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Carnitas are bite-sized pieces of pork cooked low & slow in the oven until tender, then caramelized until crispy on the outside.
What are Carnitas?
Carnitas translates to “little meats” in Spanish. It’s chunks of pork shoulder or Boston butt, cooked low-and-slow in the oven in lard and citrus until super tender – then browned under the broiler. The result is meat with an extremely moist texture and with an amazing, flavorful caramelized crust!
You can serve Carnitas as chunks (they are great with our coconut rice on the side) or shredded and simply served in a lightly fried corn tortilla with some cilantro and chopped onion. Either way – the meat is SO good!
Why You’ll Love Carnitas
- The flavors of the pork and citrus go so well together.
- The pork cooks up super tender with a deliciously caramelized crust.
- This easy recipe can be served in several different ways – chunks or shreds – and added to many different Mexican dishes.
“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.” -Chelsie
Key Ingredients & Substitutions
- Pork – Look for packages of pork butt or pork shoulder. (Both cuts of pork are from the shoulder of the pig – just sometimes labeled one way or another.) Choose a package that has some nice marbling of fat throughout the meat. It won’t matter if the pork is a single piece or several pieces packaged together because you will be cutting it into chunks before cooking.
- Lard – Lard is pork fat and the traditional fat used to cook the pork until tender. You can use suet (beef fat) or vegetable shortening (Crisco) – but the lard will give you the best flavor and most authentic results. See Cooking with Lard below for additional information.
- Citrus – Fresh orange and fresh limes are added to the pork as it cooks.
- Garlic – Only use cloves of fresh garlic in this recipe.
- Fresh Jalapeno Pepper
- Onion – Yellow onion, but you could also use white onion which is a stronger flavor.
- Seasonings – Including salt, ground black pepper, dried oregano and cumin, plus garlic powder.
- Bacon Fat – This adds a touch of smoky flavor to the cooking liquid.
- Olive Oil – This is used when browning and caramelizing the carnitas.
Cooking with Lard
Lard is a semi-soft, white fat made from pork fat. It’s sold in many supermarkets – look for the Armour brand green and white box. Our local supermarket has lard (unrefrigerated) on an end display in the dairy aisle, or you can ask for it at the meat counter. It may also be in the baking section near the vegetable shortening or in the Mexican foods aisle.
Don’t be scared to cook the chunks of pork in lard! The lard is discarded after the pork chunks are cooked.
The pork does not retain the fat from the lard – in fact, the pork gives up some of its own fat as it cooks. All you’ll be left with are amazingly tender, delicious carnitas!
Special Tools You’ll Need
- Cutting Board and Sharp Knife
- Various Measuring Cups and Spoons
- Oven-Safe Casserole Dish or Baking Pan (or braiser with lid)
- Parchment Paper Sheets
- Fat Separator – After cooking, you’ll separate the fat from any juices, then combine juices with the pulled pork Carnitas.
- Pastry Brush
- Forks – For shredding and to test for doneness.
How do I make Carnitas?
- Place chunks of pork, lard, orange and lime wedges, garlic, jalapeno, onion, seasoning, and bacon fat into an oven-safe dish or pan.
- Cover with parchment paper, then foil to create a tight seal.
- Bake for 30 minutes, then open the foil and push the pork down into the now-melted lard and bacon fat.
- Cover again and bake for three and a half more hours. Test for doneness and bake longer if needed.
- Remove the pieces of meat from the cooking liquid and lay out onto a baking sheet.
- Brush the pork pieces with olive oil, then broil for five minutes.
- Flip each piece of pork, then broil again for another minute to two until caramelized. (Be careful not to over cook.)
- Serve in chunks or shred with a fork for serving.
Anytime you cook bacon, save the rendered bacon fat in a jar and store it in the refrigerator. Then, you’ll have it on hand for recipes (like this Carnitas recipe) that calls for bacon fat.
Frequently Asked Questions
- Can I use vegetable shortening instead of lard? Yes – but the lard will give the Carnitas the best flavor.
- Can I make the carnitas in a slow cooker? In general yes, but the texture of the pork will be different.
- Can I make carnitas ahead of time? Yes – carnitas reheat very nicely.
- How do reheat carnitas? You can microwave individual portions to heat through, or toss them in a pan on the stove with some of the reserved liquid.
Our Carnitas recipe originally appeared on A Family Feast in February 2014. We’ve updated the post and photos, but the delicious recipe remains the same.
Click here for more delicious Pork Recipes!
- 2 1/2 – 3 pound pork butt, cut into large pieces at least 2×2 inches in size
- 1 pound lard (if you cannot find lard at your local market, use suet)*See Note
- 1/2 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 1/2 inch rings, seeds left in
- 1 medium yellow onion, skinned and quartered
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
- 1 teaspoon ground cumin
- 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
- 1/4 cup bacon fat
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- Preheat oven to 275 degrees F.
- In a 9x11x2 casserole dish, or similar volume oven-proof vessel, place cut up pork, lard, orange, lime, garlic, jalapeno, onion, salt, pepper, oregano, cumin, garlic powder, and bacon fat. Cover with parchment and foil and bake for 30 minutes.
- Remove from oven, and push pork pieces into melted fat, re-cover and bake for 3 1/2 hours. Test a piece for tenderness and place back into the oven for up to one additional hour.
- Remove from oven and pick out meat with a pair of tongs. Dispose of remaining solids but save the liquid. Separate the fat from the liquid with a fat separator or just skim from the top. Some of the fat will be used to brush on the meat during browning and the liquid will be mixed with the meat if shredding for tacos.
- Place cooked pork pieces on a foil-lined sheet pan that has been brushed with the olive oil. Brush the tops with some of the reserved fat and place under broiler for five minutes. 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.
- Serve in small chunks or shred and serve as tacos in a toasted flour tortilla, or corn tortilla warmed and slightly browned in skillet with a little oil. If shredding, mix with some of the reserved cooking liquid to moisten. Save the remaining liquid to reheat leftovers.
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*Lard is pork fat and suet is beef fat. Lard is sold in one pound blocks near other oils and fats in a typical market. Suet will be sold as solid pieces in the meat counter. If you only have access to suet, you will need to cook it down first in a heavy pan on the stove top to get liquid fat to use in this recipe.