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!

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Carnitas - A Family Feast

Carnitas

  • Prep Time: 15 mins
  • Cook Time: 5 hours
  • Total Time: 5 hours 15 minutes
  • Yield: 4-6 servings

Ingredients

  • 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)
  • 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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 Carnitas - A Family Feast

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    Comments

  • Kelli wrote:

    Hi! This recipe looks superb!!!!
    Will the roaster work with this recipe as I have a large family and the 6 lbs of pork butt is what I have.

    • Martha wrote:

      Hi Kelli – I have to admit that neither Jack nor I have used a countertop roaster – just the oven – for this recipe. I think it will work but the cooking time might vary. Also, you’ll still want to caramelize the meat at the end in the oven to get that crispy texture. Please let us know how it comes out!

  • Chelsea wrote:

    Ohmygoodness. This recipe is staying with me forever. So delicious and authentic to how carnitas are classically made. I was glad to actually not depend on my slow cooker. I ended up using the bacon grease to lube the pan for broiling and that worked out great. Made a little homemade salsa to go with. Thanks so much for the simple goodness that is carnitas! Fantastic!

    • Martha wrote:

      Thanks so much Chelsea! So glad you enjoyed the recipe as much as we do!

  • Danielle wrote:

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

    • Martha wrote:

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

      • Danielle wrote:

        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!!

        • Martha wrote:

          So glad you enjoyed the recipe Danielle!

  • Jan wrote:

    Can the Carnitas be cooked in a slow cooker?

    • Martha wrote:

      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!

  • Viki wrote:

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

    • Jack wrote:

      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?

  • Daniel wrote:

    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.

    • Martha wrote:

      Sounds exactly right Daniel! Hope you enjoy the Carnitas as much as we do!

      • Daniel wrote:

        On the page again as I’m planning on making these again and I just wanted to say YES I very much enjoyed them, they were amazing! Here’s the finished product:

        So delicious. I was thinking about making a large batch and bringing them into my office to share with everybody (small company). Do you have any suggestions to keep the meat moist and tender? I’m pretty sure the only method we have to reheat is a microwave.

        • Martha wrote:

          Hi Daniel – So glad you enjoyed the recipe! Reheating in the microwave should work just fine – it’s what I’d do too at the office.

  • Thomas wrote:

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

    • Martha wrote:

      Hi Thomas – Yes – doubling should be enough! We hope you enjoy the recipe!

  • Dora King wrote:

    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/

    • Martha wrote:

      Glad you enjoyed the recipe Dora!

  • Marica Bledsoe wrote:

    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. 🙂

    • Martha wrote:

      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!

  • Susan Lindstrom wrote:

    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?

    • Martha wrote:

      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

      • kelli wrote:

        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 🙂

        • Martha wrote:

          Thanks Kelli! 🙂 I never thought to check a Mexican market for lard – great suggestion! Hope you enjoy the recipe!!

  • dolores wrote:

    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?

    • Martha wrote:

      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!

  • Amy Dube wrote:

    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.

    • Martha wrote:

      Thanks Amy! Please let us know how your version comes out!

  • Lynn wrote:

    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.

    • Martha wrote:

      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!

  • katie wrote:

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

    • Martha wrote:

      Hi Katie! I think it would work! Please let us know how it comes out!

  • Athee wrote:

    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 ! 🙂

    • Martha wrote:

      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!

  • Athee wrote:

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

    • Martha wrote:

      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!

  • Corinne/CO wrote:

    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!

    • Martha wrote:

      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!

      • Corinne/CO wrote:

        Thanks So Much for you responding to my questions! Can’t wait to make this.

  • Terra wrote:

    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!

    • Martha wrote:

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

      • Terra wrote:

        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! 🙂

        • Martha wrote:

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

          • Terra wrote:

            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! 🙂

          • Martha wrote:

            Thanks for letting us know Terra!

  • sharon wrote:

    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!

    • Martha wrote:

      Great suggestion Sharon! So glad you all enjoyed the carnitas!

  • Kathy wrote:

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

    • Martha wrote:

      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… 🙁

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