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Tender, juicy, flavorful and crispy, this is my Pork Carnitas Recipe! Marinated, cooked then crisped, enjoy in tacos or freeze for later! Braised low and slow in a dutch oven OR use my pressure cooker directions. Delicious served with Guacamole, Pico de Gallo or my Fresh Mango Salsa (as pictured below).
Pork Carnitas | My Favorite Taco Filling
I’ve been working away at this Carnitas Recipe for the past few weeks, trying to get it right, and folks, we are there! This is a slow cooked and tender carnitas recipe that is easy as could be! Whether you’re braising on the stove, the oven or using an Instant Pot, you will get delicious results every time!
I love making a big batch of these Pork Carnitas and enjoying them in tacos all week long for lunch! Yum yum! The leftovers are FABULOUS.
But First, What Are Carnitas?
Traditional Carnitas are chunks of pork shoulder (also known as pork butt), cooked in a large pot of lard for hours until tender with crispy edges. Carnitas literally translates to ‘little meats’. Taking the time it takes to cook a truly authentic Mexican Pulled Pork isn’t realistic for most of us, so I’ve devised a way to get similar results without standing over a huge pot of sizzling meat for hours on end.
Main Ingredients Needed
Let’s get started with what you need. Ten ingredients that aren’t hard to find and some time. Here’s what you need for this Carnitas recipe:
- Pork Shoulder – also known as ‘pork butt’. Confusing, I know. I used a 3 pound shoulder for this recipe, but feel free to double up this recipe so you have leftovers!
- Salt – so important when you’re slow cooking meat! Season it as you go to build that flavor.
- Navel Oranges – this is part of the marinade and adds a very subtle sweet flavor. The rinds will also be used later when cooking the meat.
- Cumin, Onion Powder, Cinnamon, Garlic – all of the seasonings for the marinade. Warm and savory to balance out the sweet orange.
- Canola Oil – this is what we cook the pork in, not lard but oil! You definitely can use lard, but I think canola or vegetable oil is the more common oil in American kitchens.
- Bay Leaves – used for flavor.
- Chicken Broth – used to deglaze the pan after searing but also for moisture when slow cooking.
How to Make Carnitas in Three Easy Steps
To make the pork carnitas I used a 3 step method: marinate, cook, then crisp! Yes, it can take a few hours to cook, the prep is extremely straight forward and simple. Here’s how to do it:
Step 1: Marinate the Pork
Cut pork shoulder into large chunks. Sprinkle with salt and set aside. Wash the oranges.
In a plastic container with a tight-fitting lid, stir orange juice together with cumin, onion powder, cinnamon, and garlic. Add pork and stir to coat. Seal and refrigerate for a couple of hours. Save orange rinds for cooking.
Step 2: Cook the Carnitas
In a large oven-safe pot, heat canola oil. Sear meat on all sides until browned. (You may need to brown the meat in batches.) Remove meat and pour in broth to deglaze the pan. Add seared pork back into the pot, along with bay leaves, orange rinds, and marinating liquid. Cover, bring to boil and reduce to simmer. Cook on the stove until the meat is very tender and falling apart. Alternately, you can braise the carnitas in the oven with covered with a lid at 275 degrees for 2-3 hours.
Once the pork is extremely tender, remove from cooking liquid and shred, discarding any large pieces of fat or gristle as you go.
Step 3: Crisp the Carnitas
So crisping your carnitas is optional but I highly recommend it. There is just something about the tender yet crispy meat that makes this dish SO much better. Also, crisping up the pork is a traditional preparation, so its recommended.
Add a tablespoon of canola oil to a cast-iron or nonstick skillet. Swirl oil around to coat the bottom. Add a thin layer of meat to the hot oil and cook until it’s as crispy as you’d like.
To crisp using a broiler, start by preheating the broiler to high. Spread shredded carnitas in an even layer onto a baking sheet and broil until desired crispiness is reached.
Serve carnitas warm with any desired toppings.
Instant Pot Carnitas
If you are looking to make this Carnitas recipe even quicker, consider using a pressure cooker! Doing so cuts the active cook time from 2 hours to 35 minutes. Here’s how to do it:
- Marinate the pork as the recipe states above.
- Brown the marinated meat in batches in canola oil using the BROWN/SAUTE function.
- Remove meat and pour in broth to deglaze the pan. Add in bay leaves, seared meat, orange rinds, and marinating liquid.
- Add lid and twist to lock. Close pressure valve. Change to MEAT/STEW function and cook on high pressure for 35 minutes. After the time is up, quick-release pressure.
- Shred and crisp if desired. Serve.
Not only are Carnitas great fresh, they make for an excellent freezer meal!
Freeze cooked and shredded pork in freezer-safe ziplock bags for up to 3 months. You can also freeze the juices the same way if you want to save those.
To reheat, simply pan fry with saved juices or a little bit of fresh chicken broth. Then crisp according to recipe directions below or as desired.
How to Serve Pork Carnitas
This Carnitas recipe is amazingly versatile! Serve them in burritos, quesadillas, tacos, over salads, with rice, as nachos, or just plain! Here are a couple of recipes to inspire you:
- Cilantro Lime Rice – this rice recipe is the perfect subtle complement to flavorful carnitas!
- Dorito Taco Salad Recipe – instead of ground beef, use this Mexican pulled pork recipe instead.
- Loaded Pulled Pork Nachos – use homemade carnitas instead of store-bought in this nacho recipe.
- Skirt Steak Soft Tacos – sub out skirt steak for pork!
- Low Carb Burrito Bowls – add this recipe to this burrito bowl.
More Pork Recipes to Try!
If you loved this Carnitas Recipe you are sure going to love my other pork recipes! Here are a couple of reader favorites:
That’s it! An incredibly tender carnitas recipe that is easy to make and even easier to eat.
The printable recipe card is below, enjoy 🙂
Easy Pork Carnitas
Marinating the Pork
- Cut pork shoulder into large 2-3 inch chunks. Sprinkle with salt, to taste. Set aside. Wash oranges.
- Stir orange juice together with cumin, onion powder, cinnamon and garlic. Pour marinade over pork and stir to coat evenly. Seal meat and marinade in an airtight container with tight-fitting lid and refrigerate 2-6 hours. Save orange rinds for cooking.
- In a large dutch oven or oven-safe pot, heat canola oil over medium high heat. Sear meat on all sides until browned. Remove meat and pour in broth to deglaze pan. Add in bay leaves, seared meat, orange rinds and marinating liquid. Cover, bring to boil and reduce to simmer. Cook on the stove for 1 1/2-2 hours or until meat is very tender and falling apart. Alternately, you can braise in the oven covered with a lid for 2-3 hours at 275 degrees.
- Once meat is fully cooked, remove from cooking liquid and shred, discarding any large pieces of fat or gristle. Serve as is or crisp up with the broiler or using a pan.
Crisp your Carnitas
- For pan cooking, add 1 tablespoon of canola oil to a cast iron or nonstick skillet. Swirl oil around to coat the bottom. Cook meat until it's as crispy as you'd like. For crisping with the broiler, preheat broiler to high. Spread shredded carnitas on baking sheet and broil until meat is as crispy as you'd like.
- Serve carnitas in tacos, burritos or however you like.
Pressure Cooker Directions
- Marinate the meat as recipe states above. Brown the marinated meat in batches in canola oil using the BROWN/SAUTE function. Remove meat and pour in broth to deglaze pan. Add in bay leaves, seared meat, orange rinds and marinating liquid. Add lid and twist to lock. Close pressure valve. Change to MEAT/STEW function and cook on high pressure for 35 minutes. After time is up, quick-release pressure. Shred meat and crisp if desired. Serve.