Carnitas

Don’t you love when a dish that you’ve heard breathless praise about lives up to your expectations? Having fallen head over heels for pulled pork—unsurprisingly, since pork incites passionate feelings—the call of Mexico’s carnitas (which translates to “little meats”) had to be addressed. There are many heated opinions on the subject of what perfect carnitas should be. I took them all to heart, and then came up with this version. 

Pork Carnitas

This makes a lot, which happily enough means if you plan right, you’ll have enough to make carnitas tacos at the beginning of the week and leftovers for more tacos, grain bowls, quesadillas, or enchiladas later on. 

What Kind of Pork to Use in Carnitas

Carnitas are basically Mexico’s version of pulled pork. The key to carnitas and other slow cooked pork dishes is to start with a fatty piece of pork, like a pork shoulder or a pork butt (which are from the same part of the animal). First the meat is simmered in liquid, releasing the fat, and then after the liquid evaporates, the meat is caramelized in the same pot, in the fat that was rendered from the braising. If this sounds a little explicit, I’m sorry, but sometimes cooking and life are a little graphic, which we knew already.

Pork Carnitas

Make Ahead Carnitas 

You can make the carnitas a few days ahead of time, and keep it covered in the fridge. Reheat in a baking pan loosely covered with aluminum foil in a 300°F oven for 10 to 15 minutes. 

How to Make Carnitas

Season the pork by tossing the chunks with the pork with the cumin, salt, and pepper. At this point you can put the meat in a sealed container and refrigerate it for up to 2 days (it’s not necessary to season the meat ahead, but if you plan for it you will be rewarded with a deeper flavor).

Place the pork in a large stockpot or Dutch oven and add the citrus juices, garlic, and enough cold water to just cover the pork. Bring just to a boil, uncovered, over high heat, then reduce the heat so that the liquid is simmering. Simmer, uncovered, until the liquid is evaporated, 2 to 3 hours.  Make sure to stir the pork occasionally, but not too often. 

Now the second part of the cooking process takes place, and here you need to pay attention. Cook the chunks of meat over medium-low heat in the fat that will have been released during the simmering. Flip the chunks every few minutes or so, so that all sides have a chance to be in contact with the hot bottom of the pan and brown up nicely. After about 30 minutes, the meat should be quite browned on the outside and start to fall apart—that’s how you know it’s done.

Shred the pork (see below).  Transfer the meat to a shallow bowl and serve with the warmed tortillas and the toppings you like.

Pork Carnitas

How to Shred Pork for Carnitas

Remove the meat from the pan, let it cool a bit, and using your fingers or two forks, shred it into small pieces. Definitely do not over-shred the meat, as you don’t want only little stringy bits.  The pleasure of carnitas is the nice chunks and the smaller pieces together.  Then you get the best of the crispy caramelized exterior and the super-tender interior of the braised pork chunks.

Pork Carnitas: The classic Mexican shredded pork dish is simply irresistible, and can be served and used in so many ways!

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Pork Carnitas

What Toppings Go on Carnitas?

You can top your carnitas in all sorts of ways!  Some popular choices are:

Pork Carnitas

What to Serve with Pork Carnitas:

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Pork Carnitas

The classic Mexican shredded pork dish is simply irresistible, and can be served and used in so many ways!
Yield: 10 People
Diet: Gluten Free

Ingredients

For the Carnitas

  • 4 pounds boneless pork shoulder or pork butt , cut into 2- to 3-inch chunks
  • 1 tablespoon ground cumin
  • 4 teaspoons kosher or coarse salt
  • 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • Juice of 2 limes
  • Juice of 2 oranges
  • 8 cloves garlic , peeled and smashed

To Serve (Pick and Choose)

  • Corn or flour tortillas , warmed
  • Salsa or Pico de Gallo
  • Slivered cabbage or coleslaw , store-bought or homemade (please link to slaw)
  • Pickled jalapeños
  • Sliced or cubed avocado , or guacamole
  • Lime and orange wedges
  • Fresh cilantro leaves
  • Chopped onions or pickled onions
  • Sour cream or crema
  • Crumbled queso fresco (mild white cheese)

Directions

  • Toss the pork with the cumin, salt, and pepper. At this point you can put the meat in a sealed container and refrigerate it for up to 2 days (it’s not necessary to season the meat ahead, but if you plan for it you will be rewarded with a deeper flavor).
  • Place the pork in a large stockpot or Dutch oven and add the citrus juices, garlic, and enough cold water to just cover the pork. Bring just to a boil, uncovered, over high heat, then reduce the heat so that the liquid is simmering. Simmer, uncovered, until the liquid has evaporated, 2 to 3 hours (a longish time frame, but it really varies, that’s a fact, and largely depends on the depth of your pot). You don’t have to monitor it much during this time; in fact the less messing around you do the better. You can skim off the slightly foamy stuff that will rise to the surface, but don’t worry about it too much.
  • Now the second part of the cooking process takes place, and here you need to pay attention. Cook the chunks of meat over medium-low heat in the fat that will have been released during the simmering. Flip the chunks every few minutes or so, so that all sides have a chance to be in contact with the hot bottom of the pan and brown up nicely. After about 30 minutes, the meat should be quite browned on the outside and start to fall apart—that’s how you know it’s done.
  • Remove the meat from the pan, let it cool a bit, and using your fingers or two forks, shred it into small pieces (see Note). Transfer the meat to a shallow bowl and serve with the warmed tortillas and the toppings you like.

Notes

Definitely do not over-shred the meat, as you don’t want only little stringy bits. The pleasure of carnitas is the nice chunks and the smaller pieces together. Then you get the best of the crispy caramelized exterior and the super-tender interior of the braised pork chunks.

Nutrition Information

Calories: 170kcal | Carbohydrates: 1g | Protein: 22g | Fat: 8g | Saturated Fat: 3g | Polyunsaturated Fat: 1g | Monounsaturated Fat: 4g | Cholesterol: 74mg | Sodium: 1016mg | Potassium: 401mg | Fiber: 1g | Sugar: 1g | Vitamin A: 16IU | Vitamin C: 2mg | Calcium: 27mg | Iron: 2mg

The nutrition values are provided as an estimate. It is not intended as a substitute for the advice of a qualified healthcare professional.

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