Carnitas | Mexican Braised and Fried Pork

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?

Carnitas Recipe

  • Quick Glance
  • 20 M
  • 2 H
  • Serves 8

Ingredients

  • 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

Directions

  • 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.

Hungry for more? Chow down on these:

Testers Choice

Testers Choice
Testers Choice
Amy Iacopi

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!

Testers Choice
Jo Ann Brown

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.

Testers Choice
Natalie Reebel

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.

Testers Choice
Steve Dunn

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.

Testers Choice
Helen Doberstein

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.

Testers Choice
Lori Widmeyer

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.

Testers Choice
Tricia Seibold

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!

Testers Choice
Sofia Reino

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.

Testers Choice
Caroline Chang

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.

Testers Choice
Lynne Brenner

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.

Testers Choice
Melissa Maedgen

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.

Comments
Comments
  1. Greg Bulmash says:

    I don’t know if 4 pounds of pork shoulder would be enough. :-)

  2. Wenelled says:

    Did I miss the recipe for the tomatillo salsa? I would like to make it too since it is mentioned several times in the comment section. :)

    • David Leite says:

      Hang in there, Wenelled! That’s part of a different recipe from the same book and we’re posting it on the site very soon!

    • Kathleen says:

      I’ve made this recipe four times in one year. I love it. (My one tweek is that I add 1 tablespoon freshly ground cumin to the beginning mix. No old crap from the local store.) True, it is better the next day, and true…you better make a lot! I lived in Austin, Texas, for four years and went all over that state for awesome food. I’ve made time- and labor- intensive carnitas before, this is a better way. I’m moving back permanently in five months. Good job, thank you!

      • Terrific to hear, Kathleen! We know that we like them a lot, but it’s always reassuring to hear that from someone who’s had carnitas way more than us. Really appreciate you taking the time to let us know, and I look forward to hearing what other recipes on the site, Tex-Mex or otherwise, that you give a whirl. Welcome back home, by the way!

  3. Rosa says:

    I love how it looks so rustic. Would be great for a party.

    • Renee Schettler Rossi, LC Editor-in-Chief says:

      I couldn’t agree more, Rosa. The second my husband saw that recipe, he just turned and looked at me. I know that look. So we’re having folks over later this month for carnitas and cerveza…I dare say you’re thinking the same!

  4. ruth says:

    I’m making this tomorrow and want to do it early in the day. Do I leave it in the pot and reheat on the stove top? Also, I still didn’t see the recipe for the fresh tomatillo salsa. I found one elsewhere to try, but I’m wondering if the “original” one is available. thx -

    • Renee Schettler Rossi says:

      Yes, Ruth, you can make the pork, let it cool completely, than refrigerate it and reheat it gently, covered, over low heat on the stovetop and it will be just fine. As for the fresh tomatillo salsa, you’re right, we’re going to post it quite soon! It’s essentially just pure guacamole–and by “pure” I mean nothing but avocado, white onion, cilantro, chile pepper, lime, and a pinch of salt–whirred in a blender with some raw, husked tomatillos and just enough water to make it pourable. Let us know how it goes!

      • ruth says:

        Thanks Renee! This was so easy and delicious, with simple steps that effectively transformed chunks of pork into yummy, crispy nuggets filled with flavor. I love being able to do my cooking and make my mess early in the day, so when it’s approaching dinner I can relax with friends and truly enjoy both the company and the meal! Also, the tomatilla salsa was a snap and the perfect compliment to the pork.

        • Renee Schettler Rossi says:

          Hey, that’s terrific, Ruth! I really appreciate you letting us know how well the recipe worked for you. This little carnitas number has been of the most frequently searched for recipes on our site since we posted it, with good reason….

  5. John says:

    Fantastic dish! I didn’t use the condensed milk and I still wonder what its purpose is. The salt amount was about right—you probably should not use more than 2 tsp. Watch the pork in the oven because it could easily burn—I don’t recall using the full 20 minutes. Had it with pickled red onions, spicy salsa, avocado, queso fresco, etc. Yummy, yummy, yummy!

    • Renee Schettler Rossi says:

      Hey, terrific, John! You know, we’ve been researching exactly what that teensy amount of sweetened condensed milk imparts to the dish, and we’ve yet to discern exactly what it is aside from a subtle sweetness. Will let you know when we have an answer. In the meantime, know that we greatly appreciate you sharing your experience and your tricks and tips.

      • John says:

        No problemo. Thanks for sharing the recipe and maintaining a wonderful website!

        • Renee Schettler Rossi says:

          You’re quite welcome. Thanks for your kind words. We’re all blushing a little.

      • Melissa Maedgen says:

        The sweetened condensed milk contributes more than sweetness here. Actually, it adds very little sweetness at all (if it did, I wouldn’t like it). Think about it—cook sweetened condensed milk at a low temperature for a long time, and what do you get? Dulce de leche (aka caramel). It’s like a self-contained maillard reaction added to the pot. Also, I believe it promotes browning when you move the meat to the oven, and from this even more caramelization, and hence depth of flavor.

  6. Cherie De says:

    I had been eyeing this recipe for quite some time, questioning if it was really “that” good. I’m here to tell you “yes, it is.” My son threatened to instagram a picture describing it as “witches brew” in the initial stages of cooking, but he had a change of heart when he took the first bite of an incredible taco. The pork is tender and flavorful, with a crisp, caramelized exterior. I hesitated opening the can of sweetened condensed milk for only one tablespoon, but I don’t think you’d have the same results without it. (My girlfriend was happy to take the milk and make seven-layer bars.) I will definitely keep this on my list of best recipes.

    • Renee Schettler Rossi says:

      Terrific to hear, Cherie! That’s pretty much the reaction everyone we know has had after tasting this recipe. Gotta love it.

  7. Atlanta Sedeno says:

    Delicious! My boyfriend loved it! A but greasy for me, will definitely trim the fat next time!

    • Renee Schettler Rossi says:

      Atlanta, how blessed you are to be able to find pork with some fat to trim! Most cuts of pork we encounter are ridiculously lean these days. So yes, absolutely, trim the fat next time. And also go to that same butcher next time you need a pork roast—we’ve a recipe that just came out of testing that’s terrific, although it requires a lovely amount of fat. We’ll post it on the site soon….

      • cherie says:

        I have an 8-pound, bone-in pork shoulder (arm/leg/chunk of pork) with a beautiful layer of fat. Was the recipe you refer to above (5/1/13) ever posted? I’m having my 2nd annual “Dallas” party (you are probably too young) on Saturday, and I would love to try something new. (With regard to Dallas, do you mean like Bobby and J.R.?!)

        • Renee Schettler Rossi says:

          Yes, Cherie, yes! Here’s the roast pork recipe. It calls for a smaller, boneless chunk of pork, but if you have the patience, just increase the roasting time. Granted, it’s a simple recipe, but we rather like that. Let’s that innate porkiness shout out loud and clear.

  8. Cherie says:

    I have made this recipe 3 times now and it has always been a hit. For those who haven’t tried this recipe, I discovered by using a thick skinned orange, such as a Cara Cara, that the rind does not disintegrate in the pot. I found the navel orange cooked down too much in the initial cooking stage (there was was nothing left of it after the boiling stage) and left a slightly bitter aftertaste after the final oven-frying process. I assume this was from the pith. The last time I made this I cooked a 7-pound pork, with plenty of fat, adjusted some of the other ingredients to accommodate a larger piece of meat and it turned out great.

    • Renee Schettler Rossi says:

      Hurrah! And many thanks for the nuanced orange tips and tactics and techniques, Cherie.

    • PG says:

      I removed the orange pieces and bay leaves from the dish prior to browning as the recipe says to do, so i did not have a problem with the orange getting burned. also, i squeezed the remaining half of orange over the pork prior to the browning stage for a little more orange flavor

  9. Christin S says:

    This recipe is fantastic. We didn’t have an orange so we quartered a lime and used it and it was amazing!

  10. Huck hickson says:

    Do you have a pressure cooker version?

    • Renee Schettler Rossi says:

      I’m sorry, Huck, we don’t. Not yet, anyways. Anyone out there have a pressure cooker and adapted this recipe for it?

  11. TaraB says:

    I made this recipe last night, the slow cooked way. Only, instead of using an electric slow cooker, I used a Wonderbag. The Wonderbag cooks with heat retention using insulation, not electricity. Makes me feel better since I’m not leaving an unattended appliance plugged in all day AND I’m knowing that my purchase also gives back (a family in Africa gets a Wonderbag whenever one is purchased). I boiled all the ingredients on the stove top for 25 minutes. Then I put a lid on the pot and transferred it to the bag, leaving it slow cooking for 9 hours, until I got home from work that evening. I took out the still-piping-hot, super-tender pork, pulled it apart, and crisped it up in a fry pan. We made our own hard tortilla shells, topped with cilantro, diced onions, and salsa. The only tweak I would make would be to either add some finely diced jalapeños or use a spicier salsa to give the dish some heat. But very delicious and super easy to make. Easy weeknight meal. I would definitely make it again.

    • Renee Schettler Rossi says:

      TaraB, I’m thrilled this worked out so well for you, and intrigued by this Wonderbag! Am researching…but in the meantime, many thanks for taking the time to let us know how swell this turned out for you.

  12. susan says:

    Okay with the “Sweet Baby Jesus” had me! I will be making for Superbowl 2014 – sure it will be a hit!!!

  13. Maria Miller says:

    I used my 8-qt. Fagor Duo pressure cooker for this. I rubbed the meat with cumin, oregano, salt and chipotle powder before adding the rest of ingredients. I used half water and half homemade beef stock (also made in the pc) and brought everything to a boil to skim it first before sealing the lid and bringing to pressure. Cooked at 15psi for 1 hour then turned the heat off and let the pressure drop naturally while I prepared the pico de gallo and warmed the tortillas. The pork was fall apart tender and easy to break down into “carnitas” (little meats). Then I discarded the onion, orange, etc. from liquid in the pc and reduced it down to about a cup and poured this intensified glaze over the meat in a bowl and tossed all together before spreading on a sheet pan. Placed it under the broiler on the lowest rack position for about 10 min. until edges began to crisp. Served with soft warm corn tortillas, pico de gallo, soft pickled jalapenos and carrots, avocados and limes with sides of red rice and whole pinto frijoles (also cooked in the pc) and ice cold Dos Equis – Delicious!

    • David Leite says:

      You have officially made me hungry, Maria, and it’s only 5PM!

      • Maria Miller says:

        Get a PC David and you can be eating this tonight! I just love my pressure cookers. More than any other tool in my kitchen, it has made me a better cook and I especially love it for stocks, beans and braising recipes that usually require hours on the stove or in the oven. I started prep for this recipe (and the sides) around 3PM and we ate at 5PM, so there’s that ;-)

        • David Leite says:

          Maria, actually, I have one but never use it. I have to haul it out and get on the stick! And the time savings is amazing.

  14. Nancy says:

    I’m making this right now in my 7.25 qt enameled marmite pot. House smells fantastic! Husband found beautiful boneless pork shoulder roasts at $1.59 lb – and brought home 8! I web-searched carnitas and decided your ingredients and method would yield the most authentic taste. When it’s a snowy cold day in Montana the fragrance of real Mexican cuisine warms the heart and puts a smile on yer boca :)

    • David Leite says:

      Wow, Nancy! $1.59 a pound? That’s amazing. I’d buy eight, too. Please let us know what you think, because we’re pretty jazzed about how authentic the dish is.

      • Nancy says:

        Sorry to be so late getting back to you – this is the ONLY carnitas recipe for us. Making this again for a party next week. Sooooooooooo looking forward to it! Thanks so much for this recipe!

  15. kathy z says:

    My husband asked for ‘meat wadge’ for dinner tonight. ‘Meat wadge’ equals long-cooked and time-consuming, as a rule, but also delicious for the effort. I found your recipe and headed to the store this afternoon. This recipe was easy and I didn’t have to babysit all afternoon. I’ve never “boiled” meat and then finished in the over. It turned out so well. Served street taco style with radishes, cotija, fresh jalapeno & lime wedges alongside some corn pudding. So great and we have leftovers for work lunches for a couple of days.

  16. Kristina Bailey says:

    This dish is an absolute five star winner!! It is one dish that I can make that everyone in my home loves!! It is also a dish that I make just as the recipes says, which I never do! This is an is an amazing recipe!

  17. PG says:

    Made the Carnitas last night, used Stovetop method,… they were AWESOME … only variation i made was squeezing the remaining half of orange over the pork right before i put in the oven for browning. Served them with homemade Red and Green sauce on the side … guests chose which sauce they wanted to use …

  18. Redawna says:

    I cook a lot of pork dishes but this is by far the most amazing recipe for pork I have ever used. I’ve made it four times in the past 8 months. Outstanding!

    • Renee Schettler Rossi says:

      Terrific to hear you’ve found this recipe to be as reliable and as irresistible as we have, Redawna! We so appreciate you letting us know. Look forward to hearing which recipes from the site you try next…

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