How to make carnitas that are uncompromisingly meaty, juicy and tender with crispy edges. These are surprisingly easy to make and delicious. Jump to the Carnitas recipe
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Carnitas (meaning “little meat”) is the Mexican version of pulled pork here in America. They are uncompromisingly porky, juicy and tender. Depending on where in Mexico you get them, they also have lots of crispy and browned edges.
You’ll see the pork slowly cooking in a large lard pot in many authentic recipes (Woah and yum!). However, to make our Carnitas recipe a little more home-friendly, we slow cook our pork with a little flavoring and a few tablespoons of oil to keep it juicy. Our method produces moist and tender pork that’s not quite as rich as the traditional lard version, but still very tasty.
How to make carnitas
Here’s the recipe overview so you have a better idea of how we make Carnitas (see full recipe below). I’m happy to say that it’s surprisingly easy!
- Buy boneless or bone-in pork shoulder (it doesn’t matter which) with a good amount of fat remaining intact. It’s the fat that keeps our pork juicy and tender. This is the same cut of meat that we use for our slow cooker pulled pork.
- season salt and pepper the pork well.
- Cook slowly the pork, covered, in a 300°F oven with some onion, garlic, orange, bay leaf and a cinnamon stick. It takes about 3 hours.
- scraps the pork – I love a combination of big chunks and tiny shreds.
- grilling sear the pulled pork with some of the rendered cooking liquid (it’s usually greasy) until the tops are well browned and crispy.
- surcharge and enjoy!!
frequently asked Questions
Do I need to cut the pork into small pieces before cooking? Cutting the pork before cooking is entirely up to you. The idea behind cooking smaller cuts of pork is that more pork comes in contact with the rendered fat. You can see that in our photos, we left our pork shoulder uncut. We made this because it was a bone-in pork shoulder.
Can I cook Carnitas in a slow cooker? Yes, you can make this carnitas recipe in a slow cooker! This recipe is the perfect use for your crockpot. We recommend seasoning the pork as in the regular recipe and adding the same flavors (onion, garlic, orange, bay leaf and cinnamon). Cook the pork, fat side up, on LOW for 6 to 8 hours or on HIGH for 4 hours. When the pork is tender, shred it and then crisp it up on your grill (explained in the recipe below).
Can I make Carnitas in an Instant Pot pressure cooker? Yes you can, although our recipe may not be the best for this method. You’ll likely need to add some liquid for the pressure cooker to work properly (we’re guessing 1 to 1 ½ cups of broth). We plan on testing this recipe in a pressure cooker soon, so we’ll keep you posted!
Storage and make-ahead tips
I love making this recipe and saving half for another day! You can store Carnitas in the fridge for up to five days and in the freezer for up to three months (probably longer). The pork fat becomes firmer when it is cold. It will melt when you reheat the pork.
What to serve with Carnitas
Crispy Carnitas (juicy and tender)
How to make carnitas that are uncompromisingly meaty, juicy and tender with crispy edges. These are surprisingly easy to make and delicious.
Makes 8 cups
Watch us make the recipe
you will need
4 pounds pork shoulder with remaining fat; Use with or without bones
2 teaspoons fine sea salt
1 teaspoon ground black pepper
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 small or 1 medium orange, halved
Half-sized onion, quartered
5 cloves of garlic
1 bay leaf
1 cinnamon stick, halved
- prepare pork
- mince pork
Set an oven rack to the bottom third of the oven and preheat the oven to 300 degrees Fahrenheit.
Season the pork on all sides with two teaspoons of salt and one teaspoon of pepper.
In a wide, heavy-bottomed ovenproof saucepan (like a Dutch oven), add 1 tablespoon of oil. Consider the following tips if you don’t have a Dutch oven.
Place the pork in the pot, fattest side up.
Squeeze the oranges over the pork and then wrap them around the pork.
Place the onion, garlic, cinnamon stick and bay leaf around the pork.
Drizzle the remaining 2 tablespoons of oil over everything.
Cover the pot with its lid, then place in the oven until the pork is tender, 3 to 3 1/2 hours.
Place the pork on a cutting board and refrigerate until you can handle it. Use forks or your fingers to shred the pork – chop or shred into larger pieces, depending on your preference. Discard the bone (if present), any connective tissue, and larger clumps of fat. I like to leave a few smaller bits of fat.
Strain and reserve the cooking liquid. Discard onion, orange and spices.
Store the pork and cooking liquid in the refrigerator until ready to serve. Both will keep in food-safe containers in the fridge for up to four days.
Spread the shredded pork out on a baking sheet and pour over enough of the reserved cooking liquid to moisten the pork. If your cooking liquid has set, warm some of it up in a small saucepan before adding it to the pork.
Place an oven rack four to five inches below the grill and turn on. Slide the pork underneath and grill for 2 to 5 minutes. Stir the pork once or twice to caramelize the tips of the pork. Keep an eye on it as it crumbles; it can burn or smoke quickly.
Serve Carnitas in tacos, burritos, salads, rice, or with your favorite sides.
Advice from Adam and Joanne
- No Dutch Oven: Cut the pork into 2-inch pieces and place in a large casserole dish. Place the other ingredients around it and then cover the dish with aluminum foil.
- Nutritional Information: The nutritional information below is an estimate. We used the USDA database to calculate approximate values.
If you make this recipe, take a picture and tag #inspiredtaste – we love to see your creations on Instagram and Facebook! Find us: @inspiredtaste
Nutrition per serving: serving size 1/8 of the recipe (about 1 cup) / calories 353 / total fat 12.9g / Saturated Fatty Acids 6.6g / cholesterol 136mg / sodium 705.2mg / carbohydrate 5.2g / fiber 1g / total sugar 2.4g / protein 51.6g