OOOP! Better watch out! Hector’s making his hand modeling-career debut! You don’t even know how excited I am to give you this recipe for Pinchos. If you have a day for marinating and a grill, this is going to be your next favorite recipe. Dozens of Hispanics (and people who live amongst them) can’t be wrong. Our go-to street food is meat-on-a-stick that’s been char-broiled to give it a smokey-caramelized flavor. After a brush of the Pincho Man’s “secret sauce”, a slice of soft Pan Sobao is impaled on top. After I teach you this recipe, you’re going to be the new Pincho [Wo]Man in town.
What are Pinchos?
Pinchos are marinated chunks of pork or chicken on a stick. The skewers are grilled over charcoal, then brushed with a sauce of some kind, caramelizing it to the meat, just before serving. It’s always eaten with bread because it’s just traditional.
When I was a child- like, younger than ten- my mother used to have us “help her” with her squadron’s fundraisers. As a Senior Non-Commissioned Officer in the Air Force, she was always leading the charge of bringing in morale and recreational funds for her unit. Pincho fundraisers were always money-makers, so the evening prior, we’d be put to work impaling dozens of pounds of marinated pork and chicken on wooden skewers to sell the following day.
I don’t know if you’ve ever been a kid, but selling pinchos to a bunch of “old people” on a Saturday- IN FRONT OF THE BOWLING ALLEY, NO LESS- was not my idea of a good time. But, don’t even begin to think my Puerto Rican mother cared. Because she didn’t. Even when I threatened to call the Labor Board and report her for running a children’s sweatshop, all she did was smack the back of my head and tell me to, “get back to selling.”
I hated pincho days.
Later in life, memories of strolling down Fordham Road in the Bronx as a teenager and young adult- a pincho in one hand and shopping bags in the other- redeemed pinchos for me. There was at least one Pincho Man on Fordham Rd. My cousins and I would take the bus to Crotona Avenue, and walk the length of Fordham: shopping, snacking on our one-dollar pinchos, and being goofy.
Now, as an adult, I love pinchos. I can make and eat them when I want to.
What meat do you use for Pinchos?
Pork is the meat I use to make pinchos.
Chicken is a second runner-up, in my opinion. Since most people claim not to like dark chicken meat, you often have to use chicken breast instead of thighs. Have you ever eaten grilled chicken breast?!? It’s so easy to dry it out, isn’t it? As a result, I avoid making pinchos with chicken at all costs. But, if you keep a pork-free diet, replace the pork in this recipe with boneless, skinless chicken thighs. If you absolutely “hate” dark meat, go ahead and use the boneless, skinless chicken breast; but, please know I’m rolling my eyes about it.
On rare occasions, I’ve seen people use beef tenderloin to make pinchos. Those are very rare occasions. Not that beef isn’t good, it’s just not traditional since cattle isn’t bred on Puerto Rico. Pork and chicken were brought there by the conquistadores, but I guess cattle was just too big or ornery to put on the boats. Because of that, beef isn’t a big part of the Puerto Rican diet. However, if you’re feeling beefy, go ahead and replace the pork in this recipe with beef.
Which cut of pork is best for Pinchos?
It’s important to use a cut of meat that has a bit of fat, but one that’s not tough. Think about the muscles you use the most- legs, “arms” (shoulders), etc. Animals use those same muscles just as often as we do, more, in my case. As a result, it’s best to use meat cuts from areas less frequently used: those that are tender. A chicken is a chicken. They don’t do much in life and they’re about yea big so the thigh is as tender as you’re going to get without sacrificing flavor.
Because those tender cuts are also leaner, we’ll marinate the meat for 24 hours to pump it full of moisture. Since the pinchos don’t cook long on the grill, the marination and cut of meat we choose will contribute to the overall tenderness of the finished dish.
So, all of that is to say, choose pork tenderloin or grab some boneless center cut pork chops. I like mine to have some fat marbling in the meat, but not so much that it will cause a flare-up when I grill the pinchos.
Cut your pork (or chicken thighs) on your cutting board using a chef’s knife. When cutting meat for the pinchos, consider how big the bites you take are. You want a piece of meat that is small enough for you to grab with your teeth and slide up and off the skewer into your mouth. There’s nothing worse than trying to bite off a hunk of meat from the stick. Cut pieces that are one bite. Also, keep in mind that the meat will shrink on the grill, so don’t cut it too small. Pieces of meat that are 1 1/2″- 2″ big are the sweet spot.
Set the meat chunks in a large bowl.
How do you make the marinade for Pinchos?
The Pincho Man is known, partly, by his marinade. People will go out of their way to hit up their favorite guy, solely based on how flavorful and tender and meaty his pinchos are. The marinade is crucial to this recipe. Don’t skimp on it, don’t be afraid of it, and don’t cut it short.
In a pinch, you can substitute white distilled vinegar for the white wine variety. I highly recommend the white wine vinegar, however, because it has a mellower, fruitier flavor than the distilled. Also, use a high-quality olive oil, as you don’t want your pinchos to taste of rancid or sub-par oil when you grill it. My use of sofrito in this recipe is a cheat. Instead of marinating the pinchos in a paste of fresh garlic and onion and culantro, I’m streamlining the effort of obtaining those flavors by using the sofrito and onion and garlic powders.
Combine the ingredients for the marinade in a quart-size mason jar, beginning with the oil. Beginning with the oil will keep the spices from clumping down at the bottom of the jar. Screw the lid tightly onto the jar, then shake it vigorously to fully combine the marinade.
Guess what? Marinade’s done!
How long do I marinate the Pinchos?
Now this discussion is not going to be up for further debate once we’ve had it.
The meat needs to marinate overnight, or 12 hours, at the very least. And, when I say, “The very least,” I mean, you totally spaced on marinating them for a full 24 hours and you’re cutting it close.
For the best results, however, marinating your meat for 24 hours is a must. I have even- mistakingly- marinated mine for 3 days and have had little regrets. They were a little tough because they sat in the acidic marinade too long, but I totally forgot they were in the fridge. Judge not.
At any rate, let’s agree to marinate the meat for a minimum of 12 hours, but always shoot for 24.
Once the marinade is mixed, simply pour it over the meat in the bowl, give the meat a toss to coat in the marinade, then allow the marinade to do its thang. Make sure you cover the bowl and set it in the fridge for the full 24 hours.
Can I freeze them?
Something that I really love about making pinchos is how well the marinated meat freezes. Whenever I find meat for pinchos on sale, I stock up.
After tossing the meat in the marinade, transfer it into freezer storage bags. As always, freeze the bag laying flat, that way, when the meat is fully frozen, you can stand the bag up. This way of freezing utilizes less space in your freezer. If you’re a freezer meal proponent like I am, this is a practice you need to adopt.
Now, just because I actually recommend freezing the marinated meat pre-grilling, it doesn’t mean I suggest doing so post-grilling. There’s just too many molecular changes and texture issues to contend with when it comes to freezing grilled meat. Leftovers stored in the fridge? Yes. But don’t freeze the cooked meat.
How do you make the BBQ Sauce for Pinchos?
The next stage of creating the best pinchos this side of Loiza is the BBQ Sauce you’re going to brush on them as they grill. A Pincho Man’s second qualifier is his pincho sauce. The sauce has to be on point to ensure his clientele is happy and that they stay loyal. My family loves the sauce I make for my skewers because it has a wee bit of heat and loads of flavor.
In a small saucepan, combine brown sugar, onion powder, garlic powder, more of the homemade Adobo, and black pepper. These spices will season the BBQ sauce.
Add your favorite hot sauce to the spices in the pan.
The one I used here is a passion fruit-guava hot sauce I was all set to share the recipe for. Then guess what happened?
I deleted all of the picture like an idiot, so I have to reshoot the entire thing. Pray for me. I’m still not over it.
Anyway, add the hot sauce to the spices in the pot and stir everything together. If you absolutely can’t with hot sauce, you can omit it.
Next, add an entire bottle of your favorite BBQ Sauce, as well as a tablespoon of sofrito, to the pan.
Stir everything together and bring the sauce up to a boil. Reduce the heat to low and simmer the pincho sauce for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.
After ten minutes, the sauce is ready to brush on your grilled pinchos.
What are the best skewers to use for Pinchos?
Metal skewers are great for even cooking. The metal skewers conduct heat through the meat unlike wooden skewers. In addition to more even cooking, metal skewers are reusable, so they’re great for the environment. The downsides to using metal skewers are that they are more expensive, grow searingly hot while grilling, and- depending on the brand you purchase- may rust. Also, unless you buy a buttload of them, you won’t be able to have enough for large parties or cookouts. What if you want to force your children to participate in a pinchos fundraiser?!? You can’t just give away metal skewers, now can you? What will you beat you non-complying children with?!?!
My mother’s spirit is going to pay me a visit tonight, I just know it.
Wooden skewers are my preferred type of skewer to use when I make pinchos. They’re inexpensive, disposable (no dishes), and great for crowds. You do have to plan ahead if you’re using wooden skewers, however. In order to keep them from catching fire on the grill, they need to be soaked in water for 30 minutes just before you thread the meat onto them. Besides that, they’re pretty much perfect in every way.
All told, I recommend the wooden skewers for the least amount of effort, but metal if you’re more concerned with reusability.
Soak your wooden skewers (if you’ve gone with wood) for 30 minutes, then thread your meat (drained of the marinade) onto them. Be sure to pack the meat onto the skewer. Remember, they’ll shrink as they cook. Place the skewers on a sheet pan for easy transport to the grill. You can do this a couple of hours in advance. Just keep them covered with plastic wrap.
What do you eat Pinchos with?
The traditional way to eat pinchos is on their own with a slice of soft, warm bread. I prefer mine with pan sobao, but a slice of soft-crust Italian bread will work in its stead.
Slice your loaf of bread into 1″ thick slices using a bread knife. I usually cut the bread into as many slices as I have pinchos, but I’ll also make sure I have an extra loaf for those who may drop their piece of bread or for people who always want more than one, like me.
Wrap your bread in a piece of aluminum foil for warming on the grill when we cook the pinchos.
How long do I grill Pinchos?
Preheat your charcoal grill to 450°F. You want an even heat to grill the pinchos over, so use whichever method for lighting your coals you’re comfortable with. I’m a spray the lighter fluid-throw the match at the coals-and run type of girl.
Once you are able to hold your hand 6-8″ from the grill for 10 seconds, your grill is ready for the pinchos. Brush the grill with oil to prevent sticking and lay the pinchos on the grate. Grill the meat on the first side for 3 minutes.
Place the foil-wrapped loaf of bread on the coolest side of the grill. You don’t want to heat the bread too much, you just want to warm it. Once the bread is warm, you can put it on the grill’s warming shelf or take it off of the grill completely.
After 3 minutes, flip the pinchos carefully (the skewers will be hot) and brush the prepared sauce over the grilled side using a silicone basting brush. Be sure you’re not brushing the sauce on raw meat, as that’s a great way to get food poisoning.
Grill for another 3 minutes on the second side. Flip the pinchos, brush again with sauce, and grill for 2 more minutes on each side to caramelize the sauce and seal it to the meat. You can continue brushing the pinchos with sauce, but you only want to grill them for 9-10 minutes.
How do I serve them?
Once the pinchos are grilled- the internal temp should read 145°F or higher- use tongs to remove them from the grill to a sheet pan or platter.
You can unwrap the bread and lay it right next to the pinchos on the sheet pan, or go super auténtico and imaple a piece of bread on each pincho. Be sure to yell, “PINCHOS! PINCHOS! PIIIIIIIIIIINCHOS!!! Un dólar!” when you give them to your family, though. Get an attitude when they don’t have exact change, too. Super authentic.
Can I make Pinchos ahead?
Sure, you can make pinchos ahead, but I really encourage you to make them right before you plan to eat them. Even if you’re making them for a party, there’s nothing more entertaining than having your guests standing around you while you’re grilling these pinchos. They’re cooked in a jiff and people can grab and go.
If you have to make them ahead of time, pull them off of the grill around the 9th minute of grilling, so you can quickly reheat them without drying them out.
How do I store the grilled skewers?
Tent a large piece of aluminum foil over the grilled pinchos to keep them warm. You can also slide the sheet pan in a warm (170°F) oven to hold them for 30 minutes. Any longer and they’re going to dry out.
If you have leftovers, slide them off of the skewers to make storing them in the fridge easier. Keep them in freezer storage bags or food storage containers for 3 days. Reheat them in a 350°F oven, or in the microwave, until warmed through.
What else can I serve with Pinchos?
Okay, okay. You need more than just a slice of bread. Feel free to serve any of these recipes with your pinchos and bread, which is just fine for us “commoners”:
- Arroz Borracho, is a classic accompaniment for meat marinated in this style.
- Peruvian Style Coleslaw, which isn’t clearly isn’t Puerto Rican, but goes amazingly with grilled meat.
- Tostones require frying, but they’re a great way to complete this chinchorro (snacky) meal.
Be sure to tag me @senseandedibility on IG if you make these pinchos. Save them to your grilling or pork board so you can find them conveniently. Pray that my mother’s ghost takes it easy on me tonight, too.
Pinchos (Puerto Rican Grilled Pork Skewers)
Marinate the meat for these skewers for a full 24 hours for best results.
- 3 1/2 pounds pork tenderloin or boneless, skinless chicken thighs, cut into 1 1/2" - 2" chunks
Spicy Pinchos Sauce
- 1 pound loaf pan sobao or soft crust Italian bread, slice 1" thick
Prepare the Marinade and Marinate the Meat
Fill a quart size mason jar with the white wine vinegar, sofrito, olive oil, sazon, granulated garlic, onion powder, adobo, oregano, and black pepper.
Screw the jar's lid on tightly and shake the contents vigorously until well combined.
Pour the marinade over the meat in a large, non-reactive mixing bowl. Toss the meat in the marinade to evenly coat it.
Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and marinate the meat in the refrigerator for 12-24 hours.
Make the Spicy Pinchos Sauce
In a 2 quart saucepan, stir together the brown sugar, adobo, granulated garlic, and onion powder.
Add the sofrito, hot sauce and BBQ sauce to the pot and stir together until smooth.
Bring the sauce mixture up to a boil over med-high heat. Allow the mixture to boil for one minute.
Reduce the heat to low and simmer the sauce for 10 minutes, stirring frequently to discourage sticking.
After 10 minutes, remove the sauce from the heat. It is now ready to be used or stored at room temperature for 2 days in a jar.
Thread the Marinated Meat Onto Skewers
Forty-five minutes prior to grilling the meat, begin soaking your wooden skewers in water. Lay the skewers on a flat platter or sheetpan and cover them with water.
Lay a paper towel over the skewers to keep them submerged in the water.
Remove the meat from the refrigerator and use a colander to drain the marinade from the meat.
Preheat your charcoal grill while the skewers are soaking.
After the skewers have soaked for 30 minutes, thread the meat onto them.
Use your hand to measure 3" from the end of the stick- this will serve as a handle for holding the skewers. Thread the meat tightly packed onto the skewers, leaving that 3" space from the bottom of the skewer.
Leave a 1 1/2" space at the top for adding the bread slice later.
Lay the threaded skewers on a sheet pan while you thread the remaining meat.
Grill the Meat
Once your grill reaches 450°F, lay the pinchos on the oiled grate.
Place your foil-wrapped, sliced bread in the coolest area of the grill, or on the grill's warming shelf.
Grill the pinchos on the first side for 3 minutes.
Carefully- the skewers will be hot- turn the pinchos over to the other side. Brush the grilled side liberally with the Spicy Pinchos Sauce and grill for an additional 3 minutes.
Flip the pinchos onto the sauced side. Brush them with more sauce and grill for 2 minutes.
Flip them over one last time and grill for another 2 minutes, or until the sauce is caramelized and the internal temperature of the pinchos reaches 145°F.
Remove the pinchos and bread from the grill.
Tent a large piece of aluminum foil over the pinchos and allow them to rest for 5 minutes. Stick a slice of bread on the end of each pincho before serving.
Leftover Pincho sauce may be heated to boiling and drizzled over the grilled pinchos as desired.
Enjoy while hot.
Store leftover pinchos off of the skewer in the refrigerator for 3 days.
Freeze the meat after marinating in freezer storage bags for up to 6 months. Thaw under refrigeration for 24 hours prior to grilling.