Carnitas ~ Mexican Braised Pork

This old-school carnitas–pork shoulder simmered with onion, garlic, bay leaf, and orange until falling-apart tender and crispy–is excellent in burritos, tacos, or on its own. And it can be made in an Instant Pot or slow cooker.

Blue pot of chunks of pork, authentic carnitas, with a bay leaf and wooden spoon on top

I have to confess something. Pork carnitas—Mexican braised and fried pork chunks with their addictively crisp edges—were unfamiliar to me until I tried this recipe. Which is weird, because I love pork and I love Mexican food, but never the twain had met in the gloriousness that is carnitas. But that’s all ancient history seeing as I’ve been making this dish for years now. This recipe is the classic—with one exception. Instead of being cooked entirely on the stovetop, the pot is slid into the oven so you don’t have to tirelessly attend to the burner to make sure the pork is cooking at just the right temperature. The One and I devour these tucked in soft, warm tortillas as tacos as well as heaped atop rice and beans. We add an entire orange to the pot, as we like that hint of citrus in the background. And, yes, we do use lard. Quelle surprise. [Editor’s Note: That’s French, David. Wrong language. Sigh.] David Leite

How to Cut this Recipe in Half Properly

This authentic carnitas recipe makes what some would consider A LOT 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 crispy pork in a single sitting. That said, 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 at all diminished–form of this classic. Carnitas-ito, anyone?

Authentic Carnitas

  • Quick Glance
  • (37)
  • 20 M
  • 2 H
  • Serves 8
4.9/5 - 37 reviews
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Special Equipment: Slow cooker (if following the slow cooker method)

Ingredients


Directions

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.

Tester tip: If the liquid hasn’t completely evaporated, transfer the pork to a bowl and continue to simmer the liquid, stirring often, until it disappears.

Preheat the oven to 450°F (232°C)

If your pot isn’t ovenproof, transfer the pork and fat to a dish of some sort that’s ovenproof. 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 it straight from the pot. (Leftovers—as if!—keep in the refrigerator for up to 3 days.) Originally published December 14, 2015.

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    Variations

    • SLOW COOKER CARNITAS

      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, place 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.) Curious to hear more about working magic with your slow cooker? Check out what our testers had to say in the TC comments below and then peruse our entire selection of slow cooker recipes.

    • INSTANT POT CARNITAS

      Season the pork with the salt and, working in batches, sear the pork in a large skillet in the lard or olive oil until very, very brown. (The Instant Pot’s insert is too narrow and high-sided to sear effectively. It takes too long and the meat ends up steamed rather than seared. Trust us, the skillet is infinitely better and faster.) Meanwhile, juice 1 or 2 oranges to yield 1/2 cup orange juice. Layer the onions, garlic, juiced orange halves, orange wedges, and bay leaf on the bottom of the Instant Pot insert. Dump in the pork and sprinkle with oregano as you go. Drizzle over the condensed milk and orange juice. Secure the lid and push the pressure release valve to “sealing.” Select “manual” and set the cooking time to 30 minutes at high pressure. When finished, carefully quick release the pot by moving the pressure release to “venting.” Once the steam is fully released, open the pot and scoop the pork with a slotted spoon onto a foil-lined baking sheet. Discard the orange halves and bay leaf. Cook the pork in the oven at 450°F (232°C) until crisped, 10 to 15 minutes.

    Recipe Testers' Reviews

    This crispy pork dish 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 pork away from the bone—otherwise, it came together beautifully. It required the full 2 hours to evaporate all the liquid in the pot and about 25 minutes in the oven to darken the pork 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!

    I love this Mexican classic, and these authentic carnitas were 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. [Editor's Note: Brilliant! We're stealing that trick!]

    I used 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 4 pounds or otherwise and add less salt than specified. I made the carnitas tacos with this and the fresh tomatillo salsa was delicious, creamy, and added a nice balance to the rich meat.

    HUNGRY FOR MORE?

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    Comments

    1. 4 stars
      So good and so easy. We had it last week and we’re looking forward to some of the leftovers tonight. I just LOVE a recipe that works again as leftovers!

      I got a really lovely “gravy” of sorts going by reducing the pan liquids. …only I left it boiling unattended until it “broke”. I’m going to be more careful about that in the future as it would have added a tasty, if messy, element to the tacos. As it was, I dribbled small amounts on my black beans as they cooked down. Best black beans we’ve ever had. They resembled Cuban style black beans and were a great accompaniment to our tacos.

      I also serve the tacos with some chopped cilantro, a dollop of guacamole and some pickled red onions. YUM!

      1. I’m making another pot of this because it’s so sublime! Between this recipe and your
        Braised Pork in Red Chile Sauce it’s all I ever want to do with pork.

        I make the entire recipe despite the fact that it’s just my husband and I. I freeze a portion after the second step for a leg up the next time we want it.

        I also reserve the excess fat and save it to substitute for the lard in subsequent batches. It’s so easy to keep a jar in my fridge. (I keep all my yummy fats for braising and sautéing all kinds of things.) So much easier than trying to search down lard these days.

        1. Rainey–I have SO MANY jars of assorted fats in my fridge at all times. Especially duck, there’s really nothing else like it. This is one of my favourite pork recipes, too. And I always make the whole recipe–it’s a nice surprise to find a little package of carnitas in the freezer after a long day, isn’t it?

        1. BTW, Trader Joe’s sells some very decent guacamole in individual servings that are just about enough for 4 tacos, or a sandwich or whatever. Easy to keep at the ready and nothing left over to go brown and unappetizing.

    2. I made the carnitas in a slow cooker and then I made them in a pressure cooker with your different method. Both ways came out great. Thanks for a great recipe.

      1. Thanks, joe! Yes, you can leave the lid off so that the liquid slowly evaporates as it simmers.

    3. Really enjoyed the simplicity of this recipe. I followed the cooking instructions then I chose to fire up the grill and put the lard on the griddle. I then added my pork along with bell pepper and onion to the griddle. I cooked this for 25 minutes then removed it from the grill and served it with refried beans and salsa. Next time I will add jalapenos to make this have a little pizazz.

      1. That sounds like an amazing meal, Larry! Thanks so much for taking the time to let us know.

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