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Carnitas

Carnitas - A Family Feast

Apparently we’ve been holding out on you!  One of the most searched-for terms on A Family Feast is “Carnitas” and we are finally sharing our recipe today!

Our carnitas are another recipe inspired by The Edgewater Café, a North of Boston Mexican restaurant that my husband Jack worked at years ago which was hugely popular among the locals!  While carnitas were actually not offered on The Edgewater’s menu, the head chef liked to talk and share recipes, and Jack listened well (and wrote the recipe down)!

To make carnitas (which literally means “little meats”), cubed pork butt is cooked low-and-slow in lard and citrus – then browned under the broiler.  The result is an extremely moist texture with an amazing, flavorful caramelized crust!

Carnitas - A Family Feast

Serve carnitas simply in a warmed, soft flour tortilla with some cilantro and chopped onion – or you can really go wild and smother it with toppings just as you would for a taco!  But we actually like the carnitas simply served – the meat is SO good!

One last note – don’t be scared by cooking with lard! The lard, which can be found in many supermarket meat departments, is simply the cooking medium that helps keep the pork tender, and all is discarded after cooking.  The pork does not retain the fat from the lard – and in fact, it gives up some of its own – and all you are left with is amazingly tender, delicious carnitas!

Carnitas
 
Serves: 4-6 servings
Prep time:
Cook time:
Total time:
 
Ingredients
  • 2½ - 3 pound pork butt, cut into large pieces at least 2x2 inches in size
  • 1 pound lard (if you cannot find lard at your local market, use suet)
  • ½ orange, skin on, quartered
  • 1 lime, skin on, quartered
  • 4 medium garlic cloves skinned and left whole, slightly smashed
  • 1 jalapeno stemmed and sliced into ½ inch rings, seeds left in
  • 1 medium onion, skinned and quartered
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • ½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • ½ teaspoon oregano
  • 1 teaspoon cumin
  • ½ teaspoon garlic powder
  • ¼ cup bacon fat
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
Instructions
  1. Preheat oven to 275 degrees.
  2. In a 9x11x2 casserole dish, or similar volume oven-proof vessel, place all ingredients. Cover with parchment and foil and bake for five hours.
  3. Remove from oven and scoop out meat with a hand strainer or spider strainer. Dispose of remaining liquids and solids.
  4. Place cooked pork on a foil-lined sheet pan brushed with the olive oil and place under broiler for five minutes. If the bottoms seem too wet, flip the pork and broil the other side for another minute or two. This step needs to be watched – you want the meat to caramelize without burning it or drying it out.
  5. Serve simply in a warmed flour tortilla with chopped onion and cilantro.

 

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  1. I can’t print from your website. It just keeps loading and loading. Do you know of a solution? I have tried several solutions on my end and none worked.

    • Hi Alice – ZipList, our recipe plugin is having an issue with the print button not working in Internet Explorer. Please try using Firefox or Chrome to view our site and you should have no issues printing using another browser. So sorry for the inconvenience!

  2. wow,these sound really good,,,,will try sunday….

  3. Is there anything you can substitute the lard for?

  4. You did not just post a picture of fried pork—Ok, let me take a moment to wipe this side drool…
    OMG, this looks authentically divine, I’m in the process of moving so I’m a little bummed that I can’t cook this now but I will be sure to test this recipe out next week.

  5. Do you bake it with the whole 1 lb of lard for the 5 hours? Do you just dice it up?

    • Hi Michelle – Yes – The pork gets cut into cubes and is baked with the lard (which is soft like shortening so you would just measure that out and it will melt). If you are using suet (if lard isn’t available) that would be cut into cubes as well so it will melt quicker. Hope that helps clarify! Let us know if you have any other questions.

  6. My oven is on the fritz. Can I use a slow cooker on low for the five hours?

    • Hi Laurie – Yes – the slow cooker might take longer but it will still work. You do want to brown the meat at the end to get the caramelization – so if your broiler isn’t working as well, you can brown the meat on the stove top in a pan. Hope you enjoy the recipe!

    • This is exactly what I came here to ask! Did you ever try it; if so how did it turn out?

  7. Jeannie Ramos :

    I just read aloud this recipe to my husband. His response”So when you gonna cook it” ! lol
    Tomorrow ok with you I said ? lol !

  8. Can you cover it with just foil? I don’t have parchment.

    • Yes – you can use just foil if necessary. The parchment prevents the foil from touching the food at it cooks (the acids from the peppers, etc could make the foil disintegrate) so just be sure that the foil is pulled taut across the pan.

  9. I have made these twice now, and have bought multiple roasts of pork butt and put them in the freezer specifically for this recipe. I live in San Diego, home of some of the best Mexican food, and have NEVER had carnitas as spectacular as these. This recipe is now a staple in my home. I followed the recipe exactly as it is written. SOOOO easy, even more delicious. And the smell for the five hours it is cooking is divine. I never comment on recipes, but had to for this one. Thank you for sharing this recipe, my family will be forever grateful.

    • Wow Chelsie!! Thank you so much! You have made both of our days with your kind words – but especially my husband Jack who is so thrilled when our readers love our recipes! Thank you for taking the time to comment!! Martha

  10. Rats! I bought a pork shoulder instead of a pork butt? Think I could substitute the shoulder?
    Dying to make this, too Ö

  11. Which color of onion is used? A white, yellow or red?

  12. While this is not an authentic recipe for Carnitas, it is a lot easier and I am definitely going to try it ( with the exception if the jalapeno).

  13. Lorraine Pawelec :

    My mother -in-law who was born and raised in Portugal made pork similar to carnitas called (don’t know correct spelling) but pronounced re joins wish I had gotten the recipe. I’ll have to try this and see if it tastes the same!

  14. I use Le Cruset cookware, can I use the cast iron pots with lids instead of foil & parchment paper?

    • Hi Eleisha – For the carnitas, you really want to use a wide, flatter and more shallow pan so the meat will caramelize. I’d be worried that in a dutch oven for example, the meat toward the bottom of the pan would not cook in the same way. We’d recommend cooking as written in the recipe for the best results.

  15. This looks amazing, but have you tried anything less fattening than lard. I have a wedding dress to fit into in less than 2 months lol. Would some good olive oil work?

    • Hi Tricia – We haven’t tried olive oil – the lard adds a lot of great flavor to the dish (the meat doesn’t soak up the oil)! But if you do try it – I’d recommend a light olive oil (or even canola oil) rather than extra virgin – the EVOO has such a strong taste that will definitely impact the flavor of the finished dish. Hope that helps!

  16. Do u squeeze the juice out of the orange and lime or just quartered it?

  17. I am going to make this in an hour or so. I probably won’t get a response in time. During the 5 hours, do you stir it at all or just let it cook?

  18. One HUGE complaint! There was not enough to make everyone happy! Will most definitely be making double the recipe next time around. Growing up in Southern California, we always had plenty of great Mexican restaurants nearby. Now we live up in the Pacific Northwest and it’s just not the same. I’ve made several recipes for carnitas in the past two years, and this is the very best of the bunch! Thank you so much for a truly great meal.

  19. Hi, Martha! This looks amazing, however we have friends coming over who don’t eat pork. Can this be made with beef instead, and what type?

    • Hi Jen – Yes – you could. The equivalent beef cut would be a chuck roast. We’re thinking that the beef will take less time to cook than the pork so you might want to cut back on the cooking time. Hope that helps! Let us know how it comes out!

  20. Hi Martha. I am preparing you recipe and am wondering if I am using half of the pork do I cut the rest of the recipe? Should I use a smaller baking dish?

  21. Does the jalapeño make the carnitas spicy? Also about the bacon fat! Can I buy bacon fat or do I just cook bacon and drain the fat? I feel like that is the silliest question ever but I really want to make this and make it to the “T”! It sounds super yummy!

    • Hi Stephanie – The jalepeno adds a little bit of heat but it doesn’t make it overly spicy. If you are worried about too much heat, I’d suggest leaving out the seeds but still including the rings from the peppers. And yes – we cook bacon and save the rendered fat for recipes like this! I don’t think I’ve ever seen bacon fat sold in the store – but it’s possible that some markets do! Hope that helps – and please let us know if you have any other questions!

  22. So dry!! Put pork on top – was that my problem??

    • Hi Kathy – From your comment – it doesn’t sound like you followed the directions to bake in lard or suet? Salt pork won’t render down in the same way as lard or suet… 🙁

  23. Made this over the weekend. So easy! Love just quartering things and leaving them in big chunks. Cuts down on prep time. My family and friends were so impressed. They loved it! I will definitely be making this again. A little healthier way to serve the carnitas, is to use a Romane lettuce leaf as your tortilla. Still delicious and adds a little crunch. Thank you!

  24. We don’t usually cook bacon at home so I don’t have any bacon fat. I know that would add more flavor, but if I don’t have it, should I just add a tiny bit more lard?
    Thanks! Can’t wait to try these!

    • Hi Terra – Yes – a bit more lard can be used instead of the bacon fat. Hope you enjoy the carnitas!

      • Thank you for the quick reply! I ran to the store on my lunch and threw everything into the crockpot since I’m not going to be home and I worry about having the oven on. I will report back on how it turns out in the crockpot! 🙂

        • Great – definitely let us know! You will however probably want to crisp it up under the broiler to caramelize it a bit before serving!

          • Yumm! The pork turned out really well in the crockpot. I put them in with all the ingredients and cooked them on high for 4 hours and the last hour, I turned it down to low. It was awesome coming home to a house that smelled so good! I did put them under the broiler for about 5 minutes and I will say, they were definitely more tender when they were straight out of the crock pot. The broiler dried them out a tiny bit and I didn’t feel like they really glazed that much. So I would say, if you are going to do them in the crockpot, just enjoy it as is. I made some Spanish rice, got some fresh pico de gallo and turned them into pork street tacos so if you go that route, it won’t matter as much if they are caramelized. Next time I cook these when I’m able to stay at home, I am going to do it in the oven so I can get the caramelized effect (my FAVE). But if you want awesome pork tacos, the crock pot is great and you can feel ok about leaving the house without having the oven on for a long time. Thanks for the awesome recipe! I took a pic to show how they turned out but it isn’t letting me attach it. But the tacos looked great! 🙂

          • Thanks for letting us know Terra!

  25. Love this recipe! Just a few questions? Do you cook in glass or metal pan for the 5 hrs & do I need to use pan spray! I don’t eat jalapeños so can I use the fresh green chilies instead? Can I cut meat into 1 inch pieces rather then 2 inch size & shorten cooking time? I like smaller pieces to eat just my preference. Sorry for all the questions. LOL Thanks for any answers!

    • Hi Corrine – Either glass or metal pan will work, no pan spray is needed (unless we state it in the recipe) and yes – you can substitute green chiles. I’d personally recommend cooking as written in the 2-inch cubes so the meat doesn’t dry out – you can always cut it smaller once it is cooked. Hope that helps! Enjoy the recipe!

  26. Hi, can I use a braising cast iron like the one in this pic? I don’t have another casserole dish.
    Thanks!

    • Hi Athee – A cast iron pan should work but the cooking time might be less (since cast iron heats up hotter than a glass dish). Hope that helps!

  27. Sorry, it’s me again! Thanks for replying above. went ahead and bought a glass baking dish and it’s in the oven right now for dinner. I didn’t have fresh jalapenos, so I sprinkled the meat with a bit of jalapeno powder. I cut the meat in 2 inches chunks like you said, which is kind of big, but I guess that’s ok for cooking. Not for eating though, so would you cut in smaller chunks before or after the broiler? I was actually wondering how big the chunks in the picture you posted with the recipe were. Hopefully you see this in the next 5 hours, lol ! 🙂

    • Hi Athee – After the meat cooks the 2-inch chunks that you started with will be smaller in size. We broiled them as is and did not cut them any smaller. Hope that helps!

  28. Could I deep fry the pork after baking instead of broiling to quicken the process for individual orders

  29. This looks delish! I want to do a test run on Thursday before I make it for my Cinco de Mayo party on Saturday. Ive never cooked with lard before. Is Crisco considered lard? Also, do I put the lard in the bottom of the pan first by scooping it out and then placing the rest of the ingredients on top? Probably a silly question, but lard being in solid form has me confused on how to incorporate it into the pan.

    • Hi Lynn – Lard is beef fat while Crisco is vegetable. So – in a pinch, you could definitely use Crisco, but if possible try to find lard (most supermarkets sell it in the beef aisle – or ask the butcher – they likely have it in back). Lard is less expensive but more importantly it adds some great flavor to the dish! And yes – the lard will melt once the pan is in the oven so just put all the ingredients in the pan and let it bake! Hope that helps clarify – please let us know if you have any other questions!

  30. My husband thinks he is not a fan of pork. I am making this dish now and am thinking he will dive into it! I had to make a few substitutions but will let you know how I make out! I did not have fresh limes so I used some lime juice, I did not have lard so I used crisco, I did not have fresh jalapenos so I used jarred, and I had fresh ham steaks to use up so I cut them into 2×2 chunks. If this cut of meat doesn’t work, I will be trying again and following your recipe exactly! Your photos look amazingly delish!!! Thank you for sharing.

  31. Sorry, confused with this Carnitas recipe, do I mix the Lard with all ingredients and smear the pork butt with it, or spread it in the pan that I’ll be cooking it in?

    • Hi Dolores – The lard is a solid – just place it in the pan along with the other ingredients (you can put it on the bottom if you’d like, them place the meat over it). The lard will melt in the oven once it is heated. Hope that helps!

  32. Susan Lindstrom :

    These Carnitas look wonderful! Question, if I am making them in my slow-cooker, can I use the lard to brown the pork before I put it in my cooker?

    • Hi Susan – We haven’t done it ourselves but I think that might work. (Or – you can cook them in the slow cooker without browning and then brown them at the end in a broiler similar to the original recipe.) Please let us know how it comes out! Thanks! Martha

      • hi ! i just want to say that your carnitas look amazing and i will be trying this recipe soon ! i love cooking with lard (manteca) and i also love getting it from the mexican market in the back where they ladle it out of the deep fryer where they have cooked their carnitas and chicharones into a container for a very reasonable price . we call it ‘liquid gold’ . i also would like to commend you on your patience in responding to the comments 🙂

  33. Marica Bledsoe :

    Sooty if this is a dumb question, but just how do you use the lard in this. Do you put in the bottom of the casserole, and place the meat with the other ingredients and coat it well?? then place it on the lard??? Or how exactly? thanks for any info. 🙂

    • Hi Marica – No such thing as a dumb question! 🙂 Just place the lard in the pan (bottom is fine) – the heat from the oven will melt it. The lard is essentially the cooking/poaching liquid. Hope that helps!

  34. Hi, Thank you so much for sharing this fantastic recipe! Was a great dish to pop in the oven and was a nice treat to mix up our tortilla night! I felt I needed to spread the word on this great recipe so I shared it on my food blog with a link back to you http://www.thekingandpie.com/recipe/carnitas/
    Dora King recently posted…CarnitasMy Profile

  35. I’m going to make this on New years day. I have a 7 pound roast. Should I double the ingredients?

  36. I have this recipe in the oven RIGHT NOW and I’m so excited! It sounds amazing. I was slightly confused on how to use the lard, as it’s a new ingredient for me. I put all the ingredients in the baking dish and then sort of placed clumps of the lard dispersed evenly over the rest of it, assuming it would melt down and everything would mix together nicely while baking.

  37. I do not have cassarole pan can i use an aluminmum pan instead

    • If the cooking time was short, I would say probably. But I would be worried about how well a thin aluminum pan would hold up for 5 hours. Do you have a Dutch oven or an oven proof pan of any sort like cast iron?

  38. Can the Carnitas be cooked in a slow cooker?

    • Hi Jan – For the best results, we recommend following the recipe as written. In a slow cooker, you won’t get the same great caramelization on the meat as you will by cooking it in the oven. Also, if you scroll through earlier comments, we did have a reader cook the pork in a slow cooker and then use the broiler to try to get the caramelization – she felt the meat dried out. You might find her comment helpful if you want to cook this in a slow cooker. Hope that helps!

  39. Hi. Would it be okay to leave out bacon fat? If I do, should I add anything else?

    • Hi Danielle – The bacon fat adds a lot of flavor to the recipe so I would not recommend leaving it out for best results. 🙂

      • Thanks Martha! I made the carnitas tonight without the bacon grease (didn’t have any) and it turned out delicious! Can’t wait to make it again using bacon grease to see how much better it tastes!!