Aidee Gonzalez was determined to change my mind about tacos. Specifically about the meat that goes into tacos. Which is how I found myself standing at her side over a blistering grill at her sister’s home in Mexico City.

But first, a confession. I love tacos. All tacos. But truthfully, I never give the meat (or fish or veg—I’m an equal-opportunity taco eater) much more than a passing thought. I want it to be good, of course. But mostly I want it to fade into the background.

Heretical, I know. But I’m a toppings guy. For me, the meat mostly is a carrier, a convenient excuse for piling on all the avocado, chilies, pickled red onions, salsas, herbs and cotija the tortilla can hold. The meat buried beneath it all? Whatever.

Gonzalez, a talented home cook, looked pained when I explained this. So she offered to teach me poc chuc, a citrus-marinated pork taco meat from Mexico’s Yucatán region. She promised not only that I would love the pork on its own merits, but also that it was so robustly flavored I could mound on as many toppings as I like, and the meat still would shine through.

She built all that flavor two ways. First, she sopped thinly sliced strips of pork loin in a mixture of sour orange juice, garlic, cilantro, cumin and allspice. She had my attention; that’s a pretty heady combination.

But the real flavor came from the cooking. Using a comal—a cooking surface akin to a griddle—on the grill, she deeply charred the strips. “The flavor changes so much when you char,” she explained. “It’s much different. And that’s the secret to this dish.”

When I tasted it, I had to confess she was right. More ingredients (toppings, anyone?) isn’t always the best way to add flavor. It can be as simple as rethinking the main ingredient.

Charring is a great example, one she also demonstrated preparing a variety of salsas—all made from deeply charred onions, garlic and dried chilies. It’s an easy technique that adds deep, savory bitterness.

For our version, we stuck close to Gonzalez’s recipe. We used a substitute for hard-to-find sour oranges (lime and orange juices plus white vinegar) and for year-round ease moved the cooking to the broiler.

Best of all, Gonzalez was right. I was able to pile on my toppings. And the meat still shone through.