It's for Dinner

Pork carnitas recipe

Tags: pork mexican

Pork shoulder (AKA Boston butt) is an under appreciated cut in American homes and we're out to change that. Pork carnitas is a classic Mexican pulled pork preparation that's unbeliveably delicious. We use carnitas in tacos, quesadillas, salads and if no one's looking all by itself.

Pork carnitas

Carnitas is just a technique and pork is the most common meat used. Essentially a rich cut of meat is cooked with low heat for a long time until it's very tender, is broken up into tiny pieces and then broiled until the outside is crispy. The traditional recipe calls for a pork shoulder being submerged in lard--a pork confit if you will--but we braise our shoulder to make it both more approachable to the home cook and well healthy.

Cook time is variable, but this is a slow-cooked dish. We usually let ours go for about three hours and you wouldn't want to try and do this dish in much less than two hours. This is a great Saturday night meal--start it in the afternoon and in a couple three hours you'll have dinner ready to roll.

If you're looking to upgrade taco night into an almost religious experience, carnitas is your ticket.

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  • 3-4 pounds of boneless pork shoulder (may be called Boston butt) or 4-5lbs of bone-in pork shoulder

Spice rub

Note: This amount of spice works well for the amount of meat we normally use (3-4lbs), but it's a simple ratio so simply scale it for your amount of meat

  • 1 tsp kosher salt
  • 1 tsp chile powder
  • 1 tsp cumin (freshly toasted and ground if you can--it does make a difference)
  • 1 tsp garlic powder

Braising liquid

  • 3/4 cup orange juice
  • Water to cover (for our pan that's usually about 2 cups)


  1. Heat a dutch oven or other heavy bottomed oven-ready lidded pan over medium high heat with just enough vegetable oil (or lard if you have it) to cover the bottom .
  2. Pre-heat oven to 300ºF
  3. Cut pork into 1-2" cubes, trimming large sections of fat off (we need fat for the flavor, so just cut off any real large pieces). Toss pork pieces with spice rub.
  4. Brown the cubed pork well in the dutch oven, going in batches so there is only one layer of meat at a time.
  5. When all the meat is browned, deglaze the pan's bottom with the orange juice, stirring to break up the brown bits. Introduce all of the meat back to the pan and cover with water until it's nearly submerged.
  6. Bring to a simmer, cover, and place in the oven.
  7. Stir the pot after one and two hours, the pork should be very tender towards the third hour. When you're confortable with the tenderness, evacuate all the pork to a platter and begin to boil the braising liquid on the stove top.
  8. After letting the pork cool for a few minutes work through with your hands to separate and discard any fat or gristle pieces that hadn't melted in the braise. Tear the meat into smaller pieces.
  9. Turn your broiler on to high and place a rack towards the top
  10. Toss the now shredded pork with some of the reduced braising liquid (that should have boiled down significantly by now) and spread in a single layer on a sheet pan.
  11. Broil the pork for approximately five minutes per side until the outside begins to carmelize
  12. Serve! We like it best in tacos, but there's no wrong way to eat carnitas.


  • Carnitas saves in the fridge very nicely, we like to hold back an amount from the last step (broiling) just for the fridge. Later in the week we heat it up, broil and the result is indistinguishable from same-day carnitas.
Posted on August 10th 2009 and last updated on June 4th 2011