Crispy Carnitas (Juicy and Tender)
How to make carnitas that are unapologetically porky, juicy, and tender with crisped-up edges. These are surprisingly simple to make and delicious. Jump to the Carnitas Recipe
Carnitas (meaning “little meats”) are the Mexican version of pulled pork here in America. They are unapologetically porky, juicy, and tender. Depending on where in Mexico you have them, they also have plenty of crisped-up and browned edges.
You’ll see the pork slowly cooked in a big pot of lard 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 few aromatics and a few tablespoons of oil to keep it moist. Our method produces moist and tender pork that’s not quite as rich as the traditional lard-cooked version but is still quite delicious.
How to Make Carnitas
Here’s the recipe overview so you have a better idea of how we make carnitas (the full recipe is 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 left intact. It is the fat that keeps our pork moist and tender. This is the same cut of meat we use for our Slow Cooker Pulled Pork.
- Season the pork well with salt and pepper.
- Slow-cook the pork, covered, in a 300° F oven with a bit of onion, garlic, orange, bay leaf, and a cinnamon stick. It takes about 3 hours.
- Shred the pork — I love a combination of big chunks and tiny shreds.
- Broil the pulled pork with some of the rendered cooking liquid (it’s mostly fat) until the tips are well-browned and crisp.
- Serve 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 pieces of pork is that more of the pork comes into contact with the rendered fat. You can see that in our photos, we kept our pork shoulder uncut. We did this because it was a bone-in pork shoulder.
Can I make 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 just as you would with the regular recipe and that you add the same aromatics (onion, garlic, orange, bay leaf, and cinnamon). Cook the pork, fat-side-up, on LOW for six to eight hours or on HIGH for four hours. When the pork is pull-apart tender, shred it and then crisp it up using your broiler (explained in the recipe below).
Can I make carnitas in an Instant Pot pressure cooker? Yes, you can, although our recipe might not be the best for this method. You will likely need to add a little liquid for the pressure cooker to work correctly (we estimate 1 to 1 ½ cups of broth). We plan on testing this recipe in a pressure cooker soon, so we will keep you posted!
Storing and Make-Ahead Tips
I love making this recipe and saving half for another day! You can keep carnitas in the refrigerator for up to five days and in the freezer for up to three months (probably longer). When cold, the pork fat will firm up. It will melt when you reheat the pork.
What to Serve With Carnitas
- We love making tacos and have fallen in love with these Homemade Corn Tortillas. We also have Homemade Flour Tortillas if that’s more your style.
- Serve them with rice and beans — try our Cilantro Lime Rice, Black Beans, or these Refried Beans.
- Or try them on top of salads or stuffed into burritos.
Crispy Carnitas (Juicy and Tender)
How to make carnitas that are unapologetically porky, juicy, and tender with crisped-up edges. These are surprisingly simple to make and delicious.
You Will Need
4 pounds pork shoulder with the fat left on; use bone-in or boneless
2 teaspoons fine sea salt
1 teaspoon ground black pepper
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 small or 1 medium orange, halved
Half large onion, quartered
5 cloves garlic
1 bay leaf
1 cinnamon stick, broken in half
- Prepare Pork
- Shred Pork
- To Serve
Adjust an oven rack towards the lower third of the oven and heat the oven to 300° Fahrenheit.
Season the pork, on all sides, with two teaspoons salt and one teaspoon pepper.
Add one tablespoon of oil to a wide, heavy-bottomed, oven-safe pot (like a Dutch oven). See the tips below if you do not have a Dutch oven.
Place the pork into the pot with the fattiest side facing up.
Squeeze the oranges over the pork, then place them around the pork.
Nestle the onion, garlic, cinnamon stick, and bay leaf around the pork.
Drizzle the remaining two tablespoons of oil over everything.
Cover the pot with its lid, and then place into the oven until the pork is fork tender, 3 to 3 ½ hours.
Transfer the pork to a cutting board and cool until you can handle it. Pull the pork with forks or your fingers — pull into larger chunks or shred, depending on your preference. Discard the bone (if there is one), any connective tissue, and larger clumps of fat. I like leaving a few smaller bits of fat.
Strain the cooking liquid and save it. Discard the onion, oranges, and spices.
Store the pork and cooking liquid in the refrigerator until you are ready to serve. Both will keep stored in food-safe containers in the fridge for up to four days.
Spread the shredded pork on a baking sheet and pour over enough of the saved cooking liquid to moisten the pork. If your cooking liquid has solidified, rewarm some of it in a small saucepan before adding it to the pork.
Set an oven rack four to five inches below the broiler and turn it on. Slide the pork underneath and broil for 2 to 5 minutes. Stir the pork around once or twice so that the tips of the pork caramelizes. Keep a close eye while it broils; it can burn or smoke quickly.
Serve carnitas in tacos, burritos, salads, rice, or with your favorite sides.
Adam and Joanne's Tips
- No Dutch Oven: Cut the pork into 2-inch chunks and arrange it in a large baking dish. Place the other ingredients around it, and then cover the dish with aluminum foil.
- Nutrition Facts: The nutrition facts provided below are estimates. We have used the USDA database to calculate approximate values.