Texturegarlicky, herby, hot & spicy, meaty, savory, smoky, spiced


  • 2 cups orange juice
  • 2/3 cup tequila
  • Juice of 2 limes
  • Juice of 1 lemon
  • ½ medium onion, minced
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • 2 teaspoons dried oregano, preferably Mexican
  • 1 teaspoon achiote paste
  • 1 teaspoon cumin
  • Several dashes of Melinda’s Original Habanero Hot Sauce or other fiery habanero hot sauce
  • 6 shoulder pork chops, 12 to 14 ounces each
  • Warm corn tortillas
  • Chopped onion
  • Chopped cilantro
  • Lime and orange wedges, for garnish
  • Sauce Olé or additional habanero hot sauce


  1. The night before you plan to barbecue, combine the marinade ingredients in a blender or food processor. Pour the marinade over the pork in a plastic bag. Refrigerate the chops overnight.

  2. Prepare the smoker for barbecuing, bringing the temperature to 200°F to 220°F.

  3. Drain the pork, reserving all of the marinade if you plan to baste the meat during cooking. Let the chops sit at room temperature for 30 minutes.

  4. To make the optional mop (see Notes, “To Mop or Not”), bring the marinade to a boil over high heat and boil for several minutes. Keep warm over low heat.

  5. Transfer the chops to the smoker. Cook for 2½ to 2¾ hours, basting at 45-minute intervals in a wood-burning pit, or as appropriate for your style of smoker.

  6. 6. When done (see Notes), the pork will pull easily away from the fat and bone. Allow the chops to sit at room temperature for 10 to 15 minutes and pull the pork into shreds. Arrange the pork on a platter with the warm tortillas and garnishes. Serve with Sauce Olé or additional habanero hot sauce.


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