A classic Pork Carnitas combines South American techniques with traditional flavors. Our recipe transforms the humble pork shoulder into an explosion of flavors.
The perfect dish for any occasion, from family dinners to festive gatherings.
⬇️ Table of Contents
Why You'll Love This Recipe
Crispy Pork Carnitas, a staple in Mexican cuisine, offers a symphony of flavors and textures that's hard to resist. This dish is a celebration of simplicity and culinary craftsmanship, where slow cooking transforms basic ingredients into something extraordinary.
What Are Carnitas?
Carnitas, which translates to "little meats" in Spanish, is a traditional Mexican dish made from pork. The meat is cooked slowly in its juices and spices until it's so tender that it falls apart.
Then, it's typically finished in the oven or on the stove to get a crispy, caramelized exterior. Mexican Pulled Pork is a versatile dish, served in tacos, burritos, or as a main course, and is known for its rich, savory flavor profile.
🐷 Pork Shoulder (Pork Butt): This cut is preferred for its balance of fat and meat, which ensures tenderness and flavor after slow cooked.
🧄 Garlic: Fresh garlic cloves, minced or crushed, infuse the pork with a deep, aromatic flavor.
Ground Cumin: A staple in Mexican cooking, cumin adds a warm, earthy note to the dish.
🌿 Dried Oregano: Preferably Mexican oregano for its authentic flavor profile, adding a slightly citrusy, earthy taste.
Fresh Chile Peppers: Provides a depth of flavor and added spice.
🌿 Bay Leaves: They impart a subtle herbal flavor to the meat during the slow cooking process.
Cooking Liquid: Traditionally, lard is used, but for healthier versions, the non lard option would be chicken broth or even Coke Cola (for a modern twist) can be used.
🌶️ Chili Powder (Optional): For those who prefer a bit of heat, chili powder can be added to the spice mix.
🧅 Onions (Optional): Some recipes include chopped onions for additional flavor depth.
Additional Spices (Optional): Depending on regional variations or personal preference, spices like paprika, coriander, or a pinch of cinnamon can be added
🔪 How to Make Carnitas: Detailed Step-by-Step Guide
Our crispy carnitas recipe, a Mexican culinary delight, involves steps that transform simple ingredients into a flavorful feast.
- Slow Cooker or Instant Pot
- Baking Sheet
- Aluminum Foil or Parchment Paper
- Cast Iron Skillet (Optional)
- Two Forks or Meat Shredder
- Knife and Cutting Board
- Measuring Cups and Spoons
- Mixing Bowls
- Slotted Spoon or Tongs
Step 1: Preparing the Pork
- Choose the Right Cut: Start with a high-quality pork shoulder (or pork butt), known for its ideal balance of meat and fat.
- Trimming: Trim off any excess fat from the pork. This step is crucial for ensuring your Carnitas are not too greasy while maintaining enough fat for flavor.
- Cutting: Cut the pork into 2-3 inch chunks. This size is perfect for ensuring that the pork cooks evenly and becomes tender.
Step 2: Seasoning the Meat
- Spice Blend: Mix together classic Mexican spices - salt, pepper, ground cumin, and dried oregano. Add minced garlic for an extra layer of flavor. Some recipes suggest a hint of chili powder for a subtle kick.
- Rubbing the Pork: Generously rub this spice blend all over the pork chunks, ensuring each piece is well-coated. This step infuses the meat with the foundational flavors of Carnitas.
Step 3: Searing the Pork
Don’t rush the searing process. Searing the pork on all sides is crucial for developing a deep flavor and locking in juices. A golden-brown crust on the meat adds to the overall taste and texture of the dish.
Step 4: Adding Liquids for Cooking
- In the Cooker: Place the seasoned pork in your chosen cooking vessel - a slow cooker or an Instant Pot.
- Citrus Twist: Pour in freshly squeezed orange juice and lime juice over the pork. These citrus juices not only tenderize the meat but also add a bright, tangy flavor. Balance with the addition of water or chicken stock.
- Lard or No Lard: The traditional method uses pork lard fat to braise the pork to tenderness.
- Optional Addition: For a touch of sweetness and depth, some recipes recommend adding a splash of Coke Cola. This ingredient is not traditional but offers a modern twist to the recipe.
Step 5: The Slow Cooking Process
- Cooking Time: In a slow cooker, cook the pork on low for about 8-10 hours or on high for 5-6 hours. If using an Instant Pot, follow the device's settings.
- Tenderness Check: The goal is to cook the pork until it's tender enough to shred pork easily. This slow cooking process is key to achieving the perfect texture for Carnitas.
Step 6: Shredding and Crisping the Pork
- Shredding: Once the Mexican slow cooker is cooked and tender, remove it from the heat. Shred the meat using two forks or a meat shredder.
- Crisping for Texture: To achieve the signature crispy edges, spread the shredded pork on a baking sheet and broil in the oven until the edges are golden brown. Alternatively, for a stovetop method, crisp the pork in a hot skillet, allowing the edges to caramelize.
Step 7: Final Seasoning
Moistening and Flavoring: After crisping, you can toss the pork with a bit of the cooking liquid to keep it moist and add more flavor. Adjust the seasoning with additional salt and pepper if needed.
Main Dish: Serve Carnitas with traditional sides like Mexican rice, refried beans, and a fresh salad for a balanced meal. For a festive touch, add sides like elote and salsa fresca.
Carnitas Bowls: Layer rice or quinoa with beans, Carnitas, lettuce, guacamole, salsa, sour cream, and cheese for a customizable and satisfying bowl.
Additional Ideas:Nachos: Layer chips with Carnitas, beans, jalapeños, and cheese, served with guacamole and pico de gallo.
Sliders: Mini sandwiches with Carnitas, avocado, pickled onions, and chipotle mayo for a fusion twist.
How To Store
- Cool Carnitas to room temperature.
- Store in an airtight container.
- Refrigerate for up to 3-4 days.
- Portion Carnitas for convenience.
- Use freezer-safe bags or containers, removing excess air.
- Label with the freezing date.
- Can be frozen for 2-3 months.
Thawing and Reheating:
- Thaw in the refrigerator overnight.
- Reheat in a skillet or microwave. Add broth or water if dry.
Mexican Pork Carnitas
- 2 pounds Pork Shoulder
- 1 tablespoon Fajita season Or To Taste
- ½ large Onion Julienne cut, then cut through the onion to coarse chop for texture
- 1 tablespoon Fresh Cilantro
- ½ whole Serrano Minced
- 2 cups Coke Cola
- 2 cup Orange Juice
- ⅓ cup Lime Juice
- Water or Stock Use to cover the meat
Carnita Seasoning Recipe
- 1 tablespoon Ancho Chili Powder
- 1 tablespoon Chili Powder
- 1 tablespoon Onion Powder
- 1 tablespoon Garlic
- 2 teaspoon Cumin
- 2 teaspoon Black Pepper
- 2 teaspoon Oregano
- 2 teaspoon Sea Salt
Pickled Red Onion
- 5 tablespoon Apple Cider Vinegar
- 2 tablespoon Red Wine Vinegar
- 1 teaspoon Sugar
- ½ whole Lime Juiced
- Prepare the Pork:Season the pork shoulder generously with the prepared fajita seasoning and salt to taste. In a large pot, add oil and sear the pork over medium-high heat until all sides are browned. Remove the pork and set aside. Clean the pot to remove excess oil and unwanted bits.
- Cook the Vegetables:Add fresh oil to the pot. Introduce the Spanish mirepoix: sliced onions, sliced poblano pepper, and chopped carrots. Cook until they start to brown and reduce in size, softening and beginning the caramelization process.
- Braising the Pork:Return the pork to the pot. Add chipotles, fire-roasted tomatoes, Coca-Cola, serranos (or flavor peppers), and water or stock. Braise the pork on low heat, covered, until tender (about 4 to 6 hours). The ideal temperature is between 150 to 160 degrees Fahrenheit for a low and slow cook.
- Making Pickled Red Onion:Combine apple cider vinegar, red wine vinegar, and sugar. Stir until the sugar is dissolved. Add thinly sliced red onions to the mixture and let them pickle.
- Final Steps:Once the pork is tender, shred it using two forks. For a crispy finish, spread the shredded pork on a baking sheet and broil in the oven until the edges are golden brown. Alternatively, crisp it in a skillet over medium-high heat.
- Assembling the Tacos:Serve the shredded pork in warm tortillas. Garnish with pickled red onions, fresh cilantro, and a squeeze of lime juice.