Authentic Mexican carnitas, pork shoulder simmered with onion, garlic, bay leaf, and orange until falling-apart tender and crispy, is excellent in burritos and tacos or on its own. And it can be made in an Instant Pot or slow cooker.
I have to confess something. 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 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. Originally published December 14, 2015.–David Leite
How to Cut the 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. 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 this classic. Carnitas-ito, anyone?
Special Equipment: Slow cooker (if following the slow cooker method)
Authentic Carnitas Recipe
- 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 slow cooker carnitas, see the Slow Cooker Variation below.
To make Instant Pot carnitas, see the Instant Pot Variation below.
To make 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 it straight from the pot. (Leftovers—as if!—keep in the refrigerator for up to 3 days.)
SLOW COOKER CARNITASJust 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.) 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 CARNITASSeason 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, 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 foiled-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.