An authentic Pork Carnitas Recipe that is completely addictive! First, the carnitas cook slowly in an Instant Pot, on the stove, or in your slow cooker before putting it in the oven to become crispy and caramelized. This Mexican pulled pork is the perfect filling for tacos, burritos, or nachos. This is my most popular recipe for a reason my friends but don’t you dare skip the last step of this fabulous carnitas meat.
What I Love About this Carnitas
While there are a few extra steps to this slow cooker carnitas recipe, none of them are hard or time-consuming. And, the end result is out of this world. I have made these twice already in the past month and I have the fixings in the fridge for Round #3. The meat is completely melt-in-your-mouth, while the caramelization on the outside multiplies the amazing flavors. Our family has a hard time not eating it all before we get the chance to stick some in a homemade flour tortilla.
A Funny History with This Carnitas Recipe
If you are looking for some entertainment, take a quick jump into the comments of this carnitas recipe and you’ll experience quite the political debate alongside the rave reviews for the recipe. You see, I dared to make the following “commentary” on an election, and readers continue to mix the political with the culinary:
“Well, we all survived another election season. Just in time to make us extra cranky for the holidays, right? Do your favorite food blogger a favor, please? Pour all your frustrations, anger, and crankiness from the election process/results into something productive. Like food.
I promise you (and a real promise, not a politician-type promise) that this pork carnitas recipe will make you happy, mellow, and in the greatest mood you have been in for months. These authentic carnitas will change how you view any meat you put in your tacos from now on.”
So, if you are brave enough to enter the comment section below, bring your sense of humor with you!
What is Carnitas?
Carnitas are a popular Mexican pulled pork dish. The meat is braised slowly until very tender and juicy on the inside, then broiled until crispy and caramelized on the outside. It is that last step under the broiler that distinguishes carnitas meat from other Mexican pork recipes.
The word “carnitas” translates to “little meats” in English. A perfect description because you’ll cut the large pork butt or pork shoulder into 2-inch pieces, then slowly cook them at a low temperature. Serve those little, bite-sized pieces of meat as a main dish, or inside a taco, burrito, or nachos.
How to Make the Best Carnitas?
- Use a fatty piece of meat – I get a lot of questions asking if this same recipe and technique can be used with a pork loin or chicken breasts. The answer is no. You should choose a pork butt because of the fat and sinew. It becomes so tender while cooking that it melts in your mouth. That will never happen with a low-fat form of protein. If you want authentic carnitas, embrace the butt.
- Cook the Mexican pork low and slow – To create a perfect tender bite that is infused with flavor, this recipe calls for a slow braise using an enameled cast iron dutch oven, but you can certainly use a crockpot or slow cooker. However, you will end up with a larger amount of liquid in a slow cooker. Give yourself more time to create that thick liquid in Step 5 of the recipe.
- Use a broiler to concentrate the flavor – I know many of you will want to skip the last step of this recipe, but take a look at my photo. Do you see that gorgeous caramelization on the outside of the meat? That isn’t just for looks my friend! That concentrated flavor makes the whole recipe shine. So, take the extra 3 minutes to put the finished carnitas under the broiler.
Pork Carnitas Recipe FAQs
What Type of Meat is Carnitas?
Traditional pork carnitas use a pork butt or pork shoulder in the recipe. While two different names are used, a pork butt and pork shoulder are the exact same cut of meat. The name only depends on where you live and the pork supplier. Because of the high-fat content, a pork butt allows the meat to stay tender as it cooks and creates the best flavor in carnitas meat. A leaner cut of pork meat will not create the same texture or flavor.
What is the Difference Between Pulled Pork and Carnitas?
While both start from the same cut of meat, a pork butt, you’ll find the differences in seasoning, cooking, and serving of the meat. Pulled pork often cooks the whole pork butt at once until it is tender enough to shred. Carnitas, on the other hand, begin as small 2-inch cubes and seasoned with spices, lime juice, and orange juice then braised until tender.
The biggest contrast between carnitas and pulled pork is in how you treat the meat once it finishes cooking. Mexican pulled pork is simply a shredded pork butt. Pork carnitas have a few extra steps after the meat is fully cooked. You’ll reduce the cooking liquid until syrupy and pour it over the small pieces of meat. Once coated, the meat caramelizes under a broiler until crispy edges form. This end treatment is what gives carnitas meat such a loyal following!
What to Serve with Pork Carnitas?
Besides the classic corn or Homemade Flour Tortillas, a serving of Cilantro Lime Rice or Mexican Barley Salad with Beans, Corn, & Jicama would be perfect side dishes. A simple green salad with a favorite dressing also pairs well. My personal favorite is this Tomatillo Avocado Ranch Dressing. Want something super simple to serve on the side? Just open a can of black beans and heat them up in the microwave.
How to Make Instant Pot Pork Carnitas?
Instant Pot pork carnitas are great because the pork butt does especially well in a pressure cooker. Depending on the size of the Instant Pot, you might need to reduce the size of the recipe. The recipe will fit inside a 6-quart enameled cast iron dutch oven so if the Instant Pot cannot handle that amount of ingredients, equally reduce the measurements accordingly, including the amount of pork.
Also, reduce the amount of water by half if using an Instant Pot since little to no evaporation will occur while cooking. If you don’t reduce the water, there will be too much cooking liquid for Step 6, reducing it into the syrup at the end. The carnitas meat should cook for about 50-60 minutes and let it naturally release the pressure, which will take about 15-20 minutes.
How to Freeze Pork Carnitas?
Pork carnitas freeze very well, but it’s important to know how to do it correctly. Because the crispy pork meat will turn all mushy in the freezer, it is best to follow the recipe all the way to the end of step 6 and then stop. Package the cooked pork and the reduced cooking liquid into two separate freezer bags. Remove the excess air and lay them flat to freeze.
When it comes time to serve the carnitas, let the two bags thaw in the refrigerator for a few days then finish the recipe starting with step 7. It will be perfect and no one will ever know the carnitas meat had been in the freezer for weeks.
How to Best Store and Serve Leftover Carnitas Meat?
There is no denying this recipe for carnitas is best fresh and hot from the oven. However, if you are lucky enough to have any leftovers, store them in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 5 days. Because the carnitas meat will lose its crispiness in the refrigerator, be sure to add a few dashes of water to the pork so it won’t dry out when reheating. Spread the meat onto a baking sheet and place them back under the broiler until they crisp up again.
How to Make Slow Cooker Pork Carnitas?
While the original recipe calls for a slow braise in the oven, pork carnitas can find complete success inside a slow cooker or Crock-Pot as well. Just follow along with these tips to guarantee the crock pot carnitas will be great:
- Reduce the water to 1 ½ cups. Because a slow cooker uses a lower temperature compared to braising in the oven, little to no water evaporates during the cooking process. This leaves way too much liquid for step 4 of the recipe.
- Use the low setting on the slow cooker for 6- 8 hours or the high setting for 4-6 hours. The end result should be super tender and easily fall apart. Don’t rush this step. Give it more time if needed.
- Follow all other instructions as written. Just don’t give up on that reduction of the cooking liquid in Step 4. It will take time due to extra moisture from cooking at a lower temperature.
What you Serve with Pork Carnitas
When you are trying to decide which side dishes to serve with carnitas, think about layering the flavor of the carnitas with other dishes. Especially in Mexican cuisine, those sides are often stuffed inside a flour or corn tortilla and eaten in one bite. Your sides really do matter for carnitas.
Outside of the rice, tortillas, and guac shown above, a flavorful type of refried, black, or frijoles charros are traditionally paired with carnitas. Beans are an essential part of Mexican cuisine that ties back to the early days of their empire. Meat was scarce so their primary source of protein was beans since they are a native crop in that part of the world.
Carnitas – Video in 10 Steps on How to Make it
- Place in a pot 4-5 lbs pork butt, 2 C water & 1 onion;
- Add the spices 1 1/2 tsp kosher salt, 3/4 tsp pepper, 1 tsp cumin, 1 tsp oregano, 2 bay leaves
- Juice of 1 lime, juice and peel of 1 orange
- Bring to a boil, stir, cover, and put in 300 degrees oven for 2 hours
- Discard onion, orange, and bay leaves. Place pork on foil lined sheet
- Break pork into smaller pieces
- Reduce cooking liquid until it becomes like a syrup
- Pour over pork
- Stir, add a bit more salt and pepper, and broil for 5-10 minutes until browned
- 4 pound boneless pork butt, fat trimmed and cut into 2 inch cubes
- 1 1/2 tsp salt
- 3/4 tsp pepper
- 1 tsp ground cumin
- 1 onion, peeled and halved
- 2 bay leaves
- 1 tsp dried oregano
- 2 Tb fresh lime juice
- 2 C water
- 1 medium orange, juiced and keep the spent halves
- Prep: Adjust oven rack to lower middle position and heat to 300 degrees.
- Combine all the ingredients in a large Dutch oven, including the spent orange halves and juice.
- Braise: Bring the mixture to a simmer over medium-high heat, uncovered. Once it simmers, cover pot and transfer it to the oven. Cook until the meat falls apart when prodded with a fork, about 2 hours. You can also complete this step in a crock pot set on high for 6-7 hours. You will have more liquid to reduce in the next step however.
- Reduce: Remove the pot from the oven and turn on the broiler. Use a slotted spoon to remove the meat from the pan and place it on a large foil-lined jelly roll pan.
- Remove and discard everything from the pot except for the cooking liquid. Place pot over high heat on the stove and boil until it thickens and syrupy, about 20 – 30 minutes. You should have about 1 C of liquid remaining when it is finished.
- Shred: While the liquid is reducing, use two forks to pull each cube of pork into three equal sized pieces. Once the liquid has reduced, gently fold in the pieces of pork into the pot. Try not to break up the pork any further. Taste and add additional salt and pepper.
- Broil: Spread the pork back onto the foil lined pan and evenly spread the meat around so there is a single layer of meat. Place the jelly roll pan on the lower middle rack of the oven and broil until the top of the meat is well browned and edges are slightly crisp, about 5 to 8 minutes. Using a wide metal spatula, flip the pieces of meat and broil the other side until well browned and edges are slightly crisp, 5 to 8 minutes. Serve immediately in a tortilla with all your favorite toppings.
- Prep Time: 15 minutes
- Cook Time: 2 hours 45 minutes
- Category: Dinner
- Method: Braised
- Cuisine: Mexican
- Serving Size: 1/12th
- Calories: 365
- Sugar: 1 g
- Sodium: 389 mg
- Fat: 27 g
- Saturated Fat: 10 g
- Unsaturated Fat: 15 g
- Trans Fat: 0 g
- Carbohydrates: 2 g
- Fiber: 1 g
- Protein: 27 g
- Cholesterol: 0 g
Keywords: pork carnitas recipe, instant pot pork carnitas, slow cooker pork carnitas