Picture this: Mounds of juicy, tender, crispy-edged Mexican-style braised and fried pork, just waiting to be tucked into freshly made soft tortillas along with salsa, chopped onions, and cilantro for tacos. Now imagine that same braised and fried pork piled high on a plate alongside rice and beans. This authentic Mexican recipe is the classic way to make carnitas–well, almost. While the pork is traditionally browned on the stovetop, doing it in the oven is even easier and more effective. The pork goes from being braised to being fried, browning in its own luscious fat.–Roberto Santibañez
LC Can You Have Too Many Carnitas? Note
This recipe for Mexican-minded lusciousness makes what some would consider to be a plethora of pork. Hardly a problem in our minds, seeing as we can’t imagine not being able to pack away a batch of this subtly infused Mexican-style braised and fried pork. Should you wish to make just half a batch, the author advises that you cut the amount of pork, salt, and oregano in the recipe below in half, but that you rely on the same amount of water, onion, orange, garlic, bay, sweetened condensed milk, and lard (mmmm, lard). You’ll also want to rely on a slightly smaller pot than what the recipe suggests. Consider your baby batch the diminutive–though not exactly diminished–form of carnitas. Carnitas-ito, anyone?
- Quick Glance
- 20 M
- 2 H
- Serves 8
- 4 pounds fatty pork shoulder, cut into 2-inch pieces
- 3 cups cold water
- 1 medium white onion, thinly sliced
- 1/2 orange, preferably seedless, cut into 2 wedges
- 1/4 cup lard (or, for the lard averse, vegetable oil)
- 8 garlic cloves, peeled
- 3 bay leaves
- 1 tablespoon sweetened condensed milk
- 2 teaspoons dried oregano, preferably Mexican, crumbled
- 1 1/2 to 2 teaspoons fine salt, or 3 to 4 teaspoons kosher salt
- 1. To make the Carnitas in your slow cooker, see the Slow Cooker Variation below.
To make the Carnitas on your stovetop, Place all of the ingredients in a wide 6- to 7-quart heavy pot. (Don’t worry if everything isn’t completely submerged.) Bring to a boil, skimming any scum that collects on the surface as necessary. Reduce the heat to medium-lowish and simmer vigorously, stirring occasionally, until the pork is fork-tender and the liquid has completely evaporated, 1 1/2 to 2 hours. Discard the orange pieces and bay leaves. (If the liquid hasn’t completely evaporated, transfer the pork to a bowl and continue to simmer the liquid, stirring often, until it disappears.)
- 2. Preheat the oven to 450°F (232°C)
- 3. If you’re not using an ovenproof pot, transfer the pork and fat to a dish of some sort that’s ovenproof. If you’re already using an ovenproof pot, you’re all set. Slide the pork into the oven, uncovered, and let it fry in its own fat until it’s browned, 20 to 30 minutes. There’s no need to stir. Serve the carnitas straight from the pot. (Leftover carnitas—as if!–keep in the refrigerator for up to 3 days.)
Slow Cooker Variation
- Easiest carnitas ever. Just toss everything in the slow cooker, reducing the amount of water by at least 1 cup, and cook on low, covered the entire time, for 8 to 10 hours or on high for 6 to 8 hours, or until the pork is tender and falls apart. Using tongs or a slotted spoon, transfer the chunks of pork to a large skillet, leaving the cooking liquid in the cooker. If desired, shred the pork using 2 forks (or your fingertips if you like things messy). Heat the pork in the skillet over medium to medium-high heat until crisp at the edges but still knee-weakeningly tender within. If desired, dribble a little of the strained cooking liquid over the pork before serving to moisten and flavor it. (If the cooking liquid is quite watery, pour it into a saucepan and simmer until it reduces to the desired consistency.) Want more details for using your slow cooker with this recipe? Check out what our testers had to say in the TC comments below.
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Testers ChoiceTesters Choice
Jun 21, 2012
This recipe is RIDICULOUS! It's so tasty that I can't believe *I* made it! And I love the hint of orange in the meat. I think the most difficult part was slicing the meat away from the bone—otherwise, it came together beautifully. It required the full 2 hours to evaporate all of the liquid in the pot and about 25 minutes in the oven to darken to a point that it was almost burnt (I love it that way). This is an excellent recipe and one that I'll make again once I have a crowd—in the meantime, I'm looking forward to leftovers!
Jun 21, 2012
I love carnitas, and this oven method creates exactly what I was looking for in terms of taste and texture. The author’s method of oven-frying the pork in the rendered fat from the shoulder is genius. I have to admit that I pilfered some of this “liquid gold” to brown onions and garlic for a killer black beans and rice to serve as a side. The fresh tomatillo salsa was delicious, creamy, and added a nice balance to this rich meat. I tested the half recipe method and it worked perfectly, although I will suggest that even though I’d cut the salt in half, the reduction became dangerously close to being a tad salty. Err on the side of caution, whether you make the full four pounds or a half recipe, and add less salt than specified. Also, the yield for a full four pounds of pork is listed as 24 to 32 tacos. No way, José. This pork is too good and you will find yourself piling on this delicious filling.
Jun 21, 2012
Does it get any easier than this? I don’t think so. This carnitas recipe worked exactly as written and produced an incredibly great-tasting pork. Where you put the pork from there is up to you. It is fantastic in tacos, would be delicious in a burrito with some salsa verde, and something to look forward to on a tostada after a busy work day. The carnitas taste even better the second day. Check the pork after 20 minutes in the oven, as it browns quicker than you might think. UPDATE: Since this recipe is one of my favorites on the site, I was enthusiastic to try it in the slow cooker. I began by combining the onions, garlic, and pork together, and then adding them to the slow cooker. I then put in the bay leaves, oregano, and oranges. Reducing the liquid by 1/2 cup, I poured that on top. I let this cook on low for 10 hours. At that point, I removed the pork from the liquid (the liquid had doubled!), and placing the pork in a container for the next day. Discarding the orange and bay leaves, I poured the liquid in a separate container and placed it in the refrigerator. The next day, I skimmed the fat from the top of my reserved liquid (discarding the remaining cooking liquid), and spooned it into an ovensafe pan. I preheated the oven to 425°F and placed the pork in the fat in the oven for 30 minutes. The result was perfect carnitas! They had the same flavor and browned bits as the original recipe. I just warmed some tortillas and served. Next time I will reduce the liquid by 1 cup before adding it to the slow cooker.
Jun 21, 2012
I’ve been a fan of restaurant dishes made with carnitas for years, but have never made them myself, so I was happy to take a crack at this carnitas recipe. Long a fan of duck confit, I quickly realized upon reading the description of the dish that carnitas is essentially pork confit. Sweet baby Jesus, what could be better than that? I’m here to tell you, not much. This is without a doubt one of the tastiest dishes I’ve ever made, and given that it’s a cinch to throw together, I can see making it again and again and again and again….you get the picture. My only deviation from the recipe as written is that I pulled the pork from the oven only 15 minutes into the roasting phase, whereas the recipe calls for 20 to 30 at this point to crisp the meat. Attention is warranted at this step. Aside from that, following the recipe to the “T” yielded a sheet pan full of moist, flavorful, and beautifully caramelized pork deliciousness. One could always dabble with the aromatics in the braising liquid to bring other flavors to the dish, but it’s awfully good just as it is, and certainly not in need of any tweaking.
Jun 21, 2012
I didn’t hold out much hope when I got home and saw the results in the slow cooker. The pork looked kind of meh, nondescript, not really interesting. Then I removed the meat, shredded it onto a pan, and put it in the convection oven for about 15 minutes, stirring once. Holy smokes, what a difference! When I pulled the carnitas out, the texture had changed and it was tender and crispy all at the same time. The meat was gently spiced and delicious. I did find there to be too much liquid in the pot, but it kept the meat very moist and tender. I left it on low for 8 hours while I was at work. I used a 4-pound pork shoulder roast, cubed, and kept the other ingredients true to the recipe, except for the lard. (The roast was fatty enough that I felt the lard wasn’t needed.) And I was right, since I skimmed a lot of fat from the pot but no scum. I might decrease the amount of water next time. Also, I think I’d like to add a couple of dried chilies to the initial cook pot, too, to add a little more spice.
Jun 21, 2012
I made this carnitas recipe last night using a little different technique with the slow cooker. First I reduced the water from 3 cups to 2 cups of water, then I cooked the meat on high for 3 hours and, knowing the meat was completely cooked through and I was not risking undercooking pork, I took off the lid and continued to cook the pork on high for 3 more hours, until the liquid was absorbed. Then I transferred the meat to a large cast iron skillet and browned the meat. We tasted the meat both before browning it and after, and it was amazing both ways.
Jun 21, 2012
This carnitas recipe was fantastic! There aren’t a ton of ingredients in this dish, and having never made carnitas, I was surprised just how simple the ingredient list was (where were the spices?]. It takes a bit of time to come together, but it really just needs to be babysat. It’s a really simple dish to make. I put it on to simmer and made some homemade Spanish rice and salsa. It doesn’t seem like much in the beginning–in fact I had my doubts looking at the meat and veggies swimming around in this unappetizing milky water–but the very end is where the magic happens. When I finally pulled the finished product out of the oven and saw these beautifully browned pieces of tender pork, I could hardly wait to start eating it. It was definitely a hit!
Jun 21, 2012
I cannot imagine an easier carnitas recipe to make on a weeknight. You put all ingredients to cook in a large pan then broil it? WOW! And WOW to its flavor and tenderness, too. The meat came out juicy and fork-tender with a slight crispness. Every single person in our household asked me to make this again–and soon. I decided to serve it with the Fresh Tomatillo Salsa, white rice, and black beans. The salsa was an amazing addition to the meat. The cold, tart salsa was a true blend of tastes.
Jun 21, 2012
This carnitas recipe is quite the little ace-in-the-hole since it’s so easy for so much flavor. A little bit of prep work, then throw it into the pot and go about your other kitchen tasks (like making tomatillo salsa). There’s a little checking and stirring here and there, but the dish practically makes itself. Don’t forget to keep the lid off while simmering away.
Jun 21, 2012
This carnitas recipe delivered tender, crisp pork as promised. The ingredients were readily available and the preparation was simple, especially since the pork could be browned by sliding the original pot into the oven. The pork had a fine flavor when tasted right out of the oven, although it was ten times better the following day when the flavors had a chance to blend and mellow. (The oregano was a bit too dominant right after cooking for my taste). I do question the use of one tablespoon of sweetened condensed milk–was it really worth it to open an entire can, especially since it isn’t an ingredient that I use often? But overall, it was an easy way to prepare pork shoulder for a variety of uses.
Jun 21, 2012
I adapted this recipe to the slow cooker, which did require some modification, but it produced excellent results. The big difference between slow cooker and stovetop cooking, and often the downfall of the former, is that much less liquid evaporates in the slow cooker, and often the flavors are not as concentrated. With that in mind, I omitted ALL the water in this recipe. I mixed the pork shoulder and other ingredients, and squeezed the other half of the orange over everything. Then I let it cook on low for 7 hours. During this time, the pot went from having no liquid in it to speak of to the pork being almost covered with fat and liquid. After the 7 hours of low and slow cooking, I moved the insert of the slow cooker to an oven preheated to 450°F. I let this go for almost an hour, stirring once to turn everything over and prevent over-browning. At this point, all the liquid had evaporated and the pork had browned in its own fat. The meat was falling apart tender and very flavorful. It's great on tacos or just with rice. A tomatillo salsa is the ideal embellishment.
Carnitas Recipe © 2011 Roberto Santibañez. Photo © 2011 Romulo Yanes. All rights reserved.